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Music Review: Marion James – Northside Soul

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If you want to hear some gospel-influenced and blues-driven soul music, then Marion James and her new release, Northside Soul, may be an album for you.

She has been travelling the highways and byways of America since the 1960s, honing her craft in small clubs, smokey lounges, and anywhere else that puts good music on stage. She managed to produce one Billboard top ten hit with the single, “That’s My Man,” on the old Excello label.

Her newest album was released during June and finds her in fine form. She always had a talent for songwriting and over half of the 13 tracks are original compositions. She has surrounded herself with a very competent studio band including bassist/producer Tod Ellsworth, keyboardist Steve Bassett, guitarist Ivan Applerouth, drummers George Sheppard, Brad Ellsworth, and Dusty Simmons, plus an array of brass and background singers.

“Smokin’ Hot” connects her to the old Stax/Memphis soul sound of the early 1970s. The big brass sound and extended funky guitar solo provide the backdrop for her soaring vocals. She turns the old Ray Charles tune “I Believe to My Soul” into a smooth romp as her phrasing gives it a nice twist from the original. Willie Dixon’s “I Just Want to Make Love to You” drips with old style rhythm & blues finesse.

Her own composition, “Mr. Blues” and a cover of “A Man Size Job” find her drawing on James Brown during his funk period. The album’s opening track, “If I Fell,” is a microcosm of her work, as the keyboards provide a piano-based groove for her vocals. The most ambitious track is “Corrupted World,” which has some bite to it. It finds her in gospel mode as she preaches about the ills of the modern world.  

Marion James is a rhythm & blues pioneer who is still very active today. Northside Soul is not only a fine introduction to her music but a gateway to some old style rhythm & blues. It is a fine way to spend 58 minutes and 15 seconds of your time.

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