[YEAR END 2009] 10 Essential Albums of 2009
2009 has been somewhat of a mixed bag for me musically. On the plus side the indie soul movement went from strength to strength with releases from some old favourites and some very promising newcomers, indie/underground soul was recognised by the Grammy’s and the end of ’09 saw news of some highly anticipated albums due in 2010. However, some of those aforementioned releases, especially those from some of my favourite artists, didn’t really hit the mark and it fell to newer artists to create my 2009 soundtrack.
So here goes (in no particular order) …
An exquisitely soulful set from producer Smoove and vocalist John Turrell. The album recalls the heyday of Northern Soul but with a thoroughly modern twist courtesy of Smoove’s more up-to-date production style. Highlights include the disco-tinged ‘Beggarman’, the moody, melancholy ‘Darker Days” and the upbeat funk of ‘You Don’t Know’.
With a combination of “modern hip-hop, psychedelic and soul” and an extremely talented lead vocalist who brings to mind Marvin Gaye there isn’t much to not like about this New Zealand based outfit. From the Bilal-esque ‘Buy Some Land, Put A House On It’ to the Marvin Gaye inspired ‘Burn’, the album is one of the strongest debut albums I’ve heard in a while.
At last a modern band who have mastered the use of vocal effects to enhance a song rather than cover up sub-par singing! The 5 piece band effortlessly straddle soul, funk, RnB and even a little hip-hop to craft an album that would have felt equally at home in the early 70s as it does here in 2009. For me Just Say Yes is one of the most consistent albums of the year and it’s difficult to pick standout tracks, however if pushed I’d have to go for ‘Freaky’ and ‘Remeber Your Love’.
An absoloutely fantastic album from the folks at Tru Thoughts. Kinny is a classically trained opera singer with a love of funk, soul and jazz. Her debut solo album (having previously released an album as part of the duo Kinny & Horne) combines her distinct vocal style with some of the best producers on the scene. ‘Water For Choclate’ has a bit of a Nina Simone/Erykah Badu vibe, whilst ‘Back Street Lust’ recalls Alice Russell at her funkiest.
Another scorcher from Tru Thoughts. A great combination of instrumental and vocal tracks aimed squarely at the dancefloor, all held together by some of the tightest production seen this year. Vocalists Sarah Scott and Shona Foster both shine, however it is some of the instrumentals, the title track in particular, that make this an essential album of 2009.
Probably my second favourite album this year comes from bassist / producer / composer extraordinaire Michael Olatuja. The project combines jazz, soul and traditional Nigerian music to create a soothing, engaging album that musically blows it’s contemporaries out of the water. Add to that extremely talented vocalists such as Eska, the late Lynden David Hall, Onaje Jefferson and Terri Walker and you have a recipe for a future underground classic!
A perfect slice of contemporary soul provided by producer Soulpersona and some very talented friends. Some may expect an album that encompasses soul, jazz, funk, disco and hip hop to sound a little disjointed, however that is certainly not the case. The reason that this album excels where many producer-led albums fail is that the music complements the vocalists, and their individual styles, rather than taking centre stage and over-powering them.
This is Fat Freddys Drop long-awaited 2nd album, following up the critical success that was Based On A True Story. The band are deeply rooted in soul but add elements of jazz and a certain reggae vibe to some tracks, which makes for a very interesting listen. A lot of the tracks clock in around the 8/9 minute mark which would normally put me off, however the quality shines through and I happily listen to this from start to finish.
One of the more interesting albums of the year is Quadron’s self-titled debut. The Danish duo, made up of vocalist Coco Maja Hastrup Karshøj and musician / producer Robin Hannibal, have created an elecro-soul masterpiece that combines soothing, mellow cuts (‘Day’) and more upbeat numbers (‘Buster Keaton’, ‘Slippin’).
A late addition to the list, but one that definitely deserves it’s place. Producer Freddie (aka Freddie Cruger aka Red Astaire) and vocalist Linn Segolson both hail from the soul-hotbed that is Sweden. The duo have created an album combining soul, jazz and future-folk of the highest calibre, whether it be the whispy, soothing vocals of the title track (featuring Anthony David) or the 80s-arcade-game inspired ‘Blip Blop’.
Honourable mentions: Choklate (To Whom It May Concern), Laura Vane & The Vipertones (Laura Vane & The Vipertones), Saunders Sermons (Classic Delight), Kylie Auldist (Made Of Stone), Kimberly Nichole (The Yellow Brick Journey), The Noisettes (Wild Yound Hearts), Ledisi (Turn Me Loose), Maxwell (BlackSummersNight), Shawn Lee (Soul In The Hole), Marcell & The Truth (Symbols)