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British singer Noel McKoy has been on the fringes of the soul and acid-jazz scenes since the late ’80s. In the early ’90s he fronted the James Taylor Quartet. This year McKoy released his solo debut album via the Martin Chess and Eddie Piller helmed Tri-sound label. McKoy’s unashamedly retro influences from the northern English soul scene, Stax horns, and tamla rhythms provide the perfect backdrop for his rich and powerful voice.

The title track is an attention-grabbing gospel stomper. “Great Big Gap” follows in the northern soul tradition with a soaring sax solo. “Fly Away With Me” is an old-school Curtis Mayfield send-up. The disc’s highlight is “Determined Man,” a tune that in a just world would be an instant hit. “Jealousy” expresses a ’70s disco feel, with McKoy affecting his most seductive vocal, while “Skating on Thin Ice” offers handclaps and a big horn. “Love in the City” could be the missing link between the Superfly and Shaft soundtracks, painting the familiar portrait of inner-city decay. This adventurous collection closes with the romantic “Tumbling Down,” a big-sound soul ballad with echoes of the Temptations and the Chi-Lites.

Pedigree musicians Bluey Maunick of Incognito, Ski Okenfull of Galliano, and percussionist Snowboy helped McKoy stir gospel, soul, tamla, funk, and northern soul into a brew overflowing with good taste, making Brighter Day one of this year’s most accomplished debuts.

Album title: Brighter Day
Artist: Noel McKoy
Label: Tri-sound
Songs: (1) Brighter Day (2) Great Big Gap (3) Special Delivery (4) Fly Away With Me (5) Determined Man (6) Read Between the Lines (7) Jealousy (8) Merry Go Round (9) Shadow Of A Dream (10) Skating On Thin Ice (11) Love in the City (12) Tumbling Down

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