Independent Spotlight is a continuing series on Stewart’s blog. The series revolves around independent artists and bands sending their music to Brett to review. No band is promised a positive review, and all music is reviewed honestly in an effort to better independent music.
I once took a college course on the history of rock and soul music. That year, I took two semesters of that course, and delved deep into the endless history of the two genres. In part, it fueled my drive to become a music journalist. Thus, when this latest Independent Spotlight feature artist came across my desk, I was rather surprised. His name is Charles Wright - the man behind the classic track ‘Express Yourself.’
When I was in that course, ‘Express Yourself’ was on our final. Charles Wright & The Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band is part of that pantheon of unforgettable soul and R&B music. Now, all these years later, Charles Wright is still making wonderful music. His latest studio endeavor is ‘Something To Make You Feel Good.’ Let’s dig right into it and see how Wright has evolved over the years to reach this point.
Nowadays, I’d align Charles Wright’s vocal style with that of the late, great Pops Staples. His crooning is smooth, suave, and effortlessly soulful. He isn’t a bombastic vocalist or an ostentatiously intense one. He’s soft and explores his soulful musings with tactful elegance. The opening track of the album, ‘Answer To My Prayers,’ is a perfect excursion through that. It’s classic R&B, and Wright is in fine form.
‘Apartment Living’ is an intriguing track. The title of the track is the only lyric, sparsely repeated on top of a particularly funky beat. I’d argue the track’s quality has little to do with the lyrical subject matter - it’s an instrumental exploration that allows Wright and his backing band to show off their chops as tactful soul performers. Similar to ‘Express Yourself,’ I could see ‘Apartment Living’ offering a variety of sampling options for other artists as well.
‘Something To Make You Feel Good’ is a rather good production, too. I listened to the album with studio monitors and it was a stunningly lovely experience. The nuances injected into each soundscape are delightfully fun. ‘Looking For An Ugly Woman,’ one of the album’s best tracks, is chock-full of that kind of personality. The track is bluesy and sharply written. Wright’s ability to pen and deliver soulful lyricism is as strong as ever, and tracks like ‘Looking For An Ugly Woman’ are a statement of that contemporary relevance.
Part of the endearing nature of Wright’s modern vocal style is that it isn’t perfect. In tracks like ‘Better Watch Out,’ Wright has occasional vocal cracks, and every so often he misses a note he was shooting for. I’d go as far to argue that this couldn’t matter less - his passion is there, and the raw authenticity of his performance is something I’d take any day over a conventionally ‘perfect’ vocalist. Wright sounds impressively good for a man who’s occupied the industry for so long.
The instrumentation on ‘Something To Make You Feel’ embraces a certain level of brevity. Nothing is over the top, there really aren’t any solos, per say, and the music is composed to keep Wright at the forefront of the experience. This was a very smart choice - he is the vehicle for the music, not the other way around. Tracks like ‘I Got Feelings Too’ even combine some sparse brass sections. (Plus, that track is superbly written.)
“Before you learn to love somebody else, you’ve got to learn to love you,” Wright advises on ‘She Don’t Believe In Love.’ The track culminates everything the veteran songwriter and performer does well - it’s passionate, funky, a tad bluesy, and Wright’s vocal performance is snappy and personable. It’s a wonderful precursor to ‘Happiness,’ another one of the album’s best tracks. All of the performances on ‘Happiness’ are outstanding, and the laser-sharp execution of the composition is infectious.
‘Thank God For Tonight’ offers some of the better harmonies on the record, which are then accentuated by incredible brass sections. At one point, Wright even softly speak to his lover while a saxophone meanders in the backdrop. Wright sells the performance - this kind of soul music holds up so well when performed by someone like Wright. The soft-spoken ‘Made In The Shade’ is similar in that regard.
‘Throwing In The Towel’ is one of the more lively efforts on the album, a sound that suits Wright and his band well. The methodic funk bass is fantastic, eclipsed only by the thunderous piano performance. The track sounds like the ghost of Allen Toussaint showed up to play piano on it. On the following track, ‘Comfort Me,’ the guitar performances shine similarly.
‘Peace Of Mind’ harnesses equally strong imagery as the rest of the album’s lyrical content. It’s an inspirational track with jaw-droppingly good doses of gospel stylized throughout. ‘Storybook’ then closes the record with a song that’s actually somewhat reminiscent of a Jimmy Cliff track. It’s definitely a starkly different song to the rest of the album. That said, it’s a perfect finale.
To put it bluntly, there isn’t enough music like this nowadays. The majority of my generation isn’t even aware that this music was even popular at any time. In the contemporary scene, it’s hard to find any music like this. I mentioned Pops Staples earlier, and I think his daughter, Mavis, champions this style to large crowds nowadays in a way that few performers can do. Charles Wright is refreshing, even as an older creative now. These tracks are so worth the time of any music lover because Wright is doing what Mavis is doing. They’re keeping it alive.