Various Artists - The Love Town Allstars (2013)

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    In recent years, a select group of soulfully minded independent producers and arrangers have collaborated with unsung R&B vocalists and songwriters to create some remarkable compilations of fresh, new, and funky tunes. Germany's SedSoul Records has given us the consistently reliable Cool Million, a duo of studio wizards which has featured such stellar talents as Meli'sa Morgan, Eugene Wilde, and Peggi Blu. South Africa's Ralf Gum has delivered several sets of mellow soul-house fronted by revered singers like Caron Wheeler and Robert Owens.

    These musically well versed entrepreneurs have filled a void for dedicated listeners who appreciate the many shades of the classic R&B spectrum—not only electric '80s synth-funk and '90s neo-soul, but also the homegrown cross-categorization that has since emerged on the records of soulful self-starters. UK-based Love Town Records has now joined the honorable cast of purveyors looking out for these authentic interests with the release of The Love Town Allstars. Here, seriously brilliant (but infrequently heard from) artists including Marc Sadane, Geraldine Hunt, and Junior Giscombe shine in the company of blossoming acts Gary Poole, Keith Rodgers, and Laura Jackson.

    The Love Town Allstars is like a smooth-sailing ride set effortlessly on cruise control for most of its duration, with the effect of occasional, gentle acceleration to keep the mind and body continually engaged. The drive begins with southern soul crooner Doc Shaw rivetingly proclaiming "She's on Fire," in an arrangement that includes Jones' nimble guitar work and the cool keyboard workings of Steve Holmes. London-based Gary Poole comes to the fray next with rich, velvety tones permeating the seeping stepper's groove of "Even When." The motivating tune flows quite easily into the bluesy feel of "How Could You Do This to Me," featuring Geraldine Hunt. Best known for her funky 1980 smash "Can't Fake the Feeling," this new recording (culled from her back catalog of compositions penned with Peter Dowse) shows a more subtle, jazzy side of her style which takes the song's forlorn lyrics to a very affecting level.

    Although the feverishly sweet tenor tones of John Feva may not be instantly familiar based on name, the sounds may ring a bell with fans of early-'90s new jack swing—where Feva got his start with Def Jam recording group The Black Flames. He joins forces with Surface founder David "Pic" Conley, who contributes a glowing flute solo to the inviting "Superstar" (co-written by another third of Surface, the late David Townsend). Meanwhile, England's Junior Giscombe—revered by soul afficianados for the classics "Mama Used to Say" and "Too Late"—takes things down for the slow-winding, lounge-friendly vibes of "Creepin'."

    The second half of The Love Town Allstars keeps the flow intact with serene jams spotlighting some severely overlooked songmasters of the last three decades. Carol Williams, who made history during the mid-'70s as the first female signee of legendary disco label Salsoul Records, offers her first solo recording in over a decade with "It's Gonna Be Different." Williams' alluring delivery here creates the perfect atmosphere for the cleverly crafted lyrics of hope and desperation, set to a sultry arrangement buoyed by drummer Jose Joyette's solid sway. Subsequently, the positive air and irresistible movement of "Love's Takin Over" showcases the rich, understated style of Gee Bello, an original member of pioneering British jazz-funk outfit Light of the World. UK-bred Laura Jackson, who has lent her versatile chops to records by the aforementioned Cool Million, follows with the seductively funky "Come to Me." Whoever said that you can't keep it funky while offering poetic and meaningful lyrics need only listen to these three numbers for indisputable proof. 

    Marc Sadane, largely out of the picture since his pair of early-'80s Warner Bros. albums, and Keith Rodgers, responsible for writing several notable electro-dance records during the mid-'80s, close out The Love Town Allstars with "Sunshine" and "Realise," respectively. Sadane's voice has a knowing and feeling that carries "Sunshine" gracefully, while Rodgers' distinctive style conveys the inspiration of "Realise" succinctly and clearly. These final two selections serve as an ideal wrap-up for the enjoyable journey that has just transpired. When it comes to pure R&B, it's hard to get much closer than The Love Town Allstars. Real songs with everyday meaning—not just some random hooks thrown together—come to life through time-tested artists who know how to make the most out of each musical moment. Add to that top-notch players, and the result is a seamless experience from start to finish. Highly Recommended.

    By Justin Kantor