Kipper Jones’ ‘Ordinary Story’ Is Anything But
Smash hits by M.C. Hammer and Bell Biv Devoe are saturating the black and pop airwaves, and Mariah Carey is giving Lisa Stansfield a run for her money in the best white soulster of the year category. But when it comes to up-to-the-minute freshness and innovation in soul music, only a few other artists have delivered the goods in recent weeks. Two of them--Kipper Jones and Kwame & a New Beginning--top the list this week in a roundup of new soul releases, rated on a scale of one star (poor) to five (a classic):
**** Kipper Jones, “Ordinary Story,” (Virgin). Jones was in the L.A.-based group Tease, a vintage-suit-wearing band that was a killer on the local club circuit but was ignored by radio. Jones’ debut solo album draws from areas that are obviously important to him: racial pride, religious convictions and an abiding affection for unvarnished funk of the James Brown-Sly Stone-George Clinton variety.
The album’s eclecticism may keep Jones one of the best-kept secrets in soul, but it’s a textbook example of how to draw from different sources to arrive at a sound that is wholly your own. Jones’ musical instincts are as razor-sharp as the late R&B; giant Donny Hathaway’s, and he is as original in his thinking as Steve Arrington, another neglected urban innovator who is still on the scene today. Probably no one but Jones, though, would think to embellish a fiendishly funky message song like “My House” with brief snippets from “The Lord’s Prayer” and the Staple Singers’ “I’ll Take You There.” It would be a disaster in less competent hands, but from the first track to the last, Jones makes all of his ideas pay off.
*** Kwame & a New Beginning, “A Day in the Life--A Pokadelick Adventure” (Atlantic). Seemingly hellbent on being this year’s De La Soul, Kwame has a calculatingly quirky delivery that’s largely hit-and-miss for most of this album--although opening each track with a “message” from his answering machine is a funny ploy. What lifts this debut effort above many of your standard hip-hop offerings is the earnestly sweet-and-sour singing of group member Tasha Lambert on “Ownlee Eue” and “Oneovdabigboiz.” The latter is an expression of Kwame’s desire to become one of rap’s big boys on the block. With an album this raw and imaginative, his wish is probably on the way to becoming reality.
** 1/2 The Chimes, “The Chimes,” (Columbia). This racially mixed, British soul trio owes a heavy stylistic debt to Soul II Soul, but you could play name-that-influence with most of the songs here, including the Marvin Gaye-ish “Love Comes to Mind” and the Chaka Khan-inspired “Heaven.” Lead singer Pauline Henry sings with more passion than tonal precision, and it’s tough going trying to decipher all the lyrics on her handling of U2’s “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.” Still, it’s easy to understand why group founders James Locke and Mike Peden added her to their lineup. Passion can compensate for a lot of stylistic shortcomings, and this is a vibrant young group whose best work appears to be still ahead of it.
** 1/2 Lakeside, “Party Patrol,” (Epic/Solar). If partying is your priority, you’re better off with M.C. Hammer and Bell Biv Devoe. Lakeside’s forte here is music for those quieter, one-on-one encounters. “Sailing” and “Let the Moon Shine” are polite little boudoir ballads that never break into a nasty sweat, while the breezy, island appeal of “Talk About Love” is reminiscent of Natalie Cole’s ‘70s hit “La Costa.” Not a great album, but respectable.
** Barbara Weathers, “Barbara Weathers,” (Reprise). When Sharon Bryant departed from Atlantic Starr several years ago, replacement Weathers gave longtime fans of that pop/soul unit a good reason not to jump ship as well. An excellent singer, Weathers is stymied here by tunes that are relentlessly reined-in and stodgy. The worst moment is on the dirge-like “Our Love Runs Deep.” Weathers’ operatic range is impressive, but this track sinks under the weight of its own serious intentions. Weathers’ talent is as substantial as Lisa Stansfield’s or Mariah Carey’s, but what she lacks is what they’ve got: memorable, standout songs.
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