Thursday, September 16, 2010

Undiscovered Soul: Beverley Knight

Beverley Knight (vocals; b. 1973)

I'm assuming most of the American readers may not know of Beverley Knight--but you need to. One of my favourite soul artists of the last 15 years, British born Beverley Knight, is one of the countless real old school soul singers. Like many of her American counterparts (N'Dambi, Angela Johnson, Eyrka Badu) she combines a rich soulful voice with real instrumentation and most of positive and thought-provoking lyrics. Something severely lacking in the major hit R&B/Pop artist arsenal.

The influence of soul and gospel is very apparent in Knight music. She was raised on in a religious environment but also listened to soul greats like Aretha Franklin (a wonderful combination of the two genres) and later on highly influenced by the creative forces of Prince. After absorbing the two cultural experiences and developing her own writing skills Beverley Knight finally made it to the point of working on her debut album, B-Funk (Dome Records, 1995).

B-Funk contain the great floor-filler, "Flavour Of The Old School" which still gets me jumping 15 years later. Also reflecting her gospel/soul influences was the lovely ballad "Goodbye Innocence" a loving look at moving into the next phase of life. (9.17 correction: the song is about child abuse and recovering and moving on from that. thanks for explanation nusoulfan. we definitely appreciate it).

B-Funk became a classic blueprint of new British R&B. Let's be clear, there were other British R&B artists that came before (Gabrielle and Mica Paris most notably with success across both the sides of the Atlantic) but the B-Funk made a powerful statement of that British R&B had a grown stronger and was ready to break out.

In '98 Knight returned with the explosive Prodigal Sista (EMI). This is really the point that I became a fan. There is a balance of hip-street soul and melodic introspective beauty running throughout Prodigal Sista. That balance appears in the opening tracks "Made It Back" and "Rewind" which are both joyful and beat driven. The delicate and soul-searching nature of her ballads are nowhere more evident than on "Strong Hand" as we can all ask for someone to help us through the tough times in life.

While Prodigal Sista was the album catapulted her into the British popular eye and out of the nu-soul underground, her third album, Who I Am (EMI) contained some of her most powerful material to date. Who I Am is all over the map as far as strong mixture of funk, dancehall reggae, soul and pop. Tracks like "Get Up!," "Shoulda Woulda Coulda," "Bestseller Mystery," and "Same As (I Ever Was)" all shine with a vibrant beauty and genius that most Soul artists just haven't the skill to write or even perform. This was a big statement album for me and possible my favourite of all Beverley Knight's albums. A solid piece of work that is definitely a must have of any fan of Soul music.

Beverley Knight took another step up with Affirmation (EMI; 2004), an album more pop based than soul. That's not a big thing people. Affirmation was as the title suggest--a confident and more assertive demonstration of Beverley Knight as songwriter. To me I think this was definitely the direction she should have taken at this point. "Come As You Are," "Keep This Fire Burning" and "Remember Me" all show a maturity and in the case of "Remember Me", the gospel influence comes to the forefront again. Great stuff.

Knight's fifth album, Music City Soul (EMI; 2007) was the culmination of everything she believed and had been working on since '95. Motor City Soul marries Knight's soulful voice with the raw energy of Midwestern American Blues & Soul. Possibly an underrated album in Knight's arsenal. With tracks like "The Queen Of Starting Over," and "Every Time You See Me Smile" evokes her the prime periods of both Dusty Springfield and Aretha Franklin. This is probably the most divergent of all her albums put it suits her perfectly.

Beverley Knight's most recent album, 100% (EMI; 2009) is a return to the robust, funky soul of Who I Am. It has a combination of pop flavour and dance oriented soul highlighted by two amazing tracks "Breakout" and "Soul Suvivour". The album closes with a wonderful rendition of Robin Gibb's "Too Much Heaven", a ballad that Beverley handles with ease.

All of Beverley Knight's albums are a reflection of her life at each moment. The remarkable thing is, everyone can relate to this experiences. And that's what makes a great songwriter. That's what makes the British Soul of Beverley Knight not just British but universal.

My two choices for anyone unfamiliar with Beverley Knight would definitely be Who I Am or if you just want a brief overview there are two compilations that cover the first five albums (The Voice: The Best Of Beverley Knight and The Beverley Knight Collection). If you haven't listened to her before now is a good time to check her out.

1 comment:

  1. ""Goodbye Innocence" a loving look at moving into the next phase of life."

    Ironically, that's an innocent way to look at the track. It's actually about a young girl being abused by her father, taking away the innocence of youth.

    first verse:
    Goodbye innocence, you didn't stay too long,
    you were her haven, her solace while she was young,
    but fate decreed that fear would form her personality,
    and she would CRY when daylight passed, knowing that the night would bring... DADDY!

    Great write though, I'm a huge fan myself! Her voice is such a powerful instrument for emoting delicate nuance, soaring to climax and putting you right back in her pocket with it's delicacy and ethereal harmonies.

    Promise You Forever is my favourite track from her first album, lyrics such as "some hearts blow in the wind like falling leaves, in every changing season; easy to offend" are so beautiful and that track is vocally exquisite too.

    From Prodigal Sista, she really comes into her own on The Need of You, her deliverance of that track, for the first time, took her from joyful R&B flavour into early hints of Aretha Franklin.

    Who I Am sees a bigger budget I think, and the result is a more all round polished production. Slightly losing some funk but a more mature sound and the rest is history.

    My personal favourite is Music City Soul for its raw energy that was captured in totally live session. Not technically perfect or put through the diluting stages of post production but just pure session "press record and sang" and straight to CD!