Sweet Soul Select Artists, World Soul Collective, Vol. 1
(Sweet Soul Records)
Album Review by Brent Faulkner
2012‘s World Soul Collective, Vol. 1 is a compilation of international soul artists. Released on Japanese soul label Sweet Soul Records, the compilation’s purpose is ‘…to promote soul music in Japan in all its forms.’ The philosophy of Sweet Soul Records states that it considers soul to transcend all race. Consider their motto: ‘soul over the race.’ World Soul Collective, Vol. 1 features a diverse group of soul artists ranging from retro-soul, neo-soul, jazz-soul and hip-hop soul, among other sub-genres. The compilation, like so many, has its ‘hits’ and its ‘misses,’ but overall gives a sound snapshot of soul across the world.
“Who’s in the Mirror,” performed by Nik West, opens solidly though unexceptionally. West is sound as a vocalist though she doesn’t produce an ‘earth shattering’ performance; her scatting is the highlight of a ‘safe’ opener. “Imagine” by Jeremy James has a fine contemporary soul groove though it fails to ‘wow.’ James’s voice is pleasant though it could stand additional nuance and distinction here. Length hurts the cut most of all, clocking in at over five minutes.
“This Time,” performed by ORLY, ‘sets the record straight,’ delivering the effort’s first ‘captivating’ performance. The soul-driven groove is superb, as is the underlying harmonic progression. While ORLY’s vocals aren’t incredibly ‘flashy,’ they are solid. “The Best is Yet to Come,” performed by Mr. President, features a brilliant soul groove. The cut delivers the album’s strongest musicianship at this point. Though lyrically it is perhaps not the ‘next great song,’ its overall sound is anchored by the overt influence of Curtis Mayfield. “Morning Glow,” performed by Ntjam Rosie, delivers given its jazzy harmonic progression and lushly harmonized background vocals. Rosie is a commanding, nuanced vocalist, easily delivering one of the more electrifying performances on World Soul Collective, Vol. 1. “So Divine,” performed by VenueConnection, sounds indigenous to `70s soul. In addition to authenticity, the songwriting is quite notable, particularly the refrain: “When I looked into your eyes / You were so divine…”
“Don’t Rush,” performed by Amber Ojeda, features solid jazz-soul influenced production. The timbre definitely fits Ojeda’s genre-bending vocals well. “Don’t Rush” finishes off a string of consistent cuts.
“Until Now,” performed by Paris Toon and Mothers Favorite Child featuring Ti-et & Morris, features a busy, soul-laden groove and a bit of an abrupt start. The main issue with “Until Now” is that there is a lot for listeners to digest yet the overall shaping of all those elements is underdeveloped. “2 of a Kind,” performed by Weeland and the Urban Soul Collective is stronger, though also ‘clunky’ in some regards. The driving soul groove reminds one of Marvin Gaye’s “I Heard it Through the Grapevine” which is a positive. The ‘switch-up’ section (bridge), with its driving rhythm guitar lines, is a highlight.
“Trouble,” performed by Sacha Vee, is one of the strongest cuts. The groove is lazy and funky, supporting Vee’s jazzy and soulful vocals, additionally characterized by superb nuance. The use of organ is a brilliant orchestration choice by the producers. “Natural High” concedes no momentum, finding Solburst opting for more of a hip-hop influenced soul groove. The lead vocals are excellent, as are the harmonized background vocals. The funky guitar, electric piano and organ used in tandem with one another is nothing short of awesome. Add the spoken word/rap contributions plus the modern flare and “Natural High” is ‘naturally’ a hit.
“Gotta Be Me” (performed by Innosphere) and “Food For Thought” (performed by Song featuring Guru), both play into the hip-hop influenced soul sound. While both cuts have redeeming qualities, both also possess flaws. “Gotta Be Me” is vocally understated while “Food For Thought” is too long (shy of six minutes) and somewhat clunky. “Trickery Sh**,” performed by HAWA, proves much less compelling than its explicit title suggests, HAWA’s vocal timbre its sole distinct aspect.
“Over the Sun,” performed by Dilouya featuring Omar, has an overt soul sound reminiscent of Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On.” The biggest quibble with “Over the Sun” is that there are too many layers of sound to digest. “Take Me As I Am” (performed by Shirma Rose) and “Make the Change (by Nao Yoshioka) end the album quite compellingly. “Take Me As I Am” is one of the better conceived and performed cuts, despite its overwrought duration. “Make the Change,” cited as the first original music recorded by the label, uses tempo changes throughout the verse and twinkling piano to captivate the listener. Vocally, Nao Yoshioka gives a strong performance and foreshadows the future of Sweet Soul.
Overall, World Soul Collective, Vol.1 gives a solid snapshot of the talent that lies throughout the world of soul music. The collection is flawed with hits and misses, but there are enough solid moments to make it enjoyable. Like with so many compilations, listeners must search and be selective to find the strongest, well-rounded cuts.
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