(5 / 5)
* FIRST UK REVIEW *
One of the very best soul releases this year thus far, and for a long time, in fact. Bound to appear towards the top of many ‘Best Of’ lists for 2017. You can quote me on that. Tanika Charles. A real find. A real singer A real soul singer. A great soul artist. A great album. Her fellow Canadians know all about Ms Charles and this belter of a debut album already. As do the likes of Estelle, Mayer Hawthorne, Haitus Kayote, Lauryn Hill, Bendouin Soundclash and Macy Gray who Tanika has opened for. Now it is our turn.
It is hard to believe when you hear how rounded and full on this album is, that it is her debut release. Apart from low key EP “What! What? What!?” she put out in 2010. Seven long years later, the wait was well worth it, I can testify.
The material is top drawer. She mixes up the styles, but it is all soul with a capital ‘S’… Sassy, sultry, sensational. There is little fat among the 11 cuts (the first track is a short, disorted- effect, spoken word and ‘noise’ “Intro”). The arrangements are super tight and most of the production values immaculate. But the focus from the off and held throughout, is THAT voice. It really draws you in. There’s a rawness and a simplicity about it all; that says ‘I know who I am as an artist and what I want to sound like, and I don’t need bells and whistles and star guests.’
The clever thing about “Soul Run,” is the blending of the retro, old school with the uber-current nu soul, neo soul or call-it-what-you-will soul. She can do it all with ease. A voice and and an album, that may well have had the potential to make her a superstar had it been released in the 1960s or early 70s, but is equally at home in 2017. “On trend” you might say.
In a few short years, Tanika Charles has transformed from an emerging solo artist to a commanding performer and band leader, a staple in the Canadian soul scene, both on stage and off. “Soul Run,” has garnered her a Polaris nomination. (Canada’s Mercury Prize equivalent). Growing up on a musical diet of Patti Labelle, Jill Scott, Bob James, Stevie Wonder, D’Angelo, Bjork and The Black Crows, Charles’ eclectic music taste subconsciously shines through in “Soul Run.” A post-breakup album. About finding yourself after hitting the reset button. Trapped in an allegedly emotionally abusive relationship in rural Canada, resulted in her “borrowing” her then fiancée’s car and running away to Toronto to begin her singing career, never looking back.
Tanika’s interest in music was very much inspired by her older brother, a musician and producer who is active locally in Edmonton. Singing was always a passion of hers, but never once did she imagine it would become a full-time career. Encouraged by a friend to attend a background singing audition, Tanika got the part and toured the globe with Bedouin Soundclash. After a couple of years singing other people’s songs, she figured it was time to start telling her own story, and began to gather together some of her friends and peers in Toronto. The outcome was “Soul Run”, cobbled together in various Toronto studios on a shoestring budget. Not that you would guess that, from the quality of the production and the overall feel of the whole thing. This aint no demo!
All but one of the songs on the album were co-writes, mostly with local songwriter, Ian James Jones. “Darkness And The Dawn”, was written by Tanika alone. Production was handled by Slakah The Beatchild (BBE Records) best known as a producer for artists such as Drake and Justin Nozuka, Daniel Lee (Hooded Fang & Phedre), Jesse Bear (Sean Kingston, Zaki Ibrahim), Matt ‘Emdee’ Reid and Anthony Corsi.
So, to the album. A two minute “intro” of distorted spoken word and noise, runs into the title track, which is also the first UK single, due for release tomorrow (10th February.) Fat reverb on the snare, a la a Motown production template. In Amy Winehouse style from her Ronson days, it should gain Tanika attention from the radio community, and with the likes of Amy and Paloma in mind; the play-listers at BBC Radio 2 might just snap this one up for the ‘C’ or ‘B’ list. They should.
“Two Steps,” brings that squeaky Welsh one-hit wonder Duffy to mind. Note: Tanika has a much better vocal! A horn punctuated, Motown-esque cut. “Sweet Memories,” is retro but relevant. Tanika’s vocal oozes charm. “More Than A Man,” includes the lyric “your punk ass,” – unusual for a soul cut, unless you are Betty Davis perhaps – is a very well-crafted song, with a slick arrangement in a new-soul vibe, and features subtle trumpet parts.
Track six is a killer: “Money.” A good bet for a future single release. Funky bass line, showcasing Tanika’s chameleon-like vocal skills, a hooky song where the superb backing vocals add tremendous value. This track and the next one, “Love Fool,” brings the likes of Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings, St Paul & The Broken Bones and Fitz and the Tantrums to mind. Similar style, same quality and commercial appeal.
“Love Fool,” is a real toe tapper, much hookier than the title track and first single choice. A great vocal; channelling Betty Wright and Bettye LaVette’s attitude-filled soulful pipes. The only real slow ballad among the 11, “Heavy,” nails a beautifully laid back groove and is a fabulous song. The strings are awesome, and set a really cool tone. Some nice Albert King/BB King style guitar licks buried deep in the bed of the track. If I was told this was a long lost, newly re-discovered track from the dusty vaults of Stax, Atlantic or Hi Records from the 1960s, I’d believe it. This cut alone proves that in Tanika Charles we have a very special artist, offering a very special debut album. It ain’t gonna be her last, you can count on that.
“Endless Chain,” is another Wow! moment and would make a killer single. Shivers down the spine time with that vocal. The drum track drives the thing along nicely. The BVs are fab and it’s a hearty hook. Remember “Gimme Little Sign,” by Brenton Wood; well the arrangement of the chorus here, with the ensemble male backing singers, may bring that classic track to the front of your mind.
She gives us an early Aretha-style vocal on “Waiting,” and perhaps Beverly Knight territory too. The closer, “Darkness And The Dawn,” sits on a continuous Prince-like riff. Some of the production values on this one were a bit off for me; including too much effect on her vocal. The out of tune acoustic guitar sat low in the mix, really grating on my ears throughout. A Gabrielle feel to the song, and yet another top end vocal from her. All in all: TK = Total Knockout. One to watch is a gross understatement. Five big, fat, juicy stars.
STOP PRESS: “Soul Run,” was just nominated for the R&B/Soul Recording of the Year in the Juno awards, Canada’s equivalent to the Grammys. One of five albums in this category, alongside such artists as The Weeknd. The winners are announced between March 7th and April 2nd.
- The first single, “Soul Run,” drops on 10th February for download. The album is released on 7th April. Get it!
By Simon Redley
(1 / 5) ‘Dull Zone’
(2 / 5) ‘OK Zone’
(3 / 5) ‘Decent Zone’
(4 / 5) ‘Super Zone’
(5 / 5) ‘Awesome Zone’