Jools Holland: Jools Holland's Big Band Rhythm & Blues

Adrien Begrand

Jools Holland

Jools Holland's Big Band Rhythm & Blues

Label: Rhino
US Release Date: 2002-01-08

He may have been a member of Squeeze during their glory days, but to most people nowadays, Jools Holland is best known as the affable host of the BBC's great music program, Later . . . With Jools Holland. He's also been playing his own music regularly, with a big band he's fine-tuned over the years, but that facet of his career has been largely ignored on this side of the Atlantic, until now, thanks to a star-laden album, which includes, both sadly, and fortuitously for Holland, a Beatle's final song. Jools Holland's Big Band Rhythm & Blues, which has a whopping 22 songs featuring a whole slew of guest artists, is a real musical mishmash, and for the most part, a pleasurable one, sounding like an episode of Later . . ., a big, raucous jam session.

The songs on Holland's album can be filed into four categories: great, very good, tolerable, and outright ridiculous. The great song I'm talking about, of course, is George Harrison's masterful "Horse to the Water", and justifiably, it is the main reason people in North America have been seeking out this album in the first place. "Horse to the Water" is a typically dry look back on life by the Quiet Beatle, a song made all the more bittersweet by Harrison's knowledge he wouldn't be alive for very much longer. Co-written with his son Dhani, Harrison looks back on life, in a similar vein as Bob Dylan's own baroque masterpiece "Things Have Changed" two years ago. Recorded less than two months before he succumbed to cancer, Harrison's voice sounds startlingly weak as he intones, "You can have it all staked out in front of you / But it still don't make you think." He might have been ill, but George still had his marvelous sense of humor, and his trademark dry wit is present in the last verse of the song, in which he tells a story of a confrontation with a Bible-beating preacher about God's realization, but is rebuked by the preacher, who says "We ain't got time for that / First you must hear the evils of fornication." "Horse to the Water" acts as a continuation of "Think for Yourself" some 30-odd years later, a fitting final message from George to the world.

As for the very good songs, they're not in the same league as Harrison's tune, but they're still immensely pleasurable. The best of this lot are John Cale's surprising, balls-out, Las Vegas lounge act treatment of "I Wanna Be Around", and Marc Almond's gorgeous, soaring "Say Hello, Wave Goodbye". Mark Knopfler contributes a whimsical, rockabilly original in "Mademoiselle Will Decide". Sam Brown croons beautifully on the languid "Valentine Moon", while Joe Strummer spins a gonzo piano blues yarn on "The Return of the Blues Cowboy". Dr. John ("The Hand That Changed Its Mind"), Van Morrison ("Back O' Town Blues"), and Taj Mahal ("Outskirts of Town"), all sound as great as they always do. Mica Paris, accompanied by David Gilmour on guitar, deliver a terrific version of "I Put a Spell on You", and Stereophonics perform a much, much better cover of the Beatles' "Revolution" than the weak, by-the-numbers version the Stone Temple Pilots released late last year. Suggs brings some Madness-like energy to "Oranges and Lemons Again", while Jamiroquai sings a bouncy reggae rendition of "I'm in the Mood for Love".

There are only a few bad efforts on the album, and thankfully, they are overshadowed by so many other good performances. At the top, or should I say bottom, of the list is Sting's laughable, accountant-in-a-karaoke-bar performance of Howlin' Wolf's "Seventh Son". The stale adult contemporary singer shows, in disturbing fashion, how he's completely lost the plot as an artist over the past fifteen years. It sounds as awful as, well, Sting singing a Howlin' Wolf song. Almost as bad is Eric Clapton's performance of Ray Charles' "What Would I Do Without You", in which the equally vapid artist just goes through the motions, sounding more easy-listening than soulful. An instrumental version by Clapton may have worked a whole lot better. Other songs that fail to impress are Paul Weller's uninspired cover of Billy Preston's "Will It Go Round in Circles" and Paul Carrack's tepid "It's So Blue".

In the middle of all this is Holland himself, who plays piano on all tracks. He's obviously an accomplished blues/boogie woogie player, but he sometimes lets his own keyboard noodling get the best of him, which takes the listener's attention away from some of the guest vocalists. It's when he takes a back seat to the guest artists that the album shines. Nobody likes a show-off, and thankfully, Holland keeps the self-indulgence to a minimum.

Jools Holland's Big Band Rhythm & Blues, which, in a bizarre marketing strategy by Rhino Records, replaced the cute UK title Small World Big Band, is a nice, casual album, suitable for folks looking for some decent, old-fashioned R&B to add to their CD collections. For Beatles fans, however, this CD is a must-own; it may have only the one Harrison song, but it's such a great, evocative piece of work that it, alone, totally justifies buying the album.

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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