A talented soul artist makes a very fine soul album and it’s released by Motown Records to an enthusiastic welcome. Nothing truly ground-breaking in that, you might say. Except, of course, the 21st century version of Motown Records doesn’t really do new soul music anymore. And even if they did, how many of their recently signed artists would you expect to be born and raised in Germany? With a track record of three albums sung in German and only two in English?
The tale of Joy Denalane’s Let Yourself Be Loved album has enjoyed a couple of twists, right enough. As keener Echoes readers will already know, Let Yourself Be Loved was originally issued in Germany by Lesedi/Motown last summer, during the height of the COVID lockdown. It did rather well over there too, notching more than 10 million streams, selling in excess of 26,000 copies and reaching number five in the German charts. Now, with its official UK reveal in ‘Deluxe’ format on September 3 – it features an additional five new songs and swanky seven-inch vinyl box packaging – we get to hear the story of its creation direct from the artist herself. And Joy, it has to be said, is as surprised as anyone that she should suddenly be a Motown artist after a couple of decades of making music.
“How did it happen?” she laughs. “That’s a good question! I don’t even know. All I can do is tell you the facts… ”
Describe any artist’s album as a ‘comeback’ and they’ll invariably explain why it’s not – because they never went away, because they never stopped making music, because their absence wasn’t for want of trying. No true musician likes to think of themselves as only semi-committed to their art.
So, then, how to account for the more than 15-year gap between Texan soulman Nuwamba’s much admired debut, Above The Waterand his very fine new project, Love Ase – pronouced ‘Ash-ay’ and from the Yoruba for ‘so be it’ – due for release on August 6? After all, that first album, released by Hollywood-based indie label Chocolate Soul back in 2005, seemed to many adherents to the US indie soul scene to mark the arrival of an important new star – a guy whose step up to a major label deal was pretty much a given, whose talent clearly put him amongst the ranks of such as Anthony Hamilton, Raheem DeVaughn and Dwele, perhaps even Maxwell and D’Angelo. Nuwamba himself is disarmingly honest about his answer – as he is pretty much every subject one puts to him. Yes, he does cite “living my life” as a primary day-to-day concern and specifically mentions a number of events – such as the birth of his baby son on the very day that his father died – but he puts much of the blank period down to two things: the kind of opportunities he was being offered on the back of the powerful debut and, later, his own inability to form lasting creative partnerships with those who, as he puts it, “didn’t see my vision.”
Sizzla is no ordinary reggae artist, and no ordinary human being. He’s been banned from several countries, including the UK, because of his homophobic lyrics – Nah Apologise was especially vengeful – and the police once found an arsenal of weapons at his property in August Town, on the outskirts of Kingston. All too often he’s been judged according to Western, middle-class values, but there’s no point in defending the indefensible, so we’ll let the facts fall where they may.
Ironically, the gated premises where he lives, records and prays is called ‘Judgement Yard’, which sounds menacing but is actually a thriving hub of creative and community service activity where he has his home, a studio and even a Rasta tabernacle. Imagine, the man who’s so often been demonised by outsiders is actually an ordained priest – and that’s just one of his many surprises.
Having first met him when he was at high school and already beginning to write the profound and often revolutionary lyrics that made him hugely influential throughout the nineties especially, I have always been a Sizzla fan. Let it be said that the riches within his prodigious output extend far beyond the classic Black Woman And Child and Da Real Thing, and whilst he’s suffered from inconsistency, he’s never stopped pushing at the boundaries of his capabilities, both as an artist and producer.
Four bars of drums. Steady cymbal pattern. Controlled crunch with the kick. Then, like a giant ribbon drifting through the air, come the strings, adding a glorious sheen to the initial rhythm. This is the opening of Foreign Routes, the piece with which Timo Lassy kicks off his new album Trio. The title only signals part of the record’s script. The Finnish saxophonist and accompanists – double bassist Ville Herrala and drummer Jaska Lukkarinen – are leading men, and the Budapest Art Orchestra more than extras.
“I wanted to underline that the trio is in the middle of it all, like the group right there, with everything built around it,” says Lassy, a green t-shirt on view via a Zoom connection to his minimally stylish Helsinki flat. “First of all, I wanted to make an album that is more produced, so we definitely had to find something to make it not just a trio album… ”