Best albums of 2015: 30 to 21

AOTY 2015 30-21 college: Courtney Barnett, Wolf Alice, Flavia Coelho, Leon Bridges (1448x815)In part three of this year’s albums round-up, we have old-new soul man Leon Bridges, the ethereal excellent of Wolf Alice, the everyday empress of garage rock Courtney Barnett, a whole lotta funk, and a Brazilian funkstress that is more than a match for Shakira’s hip-shaking.

30. Mark Ronson – Uptown Special
29. Florence and the Machine – How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful
28. Wolf Alice – My Love is Cool
27. Flavia Coelho – Mundo Meu
26. Earl Sweatshirt – I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside
25. D’Angelo – Black Messiah
24. Leon Bridges – Coming Home
23. Courtney Barnett – Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit
22. Jazmine Sullivan – Reality Show
21. Nicole Willis & the Soul Investigators – Happiness in Every Style
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Nicole Willis & the Soul Investigators – Happiness in Every Style review

Nicole Willis, promo photo 2015, 01, by Jimi Tenor (1920x1080)You can’t make a case for the classic soul album in 2015 without mentioning Nicole Willis & the Soul Investigators. The Brooklyn-born singer and the Finnish soul purveyors have now released three studio albums together in the last 10 years. Their latest effort, Happiness in Every Style, is overflowing with luminous textures and smooth sounds that underscore this segment of music’s influence and its endless ability to enchant. Continue reading

Jam of the Week: Nicole Willis – Paint Me in a Corner

Nicole Willis - Paint Me splash (640x360)There’s a fire brewing along the edge of the Arctic Circle. And if gets any hotter it may just begin to melt the icecaps. This week sees the return of the raw talent that is Nicole Willis. Brooklyn-born and now Helsinki-based, her first two albums with the Soul Investigators (Keep Reachin’ Up (2005) and Tortured Soul (2013)) are marvels of original, sensational soul music – they’re more than 60s “throwbacks”. Continue reading

Choice Cuts: Nicole Willis & the Soul Investigators – Keep Reachin’ Up

Timmion Records, 2005
Nicole Willis, promo 03 (1920x1080)It feels like a disservice to describe Keep Reachin’ Up by Nicole Willis & the Soul Investigators as a ‘throwback’. Sure, that’s what it may sound like, but that doesn’t reflect the passion that these musicians have for soul music which makes this album so much more than what it first appears.

Brooklyn-born Nicole Willis has a credit list longer than most in the contemporary soul scene. Her professional career began singing and writing with the Washington Week in Review, before contributing vocals for Blue Period, Hello Strangers, Deee-Lite, Leftfield, singing backup for The The and a duet with Curtis Mayfield. She’s made two albums with the New York soul-hip hop collective Repercussions as well as her own solo material. There’s a little bit of Barbara Acklin, Mary Wells and Roberta Flack in her.

As for the Soul Investigators, this Finnish ensemble’s love of soul music led to the creation of Helsinki-based Timmion Records in the late 1990s. Members include bassist Sami Kantelinen, guitarist Petri Toikkanen, drummer Jukka Sarapää, saxophonist Lasse Tolvanen and producer and instrumentalist Didier Selin, among others. They’d released two full-length records and handful of 45s around the time of Keep Reachin’ Up – the 2005 collaboration that won them international praise (Gilles Peterson’s 2006 Worldwide Winner), put Timmion on the map for Northern Soul fans and discerning record collectors and landed the group on the Presidential playlist. Continue reading

Best albums of 2013: top 10

Aaron's best albums of 2013 collage 10-01 (2500x1000)Here we are. The final 10 and my chosen favourites. Over the first and second parts of my album round-up, there have been disappointments (yep, no Bowie, no Kanye), there been surprises and there has even been some grief.

A picture may tell a thousand words, but music can paint a million different images. Which is why no amount of text could ever capture how those moments of musical elation feel. Still, if you’ve faced struggles and doubt this year, then, in their own way, each of these 10 albums offer reasons for you to press on in search of better days to come. Continue reading