304 HOLLOWAY ROAD REVISITED The Honeycombs
For those of you of a certain age like myself the album title will be immediately familiar. It is of course the address in North London of the legendary RGM studios home of maverick genius producer Joe Meek. If you haven’t seen ‘Telstar’ the excellent film of his life you really must. The Honeycombs gave Joe his third (and last) No.1 with the thumping ‘Have I The Right’ back in 1964. Founder of the band Martin Murray intended this new album to be released in 2014 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of that achievement, the deadline overran due to this and that but is now here. Martin wanted to utilise the technology now available to re-imagine, rework and re-arrange The Honeycombs songs and keep to the spirit of Holloway Road. The majority of the songs were written by the emerging team of Ken Howard and Alan Blakley who were to have major success and endless hits with notably DD.D.B.M & T, The Herd and even Elvis. Indeed ‘Its so hard’ recorded by DDBMT appears on this album. So do these reworkings work? Yes in the main they do and I get Martins desire to put a new take on things. HITR becomes a slower tempo orchestral country tinged affair as opposed to the Dave Clark style stomper it was back in the day. Opening tracks ‘Leslie Anne’ and ‘Mary Jo’ both uptempo numbers sound fresh and ‘retro’ at the same time and there is no doubting the musical ability on display. Totem Pole 9 (theme from Howards Way) yes. you read that right! manages to come away sounding like a homage to the Tornados ‘Telstar’ Deliberate? don’t know but brought a smile to my face. I have to say the track that didn’t work for me was ‘That’s The Way’ The Honeycombs second hit, here given a reggae style makeover, reminding me of Blondie’s ‘Island of Lost Souls’ (I didn’t care for that either!). But overall as aforementioned Martin has made a refreshing, enjoyable and engaging album.
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STRATEGY (OUR TRIBUTE TO PHILADELPHIA) The Three Degrees
I have to confess straightaway that back in the 1970’s when the girls were huge with songs like ‘When Will I See You Again’ ‘Year of Decision’ ‘Take Good Care of Yourself’ et al I was to put it nicely… underwhelmed..ive always strived to be honest in 45 years of reviewing. To me those hits were too cabaret, over produced and to my ears dare I say soulless. So having said that I approached this new release with some trepidation. Celebrating 50 years in the business original members Helen Scott and Valerie Hobday along with (relative) newcomer Freddie Pool (she joined in 2011) have released this first new studio album in 25 years. Whether its the injection of Freddie, the superb choice of material, all covers/tributes to the O’Jays, McFadden and Whitehead, Billy Paul, The Trammps, Harold Melvin etc this is a whole different ballgame. This is SOUL, all those negatives I had are swept away. This is Proper with a capital P, the arrangements are stunning, I particularly single out ‘If You Don’t Know Me By Now’ (always a personal favourite song), but there is not one track that doesn’t now ooze with real emotion and a real groove. This is an all new Three Degrees for me. Maybe they now have more freedom to record the way they want to, whatever, the end result is light years on. They may be covering old songs but this album is as relevant as any contemporary soul artist. Listen to the very ‘now’ lyrics in ‘Love Train’. I wasn’t aware until reading the press release that they are in the Guiness World Records as the longest running female vocal group in history. On this showing they’ve earned that status. Superb. And in closing I dedicate this review to SMART member and old friend Andre who worked a lot with the girls back in the day at Kings and probably wholeheartedly disagrees with my opening comments!….
MASTERPIECE/SMOOTH SAILIN (2CD SET) The Isley Brothers
I guess you could see this release as the third coming of the Isleys. The first being the Tamla glory days of Twist and Shout, This Old Heart of Mine, and my favourite Behind A Painted Smile and many more in the 60’s. Then moving into the 70’s with a revamped sound that brought forth hits like That Lady and Summer Breeze. This 2CD set released for the first time and recorded for Warners in 1985 and 1987 features the original three man line up of Ronald, O’Kelly and Rudolph Isley. In relation to the previous 2 decades this is the Isleys in a new direction using other songwriters as opposed to their own material. Covering Phil Collins ‘If Leaving Me Is Easy’ for example and making it a 7 minute exquisite soulful blissed out track. Indeed Masterpiece relies on lush ballads as befitted US R’n’b radio stations at that point in time. Out goes raw and in comes silky and that ubiquitous use of synthesizers and the (for real drummers) the prolific use of sodding drum machines..ahem, anyway despite the fact this has 80’s production stamped all over it you cant drown the sheer quality of vocals of the brothers, lets be clear they could sing the phone book and it would still encapsulate soul. Masterpiece isn’t for dancing (well only upclose and personal!) But to chill to it is right up there. Try ‘Come To Me’ as a prime example. Perfect to relax to and bathe in the warmth of a timeless band. Smooth Sailin, despite its title is a bit more of an upbeat affair Ron Isleys distinctive vocal is more to the fore on tracks like ‘Everything is Alright’ and the funk element is more prominent, as are the synth/drum…Smooth Sailin Tonight and ‘Come My Way’ standout, however I think of the two CD’s in this package Masterpiece just edges it for me. You, quite rightly, will make up your own minds.
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Til next time, keep warm, Colin