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Daptone (DAP040CD)

If That Don't Tell You, This Is Where We Came In, (Baby) Hold On, Something's Calling, A Truer Heart, Free Your Mind (While You Still Got Time), Light Of My Life,  Stranded, Satchel Foot, In The Dark

A new album and new label from the UK's premier retro soul and R&B band and it's a good fit, given Daptone's track record over recent years of bringing us the great sounds of Sharon Jones, Charles Bradley, Naomi Shelton and others.

Following on from 2013's Minute By Minute, this is once again very much business as usual from James and the band, offering up 10 new tracks full of the trademark sounds that we have swooned over across all his previous albums. From start to finish, the singing is strong and impassioned, the instrumentation is at all times crisp and tight and the songs are an object lesson in brevity and precision. And, forever the perfectionists, the band has perfectly sequenced and balanced the album between the urgency of those numbers designed to get you dancing and those slower songs intended to tug at your heart-strings. 

The agenda and tone of the album is set immediately on If That Don't Tell You, a pacy opener that bounces along without a single note of padding or waste. This concise approach is carried on in the smooch-tastic This Is Where We Came In, a slow and languid reflection on the end of a relationship. Here James shows off his talents not just as a sensitive and effective vocalist but also as a lyricist of some substance, as he does again just a few tracks later with the sublime Something's Calling.

But its not just James' singing and song-writing that shines here. The band is a fantastically tight collective all across the album, fully integrating James's own clipped guitar chords and licks, Lee Badau and Damian Hand swinging their saxes, Andrew Kigslow's classy keyboards and the super-tight rhythm section of Jason Wilson and Jonathan Lee on bass and drums. The fullest demonstration of this is on the instrumental Satchel Foot, a toe-tapping marvel that sounds like its been air-lifted from a theme tune to a late 1960s American TV show, and on (Baby) Hold On, a lively dance number and that incorporates a nifty interchange of guitar and sax solos in a rare show of instrumental expansiveness.

In keeping everything under control and on such a tight leash, the whole album is done and dusted in around thirty minutes, notably short in this day and age but pretty typical of albums from the era that the band are most inspired by. Thankfully it is a consistently thrilling half an hour and, frankly, a preferred alternative to most albums these days. These may stretch out over a longer period but invariably have far fewer highlights, ideas or good songs than this little cracker. 

Review Date: Febraury 2016

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