Top 5 Soul Albums
The Impressions – Keep on Pushing (1964)
This Curtis Mayfield led group delivers a stone cold classic in the early Sixties at the time of Motown girl groups and bubble gum pop. The subtle ease of the harmonies on the love songs such as ‘Talkin’ About My Baby’ and the sublime integration of inspirational gospel music and secular pop in the title track ‘Keep on Moving’ and top ten Billboard popular hit ‘Amen’, present an artist far ahead of his contemporaries. It wouldn’t be until the early Seventies with the release of albums by Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye that we would begin to hear soul records of this caliber again. Probably my all-time favourite soul album.
Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland – Dreamer (1971)
A comeback album of sorts for Chicago rhythm and blues singer Bobby Bland, “Dreamer” was his label’s ingenious attempt to revive his career by flying him to Los Angeles to give him a California soul makeover. The record is best known for containing the much sampled track, ‘Ain’t No Love in the Heart of the City’, which is famously the backbone of one of Jay Z’s most beloved cuts. But what really makes this a favourite is the fact that it is a break up album of the bitterest sort; the soundtrack to those lonely nights at an empty dive bar drinking bourbon and lamenting on lost loves. “Dreamer” is like a warm blanket for all the cold lonely hearts out there.
Alice Clark – Alice Clark (1972)
This is easily the rarest of the five records I have chosen and it is known by hard core soul fans as one of the lost classics. Released with little success in the early Seventies, it is only in the last ten years that it has begun to achieve its rightful critical acclaim. This is sensual, sophisticated, jazzy soul. Pure class. The Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin, may have released many of soul music’s greatest singles but she never delivered an album that was as good as this front to back. You put this record on when you want to impress a new lover with your impeccable musical taste. Soul music doesn’t get but much better than her version of ‘Charms of the Arms of Love’.
Charles Bradley – No Time For Dreaming (2011)
Charles Bradley epitomizes the American dream; a singer languishes in obscurity fronting a James Brown tribute band and then is suddenly discovered at nearly age 60 and finally given his shot. But this wouldn’t mean anything unless he delivered an excellent album, and with “No Time for Dreaming” he does more than just deliver. This is a new kind of soul music, much more personal than we are accustomed to, a lifelong musical culmination from a man who was written off by so many around him. The success of Charles Bradley and this record makes us all believe in our own personal dreams and when he sings we are injected with that passion in his vocal delivery. These are songs of triumph over the obstacles in his life (like the death of his brother) and ultimately anthems of redemption. More than any other artist Charles Bradley wears his soul on his sleeve.
Lee Fields & The Expressions – Faithful Man (2012)
Lee Fields has been making soul and funk music since the late Sixties but only with the recent soul revival of the last 5 years has he achieved any real success. Let’s get straight to the point and state this is a modern soul masterpiece. Take your Amy Winehouse, Adele, Aloe Blacc CDs and junk them in the trash and get this record immediately, preferably on vinyl. This man’s music is the real deal. Definitely the best vocalist in the industry today, Lee Fields belts out these common songs of love, jealously, and betrayal, in the process taking them to transcendent heights. It is hard to pick a favourite track here, but if pushed, I would choose ‘Wish You Were Here’. You can really feel the pain of longing in his voice and the epic lush production by Truth and Soul is like no other in the business. If you don’t have this recently released album by now you’re sleeping on what may be the last great soul record.
John McFarland resides in Toronto where he cooks in the kitchen at the city’s hottest Taqueria and Bourbon joint Grand Electric and is our East Coast Editor. In his past life as John Cougar he was one of Vancouver’s most beloved promoters and DJs, as well as a frequent contributor to the Georgia Straight. This summer saw him take a trip to the deep south of the United States in a quest to further understand his twin passions; soul music and soul food.