I’ve been listening to a lot of records lately where I thought that there is always something missing. Like an album of 12 songs where only about 3 or 4 of them were actually pretty good and the rest mediocre, to put it mildly. Others had great production, arranging, and craftsmanship but the lead singer didn’t really cross over. And still others which more or less sounded the same from start to finish. This new record from Detroit-based singer Kathy Kosins definitely falls into the “they don’t make records like this anymore” category. What you get here are actual songs without any stupid gimmicks, a crisp and rich production and a singer with a voice that has been trained as a sought-after backing vocalist, esteemed jazz artist with some great albums under her own name, and a skilled songwriter who surrounds herself with the perfect people to help get her message across.
On “Uncovered Soul”, Kathy has come up with a collection of songs from soul acts like Curtis Mayfield, the Neville Brothers, and Bill Withers (but not the obvious tunes), a Burt Bacharach, The Blue Nile, and Amos Lee tune and a few original songs. Talk about repertoire here! I think it is amazingly important these days to choose the right songs and not go the straight, tried-and-tested route of mixing the Great American Songbook with soul and/or originals. What I like most about Kathy’s voice is her wonderfully thick and rich timbre which simply oozes soul and blues and jazz. It all comes so naturally to her that it is really a joy listening to this outstanding album. Things get started with the ultimately swaying “Don’t Get Me Started”. Producer Kamau Kenyatta, known for his great work with Gregory Porter, has built an exquisite surrounding for Kathy’s versatile, warm and sexy voice. Working with successful songwriter Jeff Franzel, the team is also responsible for the haunting title track which is one of the highlights of the set (but they change everyday anyway these days….). The tune comes with an additional version with Paul Randolph and Soulpersona, brilliantly harking back to those glorious early 80s soul sounds, complete with sensuous backing vocals and very cool keyboard work (I’m really crazy about the “that’s what I need to know” backing – it’s the little things like this which turn a good album into a great one).
Kathy manages to capture the essence of the Bill Withers beauty “Can We Pretend?”, recorded for his 1974 album “+’Justments” and written by his then wife Denise Nicholas. The way Kathy phrases the line “there’s a shadow hiding in your heart sometimes that makes my feelings turn back in on me” is enticingly compelling. Here she comes closest to her jazz aesthetic, backed by a corresponding trio which swings soothingly and where Kamau plays some really flowing piano. The mood and atmosphere is truly 70s soul ballad at its best. “Voodoo” is from the Neville Brothers 1989 album “Yellow Moon”. What Kamau and Kathy did here is like highlighting the funky bass line and adding a catchy guitar while retaining the exoticism of the original. I’m glad that the synth drum of The Blue Nile‘s wonderful “The Downtown Lights” (1989) has been replaced here with a heartbreakingly beautiful, stripped-down version where Kathy shines as a soul ballad singer with a twist, too. And she really makes Amos Lee‘s “Dreamin'” her own. I’ve been a fan of Amos since day one and Kathy changes the bluesy character of the original to include a deeply soulful touch with a jazzy fencing. As for the other originals, there is a very strong “A To B”, a quiet storm kind of ballad which should be huge on radio and includes some more of those mesmerizing backing vocals (reminding me of Marlon Saunders’ work) and a very cool keyboard solo. And “If Love Could Talk” probably best epitomizes what I was talking about earlier: an actual song telling a story, wrapped up in a deep, smooth soul ballad.
The most well-known song on the album is probably Burt Bacharach‘s “Any Day Now”, exuding just about the right amount of drama. When Kathy sings “goodbye my love”, you think it is really the end of a beautiful relationship. It is one of the most endearing versions of the 1962 classic, even beating Luther’s interpretation on his 2001 album. But it’s not all downtempo or midtempo ballad material here. Just listen to “Could You Be Me”, the electronica meets soul meets jazz instant classic where she teamed up with Paul Randolph which also comes with a Brazilian lyric version and maybe you’ll get the drift why “Uncovered Soul” is the consummate work of art.
Make sure to catch Kathy Kosins at The Pheasantry in London on April 17th and 18th.