Saturday, June 12, 2010
It's a Promo Day: Stax Is Back on the Scene!
Leela James - Let It Roll
When the Concord Group bought Fantasy Records and the panoply of label catalogues it owned, Concord announced plans to revive the Stax label. On the Internet, various soul fans worried about possible damage to the Stax legacy, particularly should the "new" Stax feature music not aligned with the label's legend. (Previously, a rumor that Justin Timberlake planned to revive Stax had set off a similar spate of handwringing.) Honestlly, I dismissed such fears. Motown has kept an active artist roster from its founding to the present day, and although some of its artists veer far from the legendary '60s and '70s classics, its "aura" has not been diminished. Why should Stax, whose history did not reach the ascendant heights of Motown's, be locked into a 1959-1975 timeline (conveniently omitting Fantasy's revival of the label for a couple of years in the late '70s and an attempt to revive Volt in the '90s) when its legendary recordings have stood the test of time and continue to do so?
As a fan of neo-soul, I have been pleased with the direction Concord has taken with the revived Stax label, mixing new releases by both newcomers/non-Stax artists and Stax veterans with repackaged reissues and first-time issues of vintage material, such as the Live at the Bohemian Caverns and Live at the Summit Club sets on Carla Thomas and Johnnie Taylor, respectively, and I am extra happy to see that two projects from the label featuring new material have done particularly well. Angie Stone's Art of Love and War did well, with the single "Baby" giving Stax it's first Billboard chart hit since the late '70s. Now Leela James, neo-soul songstress (some of you may remember her excellent version of "A Change Is Gonna Come" from a few years back) and BET's My Black Is Beautiful co-host, has come out with My Soul, whose lead-off single, "Tell Me You Love Me," has helped the album make it into the top ten of Billboard's R&B Album Chart and into the top thirty of the Top 200 Album Chart. Stax is back on the scene!
The good folks at Giant Step sent me a review copy of the album, and I must say that though several of the tracks on My Soul won't meet with approval from the Stax purists, there are several tunes that make James' statement in the liner notes that it's appropriate to have a home at a "real soul" label like Stax quite valid. "Let It Roll" is one of the more retro-sounding tracks, full of swagger and energy. I would recommend the CD heartily to readers of this blog who do have a thing for neo-soul, because James is in great form throughout.