Wednesday, 13 March 2013

I Know What You Talking 'Bout Willis!

I'm still feeling the soul sister-soul power from last Friday and you know I'm always on the throwback vibe.  So it seems like the perfect opportunity to show love for another international woman of musical notoriety: Nicole Willis.

Although currently living in and working from Finland with her saxophonist husband Jimi Tenor, singer-songwriter Willis hails from Brooklyn and spent her formative years rolling in London with acts Washington Week In Review (along side assorted members of The Brand New Heavies), The Hello Strangers and Blue Period.  

Returning stateside, Willis befriended Super Dj Dmitry Brill, becoming an original member of Deee-Lite before they were signed to Elektra.  And as a member of the acid jazz collective Repercussions she worked with the always super fly Curtis Mayfield on a redux of his soundtrack to Let's Do It Again.  

And if you once counted the soundtrack to Go among your "electronica" albums, you might recognize her vocals from the Leftfield tune "Swords."

Willis' two millennial solo albums - Soul Makeover and Be It - continued to combine her skills as a vocal smooth operator with her affinities for deep house, jazzy trip hop and even spacefunk, courtesy of Maurice Fulton on the remixes.

Considering those musical credits, one might expect her contemporary work to nostalgically reboot the house music of her younger years.  But Willis and her newest band, The Soul Investigators, have dug way deeper than that.

Rather, her critically-acclaimed and long-overdue 2005 breakout album, Keep Reachin' Up, is a hep homage to 50s and 60s soul. While her latest outing released only last month, Tortured Soul, struts the avenue with some righteous 70s flare.  Her indebtedness to former collaborator Curtis Mayfield, as well as to James Brown, couldn't be more apparent, but both influences are perfectly welcome.

Heard back-to-back these latest albums serve as an indispensable history lesson in African American musical innovation at midcentury, as well as a promising reassurance of those sounds' steadfast hold on contemporary artists.

The Repercussions - "A Gentle Kind of Love," Earth and Heaven, Warner, 1995

The Repercussions - "Love, Again," Charmed, Pony Canyon, 1997

Discogs: Charmed

Nicole Willis - "Heed the Sign (Maurice Fulton Remix)," Soul Makeover, Puu, 2000

Discogs: Soul Makeover

Nicole Willis - "Though U Tried," Be It, Puu, 2004

Discogs: Be It

Nicole Willis & The Soul Investigators, Keep Reachin' Up, Timmion Records, 2005

"Hold On" 

"Blues Downtown"

"My 4 Leaf Clover"

Nicole Willis & The Soul Investigators - "Feelin Free (Aaron Jerome Remix)," Keep Reachin' Up Remixed, Above the Coulds, 2007

Nicole & The Soul Investigators - Tortured Soul, Timmion Records, 2013

Discogs: Tortured Soul

"Light Years Ahead"

"Time to Get Business"

"Break Free"

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