Monday, March 1, 2010

Noel McKoy - Brighter Day (2009)

Back in the early 90s, Noel McKoy practically stole the show from stellar jazz saxophonist Steve Williamson at a Kate Moss-less Glastonbury, prompting at least one punter to opine that he was a superstar in waiting. A heavily blues-inflected voice had the gravely rasp of a young Bobby Womack, the well-regulated falsetto of an old Eddie Kendricks and, above all, an ability to invest each song he sang with adequate emotion.

Since that time, despite attention-grabbing collaborations with Acid Jazz organ grinder James Taylor as well as leadership of a group featuring his siblings, McKoy hasn’t tasted commercial success in line with his talent, which is increasingly rare for those who opt for the more musically demanding route of soul rather than the pop tart ways of RnB. A problem in the first half of Brighter Day is that classicism is writ very large on the sound, with the title track and Great Big Gap, fine songs as they are, sounding uncomfortably close to Sam Cooke’s A Change is Gonna Come and The Four Tops’ Sugar Pie Honey Bunch. The Motown signature, right down to the baritone sax deliciously chugging atop a sharply honed rhythm section, is down pat, but the licks are just a touch too familiar to really send the excitement dial into the red.

As the set unfolds, though, Mckoy the writer asserts himself convincingly on several well-constructed melodies, the highlight of which is Jealousy, a mid-tempo, Latin-tinged shuffle that has effective changes of key and an edgy string motif that vividly captures and reinforces the lyrical content. One could also mention the way that the surging verses of Skating on Thin Ice show the singer’s great tonal control and Tumbling Down is as pretty as it is catchy. It all amounts to a tantalising listen, for it’s hard not to think that several of these songs would have been better served by different, perhaps tougher, spikier arrangements.

Yet it’s also hard not to think that Noel McKoy is a great soul voice in need of adequate record label investment.

by Kevin Le Gendre - BBC music

Noel @ MySpace - "Brighter Day" live - "Jealousy" live @ the East Village Club

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