Bluesdoodles rating: 3 Doodle Paws – a great listen for an impeccably performed blend of soul, blues and funk – with the odd reggae beat thrown in.
As an ageing, childless rocker, I am forgiving myself for being unaware of the phenomenon that is Dionne Bennett. She is a star of CBeebies apparently (hence the bobbin’ pun in the title) but more significantly this British Jamaican singer-songwriter, producer, TV and radio (Radio Cardiff if you want to tune into ‘The Suga Shack) has also shared the stage with Dr. John, Maceo Parker, Oasis and Rhys Ifans, as well as releasing singles with Jason Rebello, Tim Garland, Super Furry Animals and The Earth. She did take a sabbatical due to suffering an acute asthma attack that left her (temporarily, mercifully) without the ability to speak and, more happily, taking the time to raise her son. If that were not enough she is the chair of ‘Ladies of Rage.’
To quote their admirable aims:
This network was set up to support women in electronic music genres in Wales and has been successful in highlighting the imbalances of the industry when it comes to women in music and providing support and advocating for 50/50 line up and the inclusion of women when programming for gigs and events. Dionne also chairs the Diversity Advisory Group at the Royal College of Music Drama, helping to ensure the inclusion of black music and black artists within the curriculum and the college itself.
Now we have a solo album, called Sugar Hip Ya Ya, which she recorded with Little G Weevil at the production desk and contributed to the songwriting along with some stalwarts of the Hungarian music scene as she recorded it in the capital, Budapest. (Dionne featured on a Little G Weevil release (Something Poppin’) and he returns the favour here. You can also view a review on his latest solo album on Bluesdoodles.) The title intrigues: Sugar is sweet, Hip is either a joint (!) or being with the latest trends and Ya Ya is an old blues term for one’s derriere (as with the Stones Get your Ya Yes Out)…my mind could make many things from that, but the track seems to refer to a lady who is very fond of dancing.
Tell Mama is a brave track to begin an album with: it was written by Carter/Daniel/Terrell and was a big hit for the lovely Etta James in 1968. Dionne takes it fairly true and, as the band, get behind it with some skin, she lets loose in a suitably Etta, yet original way. The Hammond makes it weighty and, after the ‘let’s take it to church” line the brass get aroused too.
The title track, Sugar Hip Ya Ya, on subsequent listens seems to hold an analogy for independent women around the world: with brazen brass and some neat guitar, the Stax like structure works well as Dionne utilises her not inconsiderable vocal range.
Spy Me opens with a great drum shuffle, Hammond and bass join and build to a funky, bluesy riff that draws you in and Dionne again pours her soul and heart into it. The synths solo does jar a bit, but, if you think the riff is a bit Sail Away, then this actually fits.
The pace lessens a bit as, on My Life, Dionne shares her roots over a very apt reggae beat: the bass and electric piano are effective as one with gentle guitar chords echoing behind, and room is made for a tasteful, bluesy guitar phrase or two that could have been even more effective if prolonged. Back to faster, funky blues with Full Time Job driven along on the back of some swirling Hammond as Dionne tells her story of how singing is so vital to her. The guitar solo is exceptional too as the phased sound is rockier and leads nicely to a Hammond sequence that introduces the drum led bridge…nice.
Yes We Can Can is not anything to do with Bob The Builder, regardless of Dionne’s past roles in children’s TV. This is Allen Toussaint composition which saw success for Lee Dorsey in 1970 and an even bigger hit by the Pointer Sisters in 1973, by which point an extra “Can” had been added. It does maintain its own character and, after a drum bridge, a guitar solo that knows how pedal boards should be used makes it stand apart.
Let It Rain begins with weird sound effects herald a brassy reggae song and, to bring the message home, actually samples Martin Luther King Jr and his famous “We shall overcome” speech. Love the message and agree totally but it lasts a bit too long and, to me, detracts from her personal message. Don’t Fall For Love is more soulful and, inevitably, reminds me of I Put A Spell On You as well as a hint of SAHB (listen closely and you’ll see what I mean) and the Hammond solo outro is excellent. Get It Right is funky as funk, courtesy of the clavinet a la Mr Wonder: the similarity ends there as the song builds to the line: “tell them on the guitar”…and he does, with a varied and thoughtful solo that embraces rock, blues and funk.
The final track, Get Style, is nearly nine minutes of Dionne giving even band members a run out in a sort of jam session. “Get style, ya, ya, ya, ya, ya” is the call and I’m guessing this will feature in any live forum as it’s ripe for a sing-a-long. The band contribute brilliantly: loved the guitar, bass and Hammond solos.
So, although a slight departure for me, this clever blend of soul, blues and funk performed so well by all parties is a high-quality release that should see more people appreciate Dionne’s vocal prowess and also discover the vibrant Hungarian blues scene.
Sugar Hip Ya Ya
Don’t Fall For Love
Let It Rain
Yes We Can Can
Get It Right
Dionne Bennett: vocals
Lazslo Borsodi: guitar
Matyas Premecz: keyboards
Attila Herr: bass
Lajos Gyenge: drums
Tamas Sovari: trumpet
Zoltan Albert: saxophone
Rita Foris, Jonathan Andelic, Aba Zsuffa, Robert Zoltan Hunka: backing vocals
Little G Weevil: guitar, backing vocals, production
(iTunes took me next to the short lived, but very capable rock band, Dirty Americans and their 2004 album, Strange Generation…they deserved better coverage than they got: listen to the powerful title track, for example.)