Welcome to the latest issue of Denis Poole’s Secret Garden, the page that offers a British perspective on the very best from the world of smooth jazz and classic soul. In the main, artists tend to be products of the music that shape them. Certainly this belief is reinforced by the current proliferation of new releases that can be loosely classed as ‘tributes’. However, although Gerald Albright (with his homage to the music of Stax) and Brian Culbertson (who is single handedly ‘bringing back the funk’) are both rekindling the influences of their formative years, Simply Red front man Mick Hucknall has chosen to tread a different route. His Tribute To Bobby doffs a cap to R & B pioneer Bobby Bland who first sprang to musical prominence in the latter part of the fifties, before in fact Hucknall was born. Consequently his is a story of discovery made possible in part by the rare grooves of the sort typically showcased in the clubs of North West England around the time that Hucknall was starting out as a performer. It’s likely that it was in such a setting that he first heard Bland’s 1957 breakthrough hit ‘Farther Down The Road’ which is the first track from Tribute To Bobby to be selected for radio play and, despite its hard driving bluesy feel, is finding favor on smooth jazz radio across the USA.
The album is, for Hucknall, clearly a labor of love and the big brass enriched ‘Ain’t That Lovin’ You’ gives a clear indication of how this brand of music undoubtedly impacted Hucknall's own, now very familiar sound. The rocking introduction to ‘Poverty’ subsides into those same bluesy blue eyed tones that Hucknall delivers from the heart and he does much the same with ‘Yolanda’, a tune that in its original form signposted the way to the funk that followed. ‘I’ll Take Care Of You’ is so bluesy that the steamy heat of a Mississippi afternoon is almost tangible while ‘Stormy Monday Blues’, presented by Hucknall in energetic style, is everything the title suggests it should be.
The torrid intensity of ‘I Pity The Fool’ contrasts delightfully with the soulful ‘Lead Me On’ which rekindles memories of days when production techniques were simpler and the music was allowed to speak for itself. In similar vein is ‘I’m Too Far Gone’. With a deliciously languid yet compelling beat it’s a song indicative of that which laid the foundation for mainstream 60’s soul and Hucknall returns to this vibe, first for the soulfully laid back ‘Chains Of Love’ and then again with ‘I Wouldn’t Treat A Dog (The Way You Treated Me)’. This mid tempo mover, complete with a Memphis Horns thing going on, fits Hucknall to perfection and these same ingredients are again superbly combined for ‘Cry Cry Cry’. Despite an ambience from an earlier time there is a genuine Simply Red feeling about it and perhaps, for Hucknall, there is the rub. Much like an actor from a long running television show Hucknall’s wonderful voice is synonymous with the band he created back in the early eighties. Whether his fans are ready to make the distinction between Hucknall the front man and Hucknall the solo artist remains to be seen but there is no doubt that with Tribute To Bobby he has checked every box imaginable.Posted by Denis Poole at July 15, 2008 6:32 PM