Soul UK (Hurricane Records; 2011)
Beverley Knight has been turning out some of the best Soul on either side of the Atlantic for well over a decade now. She has moved elegantly between Soul, garage, dancefloor, rock and Northen Soul with ease and dominance. On her latest and seventh album, Soul UK (Hurricane) she delivers a massive "thank you" to the British artists that have inspired her.
Soul UK isn't your typical covers albums. It really is a step above that. What makes a covers album brilliant is the ability for the artist to make the songs their own. Not just a straight translation. Beverley does this and more. The other great thing about Soul UK is Beverley's choices of tracks to cover. They aren't the typical hits. Yes, we will all know most of these songs, but they aren't the "number 1 hits" you would expect. Which says something about the artist again--she respects the original big hits and doesn't want to tamper with that perfection. She wants to educate the audience on the greater but lesser known hit.
Beverley Knight does a marvelous job of deconstructing and revitalizing some of these tracks. On "Southern Freeez" (originally written by Freeez featuring John Rocca), Knight strips away the synth parts but leaves the infectious bassline and upbeat fun aspect of the song. By doing this she creates a joyful soul number that sounds completely Beverley Knight. It's a love song and a celebration and the lyrics to song stand the test of time (almost 30 years...jeez, I'm old).
"Say I'm You're Number One" (written by Princess) is a song I really didn't remember. On first listen I thought this was the lone original from Beverley on the album. I then looked at booklet and realized wow, this is Princess, and this midtempo ballad suited Beverley's voice perfectly! She delivers a wonderful rendition that other artists today destroy with a load of unnecessary vocal histrionics. The Young Disciples are given an incredible homage through "Apparently Nothin'". Beverley Knight pulls the speed back on track and gives it a deeper soulful feel then the Acid Jazz tempo of the original. Carleen Anderson is another one of my favourite soul singers so this is a tough call on how to treat both versions. I'm giving a tip of the hat to Bev for the addition of Roots Manuva on the track.
Probably the godfathers of late 20th century British soul, Loose Ends, were also an influence of Beverley Knight (not surprising, really). "Don't Be A Fool" is a really lesser known track for American audiences but its a track with a powerful message for uplifting the spirit. Knight's version doesn't stray too far from the original but her focus is more on the lyrics and less on the production. One of the problems I always had with the original is the lyrics were amazing but drowned out by the electronic production. Beverley's version brings those words to life with a real emotional impact. Probably one of the least known artists outside of England is Andrew Roachford. Beverley gives him the respect he deserves with "Cuddly Toy". Roachford at the time (early 90s) was great mixture of Soul, Pop and Rock - very hard for people to grapple with that at the time (why, I will never know). Knight turns "Cuddly Toy" into a fiery Ike & Tina romp. It's probably the most fun on the album, bringing back memories of Beverley's Motor City Soul album from a few years back.
It seems lately that Lewis Taylor is also finally getting the wider audience he deserves as well. While Taylor never wanted the fame, the people he has influenced continues to grow. Recently Robbie William's covered "Lovelight"; now Beverley Knight pays her respects with "Damn", a killer love letter that keeps the musical structure of the original but in Knight's hands has a deep blues vibe to it. Soul UK closes in style with George Michael's "One More Try". Knight retains the gospel dialogue of the original but strips away the keyboards in favour of the acoustic piano/organ to drive the message home. The music boils with emotion and actually blows the original into little tiny pieces.
Soul UK includes a much longer list of re-imagined classics from Soul II Soul, Jamiroquai, Omar, Heatwave and more but I would still be writing and you really need that time to go and purchase this album. Beverley Knight has turned these modern day Soul classics into her own and in some cases brought out an even more powerful essence from the lyrics. The stripped down quality of music allows Knight to explore the pieces from both structural and vocal standpoints. This is a perfect introduction to some of the missing and missed soul classics of the last 3 decades, as well as one the best "standards" albums you will hear all year. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!