It’s hard to translate into words just how I feel about listening to Ashford & Simpson as their music transmits that rare magic which only seems available to a very few artists. Maybe it is something to do with a certain nostalgia the era between 73-81 conjures up, although I’m pretty sure it’s purely down to their sublime (I use the word carefully in this case) vocals that combine to elevate life in all its rich complexities. I’ll try to bypass the word Soul here too, despite it being a ready and necessary reference point, as there is also something truly universal, transcendent of genres contained within the music they wrote together. If you can find a more perfect song than Ain’t no Mountain High Enough written for a then solo Diana Ross at Motown, good luck to you. After all, their calibre as songwriters always did speak for itself. This triple CD collection however is all about their years at Warner Bros and contains many beautifully poignant pieces of music, which both touch the dancefloor as readily as they do reach out for the heart. Perhaps most relevant for our purposes are the extended versions found on the additional third disc (to the double vinyl release) with numbers such as Found A Cure remixed by Tom Moulton, Joe Clausell’s wonderful remake of Bourgie Bourgie, Mike Maurro and Wayne Dickson’s tastefully funky take on Stay Free, plus an all-time favourite in the shape of It Seems To Hang On remixed by Jimmy Simpson – which expands the spine tingling vocals into an ecstasy all of their own. There remains something particularly singular and unique about this music. In addition, the main sleeve notes once again arrive care of Christian John Wikane who must surely by now qualify as one of the most foremost authorities on R&B/ Disco. Listen on with pleasure…
Lifted from his forthcoming album ‘Arrival 13:36 Gate 63’ is this hotwired Disco number that serves up its additively, undulating bassline in full effect. Aided only by occasional funky percussion, high-end strings hits and a couple of excitable breakdowns this is both simple/ uncomplicated yet straight to the point. Three remixes accompany the original plus an acapella featuring Gramma Funk’s particular brand of the spoken word. First up is Gruia who adds a bouncier groove, while cutting up the vocals to reset the Disco angle. As does Danny O whose excellent driving, percussion punctuated rhythms really get under your skin. Then Italian duo Jonny N Travis fuse a more haunting, atmospherically charged version that sounds like the perfect complement to the album mix.
Hollis Parker’s tempting ‘What You’ve Done’ points in the direction of a forthcoming album: The Last Raw Era of which I’ll be reviewing shortly. As the title suggests this evokes the past which will come as either a pleasant reminder or possibility even a relatively pointless exercise. Or, you could just simply enjoy what is essentially quality music. Its smoky, Saxophone punctuated rhythms certainly feel emotive in that classically soulful way neatly capturing the essence of the early 90’s. Punchy beats plus guitar flourishes all go to colour in the background most effectively while the yearning vocal lines add a certain extra bite. Next, is Parker’s Lament which also the retraces deeper, more ‘soulful’ moods of the period and again sounds like good music to me (still).
Ashford & Simpson
Love Will Fix It: The Best of Ashford & Simpson
Groove Line Records
It’s in the region of 29 degrees outside (hot for the UK) and this compilation of beautiful moments from Ashford & Simpson is blazing away on the stereo. Spread across two circles of vinyl it’s always striking just how well produced the music still sounds decades later, and also the supremely gifted song writing abilities of the duo, plus of course those heaven sent voices. A bunch of personal favourites are on here, not least of all It Seems To Hang On. But feel blessed, enjoy the weather, love their timeless music.
I could simply list the music on here and you would demand it all. But let’s just say: Ashford & Simpson ‘One More Try, The O’Jays ‘This Time Baby’, Lafleur ‘Dub Till We Drop, The System ‘It’s Passion’ and that’s only half of the story. The remainder includes Klein & MBO, B Beat Girls and Kasso which all sum up into an energy packed blast through the styles and sounds of the late seventies and early-ish eighties. Never a dull moment as they say as Johnny D excitedly cuts-up and mixes the beats with dedication that is heartfelt and inspiring. The mixed version of the CD even comes complete with starry voice overs, although nothing could really come close to the sublime bliss of the penultimate Ultra High Frequency ‘We’re On The Right Track’. The range and influences on offer here are never less than impressive and the combination of song, electronics’ and real instrumentation is clearly a lesson in love – fast and slow. 9
Eight years in and with his eighth release for the label perhaps not surprisingly the Lost My Dog co-founder produces something rather excellent in that old-school House kind of way with peak-time stabs and razor sharp beats all feeling very dancefloor – the suitably classic claps and moody pads fill in the gaps just like they used too. Moodymanc then picks up the pace with more staccato stabs and rushing hi-hats giving the remix typical intensity, aided by a flourish of funky timbale it all becomes peak-time business with the introduction of the held strings which then sweep alongside the deep vocals. The d-d-Drum Dub follows playing out the percussion against sizzling background tension on his second and equally excellent remix. Next up is Rush which does just that with more fuzzy Strictly styled stabs and strings sounding sensuous, while Peace La Paz dishes out 909 beats and more deliciously juicy basslines. 8
Uppercut ‘Turn The Music To Your Head’ Kult Records
More prime-time action from Kult as Montreal’s Dj Uppercut makes his return to the fold with this shinny sounding production. Driven along by an insistent electro riff this builds and drops with prowess and is supported by heavily treated voices and perky keys. Remixes come from Mikel Curcio and the excellent Zoltan Kontes who’s perfectly named 4hour dub version delivers a typically devastating tribal workout which Kult do oh-so-well. Love the Fx, love the Drums. 9
If you inhabited the early nineties then ‘I Wanna Dance The Night Away’ was one of many sampled vocal refrains that made a repeated appearance at the time, however it makes a most welcome return now in all its detuned glory. Sounding all the more exciting played against this brutally simplistic bassline and moody keys the mix also builds up space-age fx along with a repetition you won’t want to escape from. Mind Games proceeds with more enticing deepness combining classic drums sounds and chords that again get feverish with a well timed arrangement. Finishing off for the Spanish label is Visit From God which breaks up the beats while delivering big P-Funk attitude. 8