Hi everyone, thanks for clicking on our newsletter again this week and for your support. We appreciate it. Lots going on here at Sorry State as per usual. We are preparing for Record Store Day, processing used collections, shipping orders, selling in-store and all the other fun stuff that goes with connecting folks with great music. Talking of which, have you all checked out the new SSR single we have out by Brazilians Lasso? It’s a banger. How about the Peace De Resistance LP? Highly recommended. One of my favorite recent releases and one we are proud to back here at Sorry State.
As music lovers, it is always hard to hear of the passing of any musician, artist or icon, but the sad news this week of the death of Chris Bailey, front man for Australian punk legends The Saints, has hit us particularly hard. I’m sure like u s you have been rocking your copies of Eternally Yours and (I’m) Stranded extra loud in honor of Chris.
For my staff picks this week, I thought I might switch styles a little and talk to you about some soul records. Particularly modern soul records with a retro feel by female singers that perhaps you may have missed. In recent years, there have been some quality albums made in this genre by new and older artists alike. Obviously we all know and love the late and great Sharon Jones; her success at Daptone Records helped to inspire a global interest in old school style funk and soul. Other labels sharing the Daptone ethos such as Colemine Records have now become almost household names. They have scored success with many releases, the Durand Jones albums being the most known. Small labels here in America and around the world are all contributing to a continued interest in authentic soul music that is new but with a retro feel and played by actual musicians and sung by proper singers. There is a place for computer generated music and vocal effects to hide real talent, but for many of us that isn’t enough. We want to hear actual playing and real singing. I feel so blessed to have been living in New York during the late 90s and early 00s when the retro soul and funk scene was in full swing. To have seen those early Daptone artists like Sharon Jones in the beginning was a real privilege and so much fun. The ripples from those explosive shows and records are still being felt around the world.
So, with that said here are some examples of those kinds of records. In no particular order and ranking and just the tip of the iceberg.
Gizelle Smith & The Mighty Mocambos: This Is Gizelle Smith. Mocambo Records. 2009
London based singer Gizelle Smith teamed up with the Mocambo crew from Hamburg, Germany to cut this nice slice of neo-funk and soul. The Mocambo label does a great job releasing breakbeat heavy funk on 45 and LP and this album was cut at their studio in Hamburg and at Goldhawk Studios in London’s Shepheard’s Bush. I love this record. It has such a great vibe with every track a winner. The first single taken from the album, Working Woman, was a big hit in the soul and funk world and was given a nice remix by Kenny Dope for his Kay Dee Records label. Other highlights include The Time Is Right For Love and Snake Charmer, but these are just three gems out of the twelve on offer. Ms. Smith has gone on to release two other full lengths since then with the most recent being last year’s Revealing on Jalapeno Records. I unfortunately haven’t seen her perform live, but am assured by those that have that she brings it.
Nicole Willis And The Soul Investigators: Keep Reachin’ Up. Timmion Records. 2005
New Yorker Nicole Willis has had a full career going back to her beginnings in 1984. She has worked with everyone from The Brand New Heavies to Curtis Mayfield. She married Finnish musician and artist Jimi Tenor and relocated to Finland where she cut several records in the early 00s. Keep Reachin’ Up was the first of those. The Timmion label is another fine purveyor of class music and I have yet to hear anything that I didn’t like from them. The Soul Investigators are the label house band and do a stellar job of backing Nicole Willis on this set. Again, it’s the sound of actual musicians playing and a vocalist who can really sing. No duff tracks on the set but the two openers, Feelin’ Free and If This Ain’t Love (I Don’t Know What Is) are worth the price of admission alone.
Two from Big Crown and Nicole Wray aka Lady Wray. She has been on the scene since the late nineties. Her first record, Make It Hot, came out in 1998 and was an RnB record more in tune with the times. That single was a hit, but the subsequent album of the same name less so. Wray was under the guidance of Missy Elliott at the time. She had been featured vocalist on her Supa Dupa Fly album and toured as a backing singer for her. A second album was begun in 2000, but due to a falling out with Elektra Records it was shelved. From there, Wray worked with Ol’ Dirty Bastard and was signed to Roc-A-Fella Records, where a single came out. She was working on another album called Lovechild, in-between times which she was moved to Def Jam and then to Dame Dash Music Group. That label folded and her album went with it.
In 2012, she teamed up with English singer Terri Walker and formed an act called Lady. Signed to Truth And Soul Records, they recorded one self-titled album and served as the singers for soul singer Lee Fields on his tour. The style of this music was strongly in the retro soul style and well received. However, her partner in the group decided to leave and pursue solo ventures and Nicole renamed herself Lady Wray and found her way to Big Crown Records, the Brooklyn based label run by the ace Leon Michels.
The two records she has made for Big Crown are terrific. Great songs, great production and fantastic vocals from Lady Wray herself. I don’t know where I have been all this time, but I only recently became aware of these albums, and they have both been on heavy rotation since. I remember her from those earlier records and am very aware of the great work El Michels and the Big Crown label are doing, but came late to this party. My apologies to Lady Wray and Big Crown. Of the two, Queen Alone arguably has the stronger retro soul sound, whereas Piece Of Me is a little more current. What unites the two though, and the records we talked about already, is the sound of real musicians in a studio with a genuine vocalist. You can’t fake that.
All three of these ladies are the real deal. They have put their time in and paid their dues, as the saying goes. Highlights on the Lady Wray records are many, but from the most recent you should check out Under The Sun and Where Were You and from the earlier album I like the songs Guilty and Let It Go.
Last time I looked we had copies of both Lady Wray albums in stock should you care to own them.
Okay, that’s my lot for this week. Thank you for reading and hopefully one or two of you out there will find as much enjoyment in these records as I do.
Cheers - Dom