RETRO SOUL SUMMER?


Solange Knowles: I Decided
From Sol-Angel and the Hadley St. Dreams (Geffen, upcoming 2008)

Estelle feat. Kardinal Offishall: Magnificent
From Shine (Atlantic, 2008)

Little Jackie: One Love + 28 Butts
From The Stoop (S-Curve, upcoming 2008)

Bonus: Tammi Terrell: What a Good Man He Is
From Irresistible (Motown, 1969)

Question: exactly how many “next Amy Winehouses” can there really be? So far, in the last year we’ve heard about: Leona Lewis (more like the new Mariah), Duffy (voice so thin, you could shave with it), Adele (Tracy Chapman meets Madeline Peryoux), Gabrielle Cilmi (didn’t both Nicole Willis and Amy both do this same video already?), even Lykke Li (doesn’t belong in the same conversation), et. al.

It has been a curious phenom that in the wake of last year’s epic Sharon Jones + Winehouse one-two punch, everyone is rushing to jock the bandwagon, and especially with Amy, there’s a desire to find another personality who could loom as large (good luck! You’ll need more than a bee-hive to fill Amy’s coif). From my point of view though, the upside to all this is that 2008 is shaping up to be a summer chockfull of retro-soul-esque production. I mean, sure, a lot of it is derivatives of derivatives – is there such a thing as neo-retro-soul? Hmmm…) but frankly, I’d rather listen to a bad clone of a clone of Motown/Stax than some of the new music that’s the alternative.

Case in point, three more recent artists on the retro tip, all of whom I’ve found perfectly enjoyable even if two of them seem to be riding the bandwagon. I’ve installed a “Wine-O-Meter” to measure similarity (not quality).

Solange, aka that other Knowles sister, decided to go to the source and hire Mark Ronson to produce her new single, “I Decided.” I admit – I was initially really skeptical about the song but it’s grown for me. Here’s my main beef: that little, jaunty, handclap track is very Motown-ish but it’s an intro: after a bar or two, the real beat drops in and in this case, that’s all there is. It’s like the song is all build-up but never delivers a gorgeous melodic hammer that you’d expect. That said, once you accept that, it’s a catchy tune. Snap along!

Wine-O-Meter: 7

Estelle’s Shine is one of my more favorite albums of 2008 and a strong, second showing for this British artist. I actually don’t think she’s very much like Winehouse; her vibe is more like a throwback to the late ’90s if anything else. There’s that R&B-meets-classic-hip-hop flair on songs like “Wait a Minute” (shades of “Kick In the Door”) and “So Much Out the Way” (Beatminerz steez) plus the ragga flavor on “Magnificent.” I just really like how that whole song flows, especially with the heavy ska/dub influence and Estelle’s silken vocals. Sweet stuff but hey, she should have gotten Special Ed on here instead of Kardinal. That would have been offishall.

Wine-O-Meter: 3

As for Little Jackie…ok, now THIS is definitely on some post-Winehouse tip, not just musically (Adam Pallin does a pretty good flip on Ronson’s style) but also in terms of the attitude and spark in the songwriting. Here’s the confusing thing: Little Jackie is not the singer; it’s the group name. The vocalist is Imani Coppola, who some of you might remember from “Legend of a Cowgirl” from about ten years back. Vocally, she’s also more contemporary than throwback but as noted, the kind of wit and cutting-ness in the songwriting will likely remind folks of Winehouse…even though, if you think about, her career goes back at least half a decade earlier. True as that may be, it’s really hard to listen to something like “28 Butts” (which I’m pretty sure uses this song) on part of the rhythm section) or “One Love” and not make the comparison. The latter is straight up ’60s girl pop (and I’m feeling it!). Their album drops later this summer: I highly recommend it.

Wine-O-Meter: 9

This all said though, you still gotta ask: why go retro when you can still listen to the originals? The bonus track is by the late Tammi Terrell, from (tragically) her only solo album, Irresistible. This song is so soulful, so funky, so ridiculously good for something that’s nearly 40 years old. It’s artists like Terrell who set the bar – now let’s see who can pass it.

P.S. Peep when Terrell drops: “let this girl tear the world up” – loving it!

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