BBC – Music – Review of Big Boi

Big Boi’s solo debut proper, 2010’s Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty, saw the Outkast rapper establish himself as a critically acclaimed artist free from the shadow of André 3000. Follow-up LP Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumours arrives with big expectations: can it live up to them?

The Thickets is a promising beginning. It’s mid-pace meat-and-potatoes hip hop, possessing a soulful backdrop and a Sleepy Brown chorus. Yet seeds of doubt are sown. “Yo, it seems just like yesterday, where did the time go? / I’m giving you the best that I got,” he spits, sounding oddly desperate. And the “new s***” he promises turns out to be synthy, revivalist 80s indie.

Even when labelled as the grounded traditionalist beside André 3000’s experimental maverick, Big Boi’s never been a typical straight man. So his genre-hopping isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But hearing him say, “We like to role-play / Throw on some Coldplay,” on CPU nevertheless might set alarm bells ringing.

CPU is one of three that dream-pop duo Phantogram feature on, with Sarah Barthel’s sweet and effortless vocals employed to best effect on Lines. That number also finds Big Boi delivering some energised raps, and represents a highlight of the set.

Too often, though, his vocals jar against those of contributors. Shoes for Running, quite improbably, features both Wavves and B.o.B. beside Big Boi, and everything becomes rather cluttered.

In the A, with T.I. and Ludacris, is smutty dirt-hop, while Tremendous Damage favours a sloppy pop-RnB approach. That these different songs call the same album home is indicative of Vicious Lies’ eclectic design. Or, to be less polite, its messiness. Mama Told Me, with Kelly Rowland, is more in keeping with “vintage” Big Boi, but it’s a fairly vacuous cut.

Throughout Vicious Lies, Big Boi seems content to play the role of disinterested curator, letting a wealth of guests govern an end product that should, really, be shaped by him alone. It deserves some plaudits – it’s certainly not what most will have expected after Sir Lucious Left Foot, and it does find the rapper exploring new things. But it feels rushed, like it needed more time for its many ingredients to blend.

BBC – Music – Review of The Isley Brothers

By 1976, The Isley Brothers had their formula down pat. Their previous album, The Heat Is On, had become their biggest seller to date and again demonstrated how the original trio of brothers – Rudolph, O’Kelly and Ronald – had been so enlivened by the addition of their younger family members, siblings Marvin and Ernie and Rudolph’s brother-in-law, Chris Jasper.

Their mixture of exhilarating rock/funk jams and the lightest, sweetest ballads made for compulsive listening. What made them so hot in 1975 was the inclusion of Fight the Power on The Heat Is On, a strident, political anthem that topped the R&B charts and went top five in the pop listings.

Recorded in LA with former Stevie Wonder sideman Malcolm Cecil engineering and programming, Harvest for the World was eagerly anticipated. It didn’t disappoint. The title track carried a great deal of Fight the Power’s social concerns, but the pill was sweetened with one of the most shimmering, uplifting melodies of the group’s career.

Whereas a lot of protest songs from this era have dated because the cause has passed, or simply are too utopian, Harvest for the World – a positive message for a troubled post-Vietnam and Watergate America – has a timeless sincerity and optimism.

People of Today and Who Loves You Better both aped Fight the Power musically, yet work so well because of the group’s musicianship and Ronald Isley’s angelic vocals. The album’s standout ballad is (At Your Best) You Are Love, which was dedicated to the Isleys’ mother, Sally. Later a hit for Aaliyah, it is one of the group’s greatest love songs, and Let Me Down Easy continues this sweet, soporific groove.

The Isley Brothers consistently delivered music of the highest quality in their 70s incarnation, creating a truly singular sound from their patchwork of influences. Harvest for the World – which reputedly sold half a million copies in its first few weeks of release – may not be their best album, but it serves as a fantastic snapshot of a band at its career peak.

BBC – Music – Review of Incognito

Positivity was the joyous fourth album from Incognito, the vision of former Light of the World guitarist Jean-Paul “Bluey” Maunick, and their third release on Gilles Peterson’s Talkin’ Loud imprint. Packed with positive, on-message grooves, it is a work full of passion and sincerity.

By 1993, Incognito was a fluid studio collective that’d perfected a truly international, timeless groove. As bandleader, Maunick was able to tease out vibrant performances from the 15 or so musicians involved. With strident vocals from Maysa Leak and newcomer Marc Anthoni, Positivity picks up from where their 1992 benchmark, Tribes Vibes and Scribes, left off.

The group had previously included well-selected covers amongst their work, such as Ronnie Laws’ Always There or Stevie Wonder’s Don’t You Worry ’Bout a Thing, but Positivity was composed entirely of originals.

Standout tracks include Where Do We Go From Here and the album’s lead single, Still a Friend of Mine. Deep Waters is truly accomplished, a luscious, downbeat groove that unfolds gracefully, with subtle orchestration and muted horns.

Talkin’ Loud, with Leak’s passionate vocal, is a fitting tribute to their label and to their like-minded travellers of the early 90s. With lyrics such as “Talkin’ loud and sayin’ something / Revelations from a risin’ generation,” it was a celebratory listen and demonstrated that this jazz-tinged funk and soul was no longer a museum piece, but something living and breathing, alive at the fringes of the mainstream music scene.

Positivity reunited Maunick with fellow Light of the World and original Incognito member Paul “Tubbs” Williams, who adds with his fluid basslines to the instrumentals Inversions and Better Days. The former, with its Hammond stabs and sweet piano, was co-written by sometime member Max Beesley, one of his last regular gigs before taking up acting full-time.

With grooves as smooth and authentic as this, the group began to make headway in the US, and the release led to Maunick working with artists such as Stevie Wonder, George Benson and Terry Callier. Positivity remains one of Incognito’s biggest-selling albums, and is arguably their most consistent release overall.

BBC – Music – Review of Lady Antebellum

Lady Antebellum are almost at the stage of fame in the UK where they don’t need explaining. But just in case you’re new here…

Hillary Scott, Charles Kelley and Dave Haywood are a country pop threesome hailing from Nashville, Tennessee. Since forming in 2006, they’ve accumulated countless Grammy and Country Music awards, and have been nominated for a Brit.

Some readers may recall Cheryl Cole and Gary Barlow performing a version of the band’s Need You Now at the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee concert in June 2012. It subsequently sold even more copies than it already had (the song’s gone five-times platinum stateside).

On This Winter’s Night is actually an update on the trio’s 2010 EP, A Merry Little Christmas, doubling that set’s six tracks. Few artists approaching a festive collection do so to write brand-new tracks, and sure enough 10 of these 12 cuts are takes on familiar numbers. However, the title track is one of the band’s own, and ultimately fits nicely beside the covers.

Elsewhere there are gently cheering country-pop takes on American yuletide standards, such as A Holly Jolly Christmas, Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) and Silver Bells. They tackle Mariah’s All I Want for Christmas Is You, turning it into a leisurely affair – a brave thing to do as the original is quite the giddy and iconic modern Christmas classic.

Blue Christmas goes the way of a jazzy barroom knees-up, and Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow jingles along in a classy bluegrass fashion. Versions of Silent Night (Lord of My Life) and The First Noel showcase the trio’s harmonising abilities perfectly.

On This Winter’s Night is an inoffensive and very American addition to the Christmas album canon. It’s a nice little stocking filler for the country lovin’ type.

BBC – Music – Review of Level 42

For one brief, shining moment at the start of the 80s, Level 42 were underground and cutting edge. They were outsiders: they had a resolute lack of fashion sense, an Isle of Wight address, played hard-hitting grooves and, in Mark King and Mike Lindup, an unconventional pairing of singers. Fleetingly, they seemed as relevant to 1981 as Talking Heads, Grandmaster Flash or The Fall.

With the “princess” on the album’s cover, Level 42’s debut reflected the aspirational glamour of sections of their audience: dressed-up people in the clubs of east London, Essex and north Kent where this music thrived.

Easily derided by those outside, their early releases, running alongside the new romantic movement, were something exciting and vibrant. Even a few rock journalists at the time were prepared to nail their colours to the mast and support them. On Level 42, you can still hear echoes of this time.

The group had already recorded an album for indie label Elite when they were signed to Polydor. Elite wanted a huge sum to let their new label release it, so the band quickly wrote and recorded new material. With veteran blues producer Mike Vernon at the helm (King loved the fact he’d worked with progressive band Focus), they cut eight tracks, and in Love Games, Turn It On and Starchild, they created three indestructible singles.

Turn It On starts the album with all of their youthful, swaggering confidence on display. The propulsive groove of Almost There is exhilarating and the instrumental bass showcase, Dune Tune, is shimmering, soulful jazz-funk.

Heathrow and “43” are a trifle perfunctory, but the listener is more than compensated by the album’s lead single and debut top 40 hit Love Games, which captures the salt’n’sweet combination of King and Lindup’s voices perfectly. Level 42’s influences were clearly signposted – Stanley Clarke, the Mahavishnu Orchestra, Herbie Hancock – and they were delighted to share them with young British ears.

Despite their enormous and prolonged success Level 42 were never this pioneering again, but this debut album still sounds fresh and vital. It is one of those records that is both understated and triumphant at the same time.

hello Lakeside – Kiddicare opens its biggest baby superstore at Lakeside Retail Park

On 12 December baby specialist Kiddicare throws open the doors of its largest baby superstore at Lakeside Retail Park.

Kiddicare Lakeside is the third regional destination superstore to open on former Best Buy Sites, acquired with parent company Morrisons earlier this year. The superstore, which occupies 50,000ft² and stocks over 3,800 products, has created 167 local jobs.

Kiddicare logo

Kiddicare logo

CEO Scott Weavers-Wright says: “After the hugely successful launch of Kiddicare stores in Merry Hill and Nottingham it’s fantastic to launch Kiddicare Lakeside, bringing the WOW Kiddicare experience to Thurrock. Expect truly world-class shopping – hi-tech retail theatre anchored with a great customer proposition: brilliant product range, unbeatable prices and outstanding customer service.”

Kiddicare is running a competition on its Facebook page to find a local mum to cut the ribbon and declare the new store officially open. The winner will also receive £500 to spend in-store on the opening day.

And to help other local mums get ready for Christmas, as well as a Price Match Promise guarantee, Kiddicare Lakeside will be offering up to 50% off a selected range of toys and a host of festive promotions. Perfect for your stocking fillers!

What’s inside?
To make the shopping experience easy, happy and above all fun, Kiddicare Lakeside offers a whole host of family-friendly features:

  • “Walk in the Park” buggy test track

  • A free dedicated Event Room for customers and the community

  • Children’s play area

  • Free and fast customer WiFi

  • Touch-screen Browse & Order points

  • Nursing Nest relaxed environment for quiet feeding and privacy

  • Spacious and healthy Kiddicafé

  • Baby Gift List, complimentary gift registry service

  • V.i.B. (Very Important Baby) free personal shopping service

  • Free car seat fitting and safety checking for all

  • Pushchair servicing

  • Mummy-and-me toilet facilities

  • Try before you buy pushchair track

Smart store
Clever technologies are just one of the elements that make Kiddicare Lakeside unique. Electronic shelf-edge labels are installed for immediate multi-channel price changes; speedy and secure guest WiFi allows customers to price-check as they browse and, to avoid customers queuing for free car seat fitting, a ‘virtual queue’ text message system alerts them when it’s their turn.

Community focus
At the heart of Kiddicare Lakeside lies a real emphasis on community. Founder Elaine Weavers-Wright says: “We’ve designed the store as a social ‘hub’ – the Kiddicafé has big community tables and a play area so it’s the perfect place for mums and families to meet, drink great coffee, make new friends and share parenting tips. Our Event Room is dedicated to our customers and community. We’ll be hosting a number of events for mums.”

Store Manager and mum-of-one, Carol Canfer, adds: “The store is looking fantastic and we’ve got a great team of specialist colleagues who really know their stuff. We can’t wait to welcome families and show them around. We think they’re going to love what they see!”

Kiddicare has just won four new trophies at the ‘Oscars of the baby industry’ – the prestigious Mother & Baby Awards, including the reader-voted and much coveted Gold Award for Best Online Retailer. The other wins were the Gold Award for Best Baby Toy 12-24 months for Buzzing Brains Stack’n’Sort Cups, the Silver Awards for Best Disposable Nappy for Just4Bums, and the Bronze Award for Best Highchair for Baby Weavers Wean Me.

ENDS

For more information including photography, contact Sinéad Gray at Kindred on 0207 010 0835 or via email sinead.gray@kindredagency.com.

Notes to editors:

  • Baby specialist Kiddicare was established in 1974 and became part of the Morrisons family in February 2011

  • In Nov 2012 Kiddicare was awarded Mother & Baby’s much-coveted Best Online Retailer Award for the fourth time in five years. The trophy cabinet also boasts multiple awards for outstanding product range, delivery and customer services from independent influentials including Which? and Retail Systems

  • By the end of 2013 over 1,000 staff will be employed by Kiddicare

  • Over 1m customers visit Kiddicare.com each month

  • Find Kiddicare on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Google+

Current Kiddicare superstore locations:

Kiddicare Peterborough, Club Way, Cygnet Park, Hampton, Peterborough, PE7 8JA
Open 9am-5.30pm Mon-Sat, 11am-4pm Sun & Bank Holidays

Kiddicare Nottingham, Castle Marina Retail Park, Castle Bridge Road, Nottingham, NG7 1GX. Open 9am-8pm Mon-Fri, 9am-6pm Sat, 10.30am-4.30pm Sun & 9am-6pm Bank Holidays

Kiddicare Merry Hill, The Merry Hill Centre, Brierley Hill, Dudley, DY5 1SY
Open 9am-8pm Mon-Fri, 9am-7pm Sat, 11am-5pm Sun, 9am-6pm Bank Holidays

Kiddicare Lakeside, Lakeside Retail Park, Weston Avenue, Thurrock, RM20 3LP
Open 9am-8pm Mon-Fri, 9am-6pm Sat, 11am-5pm Sun & Bank Holidays

With 476 stores Morrisons is the UK’s fourth largest food retailer, uniquely sourcing and processing most of its fresh food through its own manufacturing facilities, allowing close control over provenance and quality. Only 100% British fresh beef, lamb, pork and poultry are sold and Morrisons now has more people – including butchers, bakers and fishmongers – preparing food in-store than any other retailer. Every week, 11.5 million customers pass through its doors and more than 132,000 colleagues work hard each day to deliver great service. With competitive prices and hundreds of special offers, Morrisons is proud to save customers money every day.

BBC – Music – Review of Leonardo Vinci

Death by chocolate sounds more like the kind of demise to be found within the pages of a Roald Dahl tale than the stuff of real life. However, if we’re to believe the legend, that’s exactly how the celebrated Neapolitan composer Leonardo Vinci met his end in 1730.

The story goes that the composer let slip that he had enjoyed intimate relations with a noblewoman, and thus provoked one of her relatives into poisoning his cup of chocolate by means of revenge. Accurate or not, it’s certainly a larger-than-life cause of death, and this recording of his final opera is almost as attention-grabbing.

Not so much for the fact that it’s a world premiere (frankly, it’s hard to get excited about world premieres when the classical market now groans under the weight of them), but for its all-male cast made up of five counter-tenors and one tenor – a necessity thanks to a papal decree of the time which banned women from appearing on the stages of Rome’s theatres. This recording features the brilliant countertenors Philippe Jaroussky and Max Emanuel Cenčić.

Vinci’s chief gift to the early 18th century operatic world was accompaniments that supported and showcased the vocal lines, rather than the norm of distractingly dense harmonic and instrumental structures. Admittedly, for us with our 21st century ears, it’s hard to hear this with the fresh delight that his original audiences must have done.

Still, it’s less hard to hear why Arteserse is considered to be Vinci’s masterpiece. Composed for the Roman carnival of 1730 to a libretto by Metastasio, Vinci’s intention was that it would dazzle. Vigorously rhythmic and highly dramatic, the opera has extraordinary energy, and some beautiful moments. This recording brings this all out, partly through the cracking tempi set by Diego Fasolis, partly through Concerto Köln’s effervescent, historically informed performance, and partly through the sheer energy of the cast.

BBC – Music – Review of Dels

Already something of a leftfield figure in the British rap scene ahead of his 2011 debut LP Gob, Ipswich artist Dels has here furthered his reputation as a maverick voice amongst a crowd of sound-alike MCs with an EP that’s much more than a simple stopgap release.

Born Kieren Dickens in the mid-80s, Dels has returned to familiar production faces for guidance on Black Salad. Kwes, behind half of Gob’s dozen tracks, is responsible for Bird Milk – a track that first surfaced in a slightly different incarnation on the Londoner’s Micachu collaboration, the Kwesachu Mixtape Vol. 2.

Squelching and punchy, all rubbery bass and piercing drum pads, and with a contrasting female co-vocal from Bila, Bird Milk is an insistent earworm that nevertheless complements Dels’ more introspective output.

Of similar digital swagger is Not Today, produced by Micachu & The Shapes keyboardist Raisa Khan – it pops and pulses, sizzling with circuitry, gnawing at earholes like K-9 after a weekend left foraging for itself.  

At all times, Dels is a compelling master of ceremonies. The way he’s both laidback and urgent, simultaneously, has been commented on in the past; but this masterfully managed balance is forever at the fulcrum of his delivery.

He’s not the most technically gifted rapper out there, but his imagery is specked with genius. One inspired couplet from Bird Milk goes: “Some say I’m just anxious / I just think I need to eat cheese less.”

Two instrumentals, the title track and Sell By Date, precede this EP’s most striking cut. You Live In My Head is an achingly gorgeous closer, the perfect credits-rolling comedown after a series of sprightlier songs.

In plaintive tones Dels explores isolation through the medium of the love song: “Will I see you again? I had a right laugh, there’s no need to pretend… That you live in my head.” A simple, two-note piano motif carries the track, yearningly, to its conclusion.  

Dels’ second LP is due in early 2013. If it’s of a comparable quality to these EP cuts, fans old and new are in for a treat.

BBC – Music – Review of Bruno Mars

Pretty much the biggest pop star in the world right now whose name isn’t Adele, Bruno Mars is ubiquitous and prolific with it.

Both with and without his songwriting/production crew The Smeezingtons, Mars has had a hand in hits by Cee Lo Green, Sugababes, Justin Bieber, Adam Lambert and Alicia Keys, and has scored a clutch of UK and US number ones under his own steam – all in just a couple of years on the scene. Either he’s the new Smokey Robinson or he’s spreading himself so thin he’ll be a chirpy pop gauze by 2013.

Well, he’s not quite see-through yet. It’s soon plain that Unorthodox Jukebox lacks the immediacy of 2010’s Doo-Wops & Hooligans – there’s no Marry You here, and certainly no global chart-topper like Just the Way You Are.

But it’s appealing, generally engaging and all shot through with the confidence of a man who must feel he’s got the hit parade Midas touch. Bar the odd misstep, he probably won’t have a rude awakening.

Those stumbles are Show Me’s wan facsimile of Musical Youth’s Pass the Dutchie (one of 2012’s more unlikely influences) and the sugary early 80s funk of Treasure, which is lathered in so much slap bass it starts to sting.

Speaking of Sting – ouch – his spectre is all over first single Locked Out of Heaven, in the clipped Message in a Bottle chords and Mars’ yelping, staccato delivery. But that’s about the only time Mars allows his own identity to be subsumed.

Otherwise, he’s equally cosy fronting saucy semi-rock belter Gorilla – “You get your legs up in the sky with the devil in your eyes” – and sprinting on the spot to the unhinged electro-soul of the Diplo-produced Money Makes Her Smile.

The latter’s some respite from maudlin “My baby wronged me” / “I wronged my baby” stuff in Natalie and When I Was Your Man, but there’s room for both in Mars’ repertoire. Rock, soul, RnB and starry-eyed pop – he’s across it all.

BBC – Music – Review of The Seeds

Garage rock is, oftentimes, a genre best suited to the rapid, 45rpm whirl of a single slice of seven-inch vinyl.

All too often, bands – young, feisty, desperate to stomp ‘n’ holler – spent their creative load on one Grade-A barnstormer and got too tuckered out afterwards to even muster the same for a B side. Full albums, then, are comparatively few and far between, let alone those that are near wall-to-wall goodness.

While The Seeds were never destined for the same sort of success as their British Invasion influences and frontman Sky Saxon wasn’t quite on the same level as troubled geniuses like Arthur Lee or Roky Erickson, he was nevertheless the driving force behind some of the genre’s finest moments.

Case in point: this, the band’s eponymous LP, which was released way back in 1966 and still retains its awkward, jubilant sparkle.

Perhaps known best for Pushin’ Too Hard – a quintessential anthem that should ring true for disaffected young ‘uns the world over – and Can’t Seem to Make You Mine, a song of such primal, wounded yearning that even a chauvinistic deodorant commercial couldn’t taint its lustre, there remain plenty of treats beyond those immediate points of intrigue.

Amid straggly guitar lines, playful keyboard riffs and Saxon’s immediately-recognisable Butters-from-South-Park vocals creep the stuttering punch of Lose Your Mind, the winding mania of Evil Hoodoo and Nobody Spoil My Fun, a pugnacious number that you can easily imagine Billy Childish wrapping his grubby vowels around.

At their frequent best, things sound like the band are teetering on the edge of collapsing jubilantly inward, while even weaker tracks like You Can’t Be Trusted retain a certain scraggy charm.

While later efforts would slip towards psychedelia, this landmark releases showcases The Seeds at their fiercest and most undiluted: a primal thrust that perfectly encapsulates what it means to be a confused, angst-ridden outsider desperate for a little love and acceptance.

This expanded edition comes with 10 additional cuts – including alternate takes and the unreleased Dreaming of Your Love – and in-depth liner notes which’ll provide food for thought no matter how familiar you already are with the album’s many pleasures.