Leaving aside the obvious, from a music point of view, it’s been another stellar year whatever flavour of tunes you were listening to. So many new tunes making it hard to stay current whether it was banging dancefloor grooves or down tempo souldies. And that’s not even talking about the reissues and new old releases….i got to admit, I struggled keeping up and loads got past me but of what I did come across the following are notable
1. Carmy Love – Rebel /Thinking of you – big AC
From march of the year, this one lit up the airwaves with its London Soul sound and its an infectious double-sided dose of goodness. Rebel was in your face, up to the minute RnB where the flip grooved Soul in a jazzy vein. Absolutely loved playing either side over the past months. Keeping an eye on this lady and what her next moves are.
2. Ursula Ricks – Sweet Tenderness – Jai Alai
Kind of cheating with this one as its not technically a new release, taken as it is from a 2013 CD release but as it dropped on vinyl for the first time this year and it’s a stone-cold monster of a tune, it would be remiss of me to omit it. Slowed down evocative soul music, the production on this one is sweeping and beyond gorgeous.
3. Stefan Taylor and the Signatures – I Surrender – Static Wax
I’m loath to hear cover versions of Soul tunes by new bands, usually comes across as ‘Wedding band does Northern’ and you end up with a bland music by numbers affair. The fact I am writing about this cover means its anything but a shoddy rehash. Although Taylor can sing falsetto, he wisely sticks this side of what Holman did with the original putting his own stamp on the track, giving us a modern interpretation of this classic that on its own can be counted as damn fine Northern Soul. Have to mention the signatures who are not intimidated nor constrained by the original and gives us a backing that those who love a lush production will find lots to thrill about
4. La Rose Jackson – How did I get here – Dunham
It wasn’t all up-tempo silky soul this year and this one from the Daptone stable kicked off the year was as hard as anything that dropped in 21. Stamped all over with the Menahan sound the dense production was superbly softened by Jacksons strong and earthy delivery giving us a defiant anthem for anyone lost that can’t find their way back.
5. Michelle David & the Gospel Sessions - Yes I Am – One World Records
The year was still in its infancy when this one plopped through the letter box and with it came that sense of just how lucky we are to be around for this iteration of the Soul music scene. From the off this one is just pure and utter Soul, no ifs ands or buts. That will come as no surprise to those of you that have been hip to David heretofore but for those unacquainted then its time to rectify that situation. Mid-tempo Summery vibes gave us something to look forward to in the dark days of the Delta Variant and this one got played a hell of a lot in Casa Joxer over the past 12 months.
6. Laura Rain and the Caesars – Closer to the win – LRK
To say this one exploded ahead of its official release date would be a bit of an understatement, I for one flipped within the first 5 seconds and it just got better as the musical vista expanded. Rains voice is astonishingly pitch perfect and has that rare quality that can get to your dendrons and fire up all sorts of emotions or as new century parlance has it – hits you in the feels. A song of struggle and about never giving up, this release brought them a whole new audience. An LP drops in the new year and we can anticipate more delicious Detroit soul.
7. Jo Ann Hamilton and The Kevin Fingier Collective – September – Fingier
Third release from Fingier on his own label affiliated to Acid Jazz teaming up with vocalist Jo Ann Hamilton resulting in a double sider that wowed across multiple scenes and sold out instantly. Top side is an almost Stafford Era beat ballad that glides over the floor like a well-worn pair of brogues whilst the flip was a dirty bluesy mod dancer with an intricate but sparse backing that allowed Hamilton to soar and dominate. Records like this come along infrequently, we can be happy when they do.
8. DeRobert and the Half Truths – 100 yard dash – G.E.D
With a pace that reflects its title this screamer announced DeRobert back after a hiatus of a couple of years. A funk bomb of the highest order it is unrelenting with just a brief break at the halfway point for you to catch your breath. Producer here again is Nick Devan who produced 2018s Judgement (itself no slouch in the pace department either it must be pointed out) who gets the best from what DeRobert and the half truths can deliver, raw punchy Rhythm and Funk. Scorching
9. The Resonaires – Standing with you – Colemine
Okay so it was originally released digitally in September 2020 but the vinyl didn’t drop till this year. With Saundra Williams on vocal duty backed by some of the prime movers from the NY soul scene this one was always going to be a candidate for classic status. One would be forgiven for thinking that this is an unearthed long lost Seventies Philly track but this is no pastiche whatsoever, this is modern soul balladry that is bang up to date. Aching vocal and instrumentation, this could be used as a benchmark for Soul music.
10. Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings - Come and Be A Winner – Daptone
It’s been five years since we lost Sharon Jones. She left behind a recorded legacy that stands the test of time and is constantly in play. This one was released for the first time on 45 this year and if you don’t know it (originally on the 2017 Soul of a Woman LP) its one of those tracks from SJ that you feel you have known all your life. For me, it was a song at the right time, a life affirming message for the poxy year that 2021 was. Gone, Never forgotten. Sleep in Power, Missus!
11. Michelle David & The True-tones - Good Good Good – One World Records
Middle of the year and Michelle David absolutely blew the doors off with this storming 100 kph stomper. With an opening that would have driven the dancers at the Casino into a frenzy there is no let up literally from the start of this utter, utter monster of a Gospel soul tune. If you love your northern and you can handle the pace then you will bounce around to this like a spring chicken. Always reminds me my aul mucker TH who loves Gospel, Soul and Stompers!
12. Sweet Censations – Making Eyes – Industry Music Group
Joey Quinones is going from strength to strength and this year has seen him produce 6 releases on his IMG label. I cannot vouch for the other 5 but this one is a stunner that disorients you with its basic rhythm section that gives the impression of a demo done in someone’s garage but oh my word the vocal here is heavenly. One that the Souldies crowd went nuts over, it found a willing audience on this side of the world with those who wanted things a little rougher. A sublime performance and definitely one of the highlights of the year
13. Maria Sanchez – Dynamite/Sensation – Soul Tune
Soul Tune is a goldmine for modern soul music, you may not like all of it but it regularly throws up discs of the quality of this debut from Maria Sanchez. Two sides of differing shades but of the utmost quality. Dynamite is a rework of ‘Attitude’ by Desmond Foster on the same label but Sanchez brings female empowering lyrics to it and lifts the vibe into a track that is like summer coming out of the speakers, a total mood lifter. The flip side has a more serious bent to it but again quality is off the scale.
14. Amazin’ Five – Only With You – Tramp Records
Tramp have a great track record in releasing current funk and soul records in amongst their reissue of hard to find rarities and being based in Germany they have access to further east than the US/UK centric focus of bigger labels. Case in point is this release from Moscow based collective that describe themselves as a Soul/Funk band and on the evidence presented here, one is in no position to argue. It’s wonderful in English but hearing it in Russian adds a little extra to it.
15. The Freedom Affair – Outta My Mind – One World Records
Taken from the sell-out 2020 Debut LP this is a slice of heaven in a little over 3 and a half minutes that will enthrall those willing to just sit back and listen. A tale of wanting something that is out of reach “sometimes I wish I could go back in time”, it’s a sentiment we can all identify with these days but it’s just so deliciously packaged that one finds oneself just submitting to the elegant production.
16. The Allergies – Move on Baby – Jalapeno Records
And yet again the Bristol boys deliver with a track that demands you get your ass onto the dancefloor and shake it! Okay so it’s not Northern or soul of any description but what it is is a Latin tinged banger of a dance track that clips along and although it may have been cobbled together from other sources, it still manages to bring a smile to the face and a wiggle to the hips. Chill out guys and let yourself freak out
17. Ben Pirani and the Means of Production – More Than a Memory – Colemine
Its been a couple of years since we had new work from Pirani so the release of this one was a great reminder of what he can do. Vocals here are challenging for those expecting polish and silk. What you get is honest vocalizing almost demo,-ish with a Motown production quality that is staggering. Strings, backbeat, shimmer and sparkle through the track. Its soul as Art or Art as soul, I don’t know which. I just know I bloody love it.
18. The Estimations – Heart of Stone/Don’t go Kissing my baby – Kimberlite
Second release from The Estimations arrived with no little anticipation due to the runaway success of their debut 45. Whilst the overall feel of both sides is Motown there’s a subtlety afoot that swings through early and late period stylings of that famous era. Heart of Stone is psychedelic soul in the same vein as the early stuff from The Monophonics. Incessant beat drives it along and the breaks are savagely good. Flip is a light airy up-tempo dancer that keeps us in the same general area of the sound of young America.
19. The Harlem Gospel Travelers – Nothing but his love – Colemine
Part of the Devotional series from Colemine it says on the label, not sure if that’s so unbelieving folk don’t get upset cause it’s a gospel and it burns the ears off them 😊 but for sure it could sit alongside any of the secular releases. Another one with a non-classical vocal underpinned with solid production work that kicks the whole affair along. It takes off at about 50 seconds or so and is well worth sticking with. The devil doesn’t have all the best music, you know
20. The Jazz Defenders – The Big Man/ Loves Vestige – Haggis records
For those shying away from the J word in these guys name, you really shouldn’t. There’s enough here for hard core jazz fan and novice alike. Top side is big brassy hard/funky bop, the kind of track you would expect to find on a Lou Donaldson LP. Flip side is a little more modern in its style but still flashes its bop credentials proudly. Their debut LP dropped in 2019 and its on the list to purchase this year.
21. Monophonics – Last One Standing – Colemine
Taken from the Its Only Us LP from 2020, this one dropped on 45 this year with the 7-minute opus split across the two sides. Being honest about it, the optimal way to hear this is in its entirety on the LP as it builds up, ebbs and flows and then builds again. Finnigan’s vocal is as ever spot on and the background is sonically dense. Part two builds the themes and lets them fly resulting in a bone fide anthem.
22. Monophonics – Its only us/Get the Gold – Colemine
Another 45 release from Its Only Us and this time out it’s the downtempo title cut, a dreamy sultry doodle of a song that these guys can do like no other. Something to play late in the afternoon as the light fades. Flip side is an instrumental that doesn’t appear on the LP. Plenty of brass on this side and it stands well on its own.
23. Aaron Frazer – Over You/Have Mercy - Colemine
There was a huge buzz around Frazer this year when his debut solo LP, long anticipated, finally dropped. It was always going to be interesting to hear what the lad has in his back pocket and on the strength of the album, quite a bit apparently and he displays lots of styles in the set. This one soon followed on 45, a modern northern stomper on the top side aimed direct at the dancefloor. B Side is a slow almost doo-wop style which is also taken from the LP.
24. Desmond Foster – Loved to be Loved (just by you) – Soul Tunes
One would be forgiven thinking that this one is out of Miami when it kicks off – lots of horns and electric piano swinging till Foster comes in with his solid vocals. Short break 2/3rds way through leads us back into the Miami vibe. Flip side is a jaunty swinger set at a mid-pace. Foster and this label are due a breakout hit any day now.
25. Mike Kirkland and James Gadson - Time and Space – Cannonball
Ah, it wouldn’t be an end of year list without at least one release from Cannonball and for me this was the best thing they produced this year. Two versions of a cracker – Cannonball and Blue Lotus – and both are just magnificent. Originally a 1980 track it’s brought up to date on the cannonball side and then blue lotus dim it down a little bit and take it back to its roots with sympathetic arrangement. One of my favorites of the cannonball releases.
26. Josi Dias and the Kevin Fingier Collective – Um Brilho Novo - Fingier
Number four from the label and second release of the year in which the Fingier collective teams up with Josi Dias for some bossa to go with the soul and funk shapes they throw. I wrote about it on its release “sharp vocals from Dias countered by Xylophone whilst a wild flute whirls around the ceiling and drives the track towards the first break. Percussion holds the ship steady as she plows ahead on an impossible beat that is relentless ... lovely stuff” B-side is a samba and bop hybrid that is made for the Jazz dancers perfectly timed to 2:46…
27. Its Time – Purple Mountain Majesty – Dean Parrish – Acid Jazz
When I heard this for the first time, my mind was blown. Expected to hear some sort of slick New York soul instead I got a sonic kick in the liathróidi that had me reeling. Basically, an antiwar song from the perspective of a soldier, it’s a slab of psychedelic soul that is worthy of Norman Whitfield in his heyday. Packs a punch, this one
28. Lamont Butler – Ungodly War/ Get up and praise the lord – Miles ahead
First time for a 45 release for both of these tracks. Top side is not a million miles away from the original, but it packs enough of a difference to make it worth picking up. B-side is some finger wagging at the faithful to get a little more forthright spreading the word and testifying. Lovely rural rickety church vibe off this side and you will find yourself swinging along with it before you know it.
29. Thee Secret Souls – Will I see you again – Penrose
Penrose burst onto the scene in 2020 and has continued to issue quality music that is coveted by soul and souldies fans alike. Lustrous slow soul that oozes class on both sides of this one, vocal here is just below falsetto with drums guitar and organ and you wont be rushing to the dancefloor other than as a couple for a slow set (why don’t we have them anymore?). Crucial record room listening
30. Bobby Harden and the Soulful Saints – Feels so Good/Wounded Hearts – Dala
A slight technicality here – I bought the record in December but it wont drop till January. Ah sure I will probably include it in next years list too. Reminding me of something produced by Carl Davis for Jackie Wilson in the 7ts, this is glorious soul music. Bass (Vince Charito once again – bass with The Resonaires ) is well forward in the mix and burbles along whilst Harden steps up and produces the goods once again.