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And the beat goes on: Music columnist Paul Nixon shares his top picks for April

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Paul Nixon is a Suffolk-born photographer with a lifelong passion for music. He has worked as a producer or consultant on over fifty albums and met many of his 60's soul and Motown idols. In this column, Paul will delve into a rich stream of back catalogue material and remastered tracks, as well as new releases and music news.

1. Michael Buble – Higher

Canadian singer Michael Buble is without a doubt one of the world’s greatest entertainers.

Michael Buble – Higher (56598027)
Michael Buble – Higher (56598027)

He’s been releasing music for over 20 years and his mix of big band covers, interpretations of classic songs and his own originals has been a winning formula that’s turned him into a superstar.

Releasing his eleventh studio album Higher he could easily be accused of ‘same-old–same–old’ but like the saying says if it ain’t broke why fix it?

For Higher, Buble follows his usual approach incorporating originals alongside covers. Scattered among the familiar songs, like Bring It On Home To Me, Make You Feel My Love and Crazy (with Willie Nelson) are four originals that include the lead single I’ll Never Not Love You, an upbeat and romantic song that hits his core audience head on.

He’s always had a knack of being able to make his originals become instant favourites and he continues that trend here.

Baby I’ll Wait, a song written with a several co-writers including John Mayer, is a perfect marriage of contemporary rock and classic soul.

The album’s other two originals are the up-tempo Latinesque title track Higher and the beautiful ballad Mother arriving just in time for the recently celebrated Mothers Day.

For me, the originals are always the bits I look forward to the best on a new Buble record and he certainly doesn’t disappoint here.

His covers, while Chaplin’s Smile has never sounded better and is certain to be new funeral standard but I would question perhaps, You’re The First The Last My Everything – as usual though top drawer stuff.

The Best Of Chi Sound Records 1976-1984 (Demon)

The Best Of Chi Sound Records (56598421)
The Best Of Chi Sound Records (56598421)

Produced especially for the incredibly popular Record Store Day, this highly collectible vinyl 2LP set pressed on heavyweight translucent 180gm vinyl and brings together some of the finest moments of soul sounds from the windy city covering the decade between the mid 70’s and 80’s.

Kicking off with the Windy City Orchestra (aka Carl Davis and the Chi-Sound Orchestra) and the Windy City Theme, the set is stuffed to the gills with 18 amazing sides from, amongst others, The Impressions, The Dells, Walter Jackson and Gene Chandler.

It is such a pretty thing too, almost too good to open.

Donna Summer – Donna Summer (Crimson Productions)

Donna Summer (56598447)
Donna Summer (56598447)

Donna Summer was the singer's 10th studio LP when released back in 1982 and featured the Top 10 Grammy nominated 45, Love Is In Control (Finger On The Trigger).

Summer had left the Casablanca Label and headed over to Geffen where she cut a 1980 LP, The Wanderer. Sales of the LP hardly disappointed label owner David Geffen and in an effort to regenerate sales figure partnered her for the first time with hot producer Quincy Jones, fresh from amazing success with Michael Jackson.

Moving away from her more usual disco sound, Summer turned in a couple of stunning gospel influenced sides (If It) Hurts Just a Little and her amazing version of Jon and Vangelis' State of Independence as well as flirting with rock music on the Bruce Springsteen penned Protection – a track that was initially conceived as a Summer-Springsteen duet which of course never happened.

Featuring a plethora of writers including Jones and Rod Temperton the album was only to just scrape into the Billboard Top 20 and the singles, State Of Independence and Love Is In Control re-established her position on the charts across the world.

Over the years this LP has grown in stature and now represents one of Summer's finest periods and this heavyweight picture disc released for Record Store Day will become highly collectable.

The Commodores – Anthology (Music On CD)

The Commodores – Anthology (Music On CD) (56598477)
The Commodores – Anthology (Music On CD) (56598477)

Continuing their splendid work with the Motown catalogue, Music On CD turn their attention to a straight re-issue of the Commodores 2CD Anthology (greatest hits).

Looking in every aspect like a Motown release, this version carries all the original artwork and booklet and the same 34 song track list as the Universal release but carries the Music On CD logo.

Kicking off with what I consider to be the best period of the 5 pieces career, it opens with the still-stunning Machine Gun continuing with a scintillating 12 inch version of one of Motown funkiest grooves, Brick House, a track that’s still guaranteed to get you up on the floor whatever your mood.

I Feel Sanctified, Slippery When Wet, The Bump and High On Sunshine are all stunning examples of the pre Three Times A Lady (included) period in the groups history.

Zoom, Easy, Sail On, Still, Lady are all classic examples of the Lionel Richie led ‘ballad period and whilst all deserve their place in the history of the band – for me their early work will always be the best.

One excellent post Richie-track, Nightshift, closes a worthwhile re-issue.

Jackson 5 – Skywriter (Music On CD)

Jackson 5 – Skywriter (56598496)
Jackson 5 – Skywriter (56598496)

The second Motown re-issue this moth is their re-issue of the 7th studio LP of the Jackson 5 – originally released in 1973 it was then the least popular of the brothers Motown LP’s.

The boys were growing up – voices were deepening and each were establishing themselves as credible songwriters, but Motown were having none of it Michael and his brothers were growing restless.

As an LP the tracks were in the main ill-conceived, bearing in mind the age of Michael at the time the lyrics to the Supremes hit, Touch, were most definitely out of place and the mush-mash of producers including Deke Richards, Freddie Perren, Berry Gordy, Hal Davis and Jerry Marcellino removed any kind of cohesion the album may have had.

Singles from the album include the title track and the jolly Hallelujah Day probably the best songs on the LP. The cover of The Corner Of The Sky from the Broadway Musical, Pippin was obviously an attempt to garner the Motown backed musical both credibility and publicity.

A worthy re-issue and historically important in the transition of the Jackson 5 from teeny pop to the mega selling sensation - The Jacksons.

Various – Loch Ness Monster/Funky Chicken (Doctor Bird)

Various – Loch Ness Monster/Funky Chicken (56598510)
Various – Loch Ness Monster/Funky Chicken (56598510)

The sun at last seems to have come out from behind that big black sky and so the time is ripe for a little bit of sunshine music in the shape of two classic reggae LP’s from the vaults of the genres most famous labels, Trojan.

Doing an absolutely stunning job on the re-issue front and probably the best in the history of Trojan is Cherry Red’s Doctor Bird imprint.

Loch Ness Monster, originally a miserly 12 track 1970 LP, has now been expertly extended to double its former size as just the first disc in this amazing two CD set.

While the month of April may not seem the obvious month to release a ‘spooky Halloween’ type CD it is nonetheless warmly welcomed saving any serious Reggae fan a whole batch of trouble sourcing these rarities.

Artists include The Upsetters, Nora Dean, King Horror, Lee Perry, The Soul Sisters and The Soul Mates. CD two features the likewise 12 track 1970 LP Funk Chicken LP expanded to an equally impressive 28 tracks with the sunshine isle’s funkiest reggae sounds including the blue beat version of Rufus Thomas, Funky Chicken from which the original compilation LP took its name.

So joining Chicken is Funky Monkey, Funky Popcorn, Funky Reggae and The Monster, The Worm, Look A Pye Pye and Honky Tonk Popcorn from, amongst others, The Beverley’s AllStars, The Cimarons, Lloyd Charmers and again The Upsetters.

A fascinating essay by compiler Tony Rounce examines the UK love affair with Jamaican Blue Beat and Ska and how UK artists became part of the history of the music and culture of the Jamaican music scene.

Various – Super bad (Doctor Bird)

Various – Super bad (56598530)
Various – Super bad (56598530)

You know, as a collector and music fan some compilations can be a little daunting at first due to their sheer enormity.

This second reggae compilation from Cherry Red’s, Doctor Bird label is one of those.

50 tracks from Duke Reid’s Treasure Isle Records leaves me wondering where to start. The fact that over half of them are new to CD and many of them unavailable since their release in the early 70’s makes me wonder if I am struggling how on earth did compiler, Tony Rounce feel although his wonderful essay that accompanies this two CD set shows a true love and understanding of the genre.

And so because there are so many that I am hearing for the first time and due to space restrictions I’m just going to use the word magnificent, many of the titles and artists are new to me, Leroy and Junior, Bunny Brown, Lacelles Perkins, Cynthia Richards and Dorothy Russell are all new names and tracks such as Love Makes The World Go Round – The Melodians, Weather Report – The Tennors and Strings Of My Heart – Porky and Cynthia are unheard but I am loving the whole set and with summer hopefully on its way this is likely to be on rotation for a few more months.

Dusty Springfield – Dusty Sings Soul (Ace)

Dusty Springfield – Dusty Sings Soul (56598553)
Dusty Springfield – Dusty Sings Soul (56598553)

Being a devotee of both soul music and Dusty Springfield, this is probably the CD I have waited for all my life.

Having been a fan of the genre herself, Dusty left no stone unturned when it came to discovering songs from across the pond that she could shoe horn into her TV shows or as tracks on her myriad of LP’s.

It seems to have taken years for someone to get around to compiling such a CD but finally those kind folk at Ace have answered all my and probably your prayers.

True with a little bit of patience and a lot of dedication we could easily in the digital age knocked this up ourselves as a playlist but I’m not sure about you but I love a genuine article which comes with a well-illustrated and informative booklet and this hits both targets.

A huge fan of Motown, Dusty promoted the label by including original Motown material and the artists wherever she could and here you’ll find her takes on Marvin’s, Can I Get A Witness, The Temptations/Gladys Knight and the Pips, Ain’t No Sun Since You’ve Been Gone and soul classics, A Piece Of My Heart, Long After Tonight Is All Over, All Cried Out, That’s How Heartaches Are Made, Every Day I Have To Cry, Don’t Let Me Lose This Dream and the one that kick started it for me I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself.

Tony Rounce (compiler) stand up and take a bow.

Various – All Turned On Motown Instrumentals 1960-1972 (Ace)

Various – All Turned On Motown Instrumentals (56598586)
Various – All Turned On Motown Instrumentals (56598586)

If you’d have had your windows open in London you would probably have heard my shouts of glee when I heard that this was coming from Ace – a project that had everything going for it.

You only have to say two things – Motown and Earl Van Dyke and the Funk Brothers and you have the perfect recipe for a perfect CD – and that’s just how this 24 track compilation starts out.

Festival Time – San Remo Strings, Come See About Me and The Breakdown from Choker Campbells’ Big Band, Earl Van Dyke’s wonderful take on the Tops, I Can’t Help Myself, Chicken Little 69 and LBJ are all very welcome and certainly getting hold of the title track, All Turned On by Bob Wilson and the San Remo Quartet on legitimate CD is a treat but then in my opinion it seems to go off the boil.

Jonah Jones a US trumpeter who had two Motown LP’s (US Only) in an effort to engage the older supper club audiences has no less that two tracks included, Uptight and Get Ready and if this had been a 6 CD set they would just about have qualified.

True Fine Boy a Funk Brothers band track for the Elgins had for years been bootlegged but was recently released on the Motown CD A Cellarful Of Motown 5 and many of the others are easily obtained elsewhere.

I’m not sure of what’s gone on here as previous Motown compilations from Ace have been much better – this one is at least 50 percent a wasted opportunity.

Various – British Mod Sounds of the 1960’s (Edsel/Demon)

Various – British Mod Sounds of the 1960’s (56598597)
Various – British Mod Sounds of the 1960’s (56598597)

Beautifully presented in a hardback book style this 4 CD set contains no less than 100 historically important tracks to the UK mod scene of the 60s.

Compiler Eddie Piller explains in the lavishly illustrated ‘book’ that, as with most compilations, some will agree to what is included and what is left out. He also explains why a number of tracks were left out due to licensing.

His second fact was that, yes there were actual mod groups producing the sounds, but just as common were tracks recorded by unknown session men and obscure groups that made the grade because they became popular with the scooter brigade.

Here tucked away between obscurities you will find tracks from Tom Jones, Billie Davis, PP Arnold, Rod Stewarts, The Spencer Davis Group, The Kinks and the Mindbenders but not in most cases the tunes that 60’s pop fans will know from the charts – no, these are mostly obscure tracks that the mods took to be their own.

Sure you will find Dusty’s, Little By Little, The Love Affair’s, Everlasting Love and The Hollies, Bus Stop who could forget to include those.

But you’ll also find here more noodly tracks and artists like Kenny Lynch – What Am I To You who also scored a massive Northern Soul hit with Movin’ Away and Simon Dupree and the Big Sound, who hit the big time with Kites) with Reservations.

Lovely to see David Bowie, Georgie Fame, The Move and The Mindbenders included and more especially Suffolk’s favourite, Geno Washington and The Ram Jam Band with the unforgettable Michael (The Lover).

Yet another 5 star release from the guys at Edsel.