Lee Fields feat. the Expressions: Honey Dove
From 7″ (Truth & Soul, 2006). Also available on Fallin’ Off the Reel (CD)

El Michaels Affair: Ocho Rios + Behind the Blue Curtains
From Sounding Out the City (Truth & Soul, 2005)

Darondo: Such a Night
From Legs EP (Luv N Haight, 2006)

Spanky Wilson & The Quantic Soul Orchestra: I’m Thankful
From I’m Thankful (Ubiquity, 2006)

Yeah, I’m playing catch-up. Sometimes it’s beez that way. Ask Nina.

All five of the above songs have come out in the last year or so (either on Luv N Haight/Ubiquity or Truth & Soul), all of them were releases I was “planning on getting to” but left on the backburner. Until now. If nothing else, they suggest that the opportunities for soul performers, raised on the aesthetics of yore but powering into the present – are as good as they have ever been. (See Nicole Willis if you need further proof).

I’m still not even sure if the Lee Fields/Expressions song is new or old (from what’s been written, it sounds new but if you would have told me it was from 1969, I would have easily believed that too. Regardless, it is, in the parlance of Soul Strutters: (aka, “face-melting”).

Seriously, it’s really f***ing good. Easily one of the best soul songs I’ve heard in the last few years and by that I mean, new and old. It’s on some, “hmmm…I wonder if I can license this for Soul Sides Vol. 3” goodness (yeah, I said Vol. 3. Which, would, of course, mean that Vol. 2 is already plotted. Ssssshhhh). In fact, I’m listening to it again as I type and all I can think is, “cotdamn, this is good.”

Also on some really f***ing good level = El Michels Affair. Yeah, I know, that album came out last year but I didn’t get to it until more recently and I’m simply marveling at how good their sound is. Definitely one of the strongest nuevo-funk efforts I’ve heard…reminds me of the Poets of Rhythm, not so much in their direct sound but in how adroitly they can shape their music to collide together a variety of styles and genres with it sounding perfectly organic. Case in point, “Ocho Rios,” which is this unclassifiable song that sounds like the miscegenated product of a three-way affair between ranchera, Ethiopian jazz and Memphis soul. Ethio-tex-memph-mex. It’s what’s hot.

“Behind the Blue Curtains” also appears on that Fallin Off the Reel comp and I’ve seen it pop up on a few other blogs which were all more timely than I. I don’t even know what to say now – I exhausted all my superlatives on the last song but this is deserving of whatever laudatory vocabulary you can come up with. In other words, it’s also R.F.G.

The Darondo is a sweet treat: a previously unreleased session song from the early 1970s that Luv N Haight managed to recover. Melt into it – it such a velvet texture despite being a little lo-fi. The music is understated but it works beautifully with Darondo’s distinctly plaintive voice, made all the more dreamy through the echo chamber. Call it spacy soul – it’ll take you there.

Last but not least, it’s the powerhouse pairing of Spanky Wilson and the Quantic Soul Orchestra. It’s a great idea for collaboration, especially given how deft QSO can be with their chops. To be candid, I didn’t find this overall album to be as adventurous as Willis’ or Sharon Jones’ last one but it’s still a solid effort by both of these masters.