Having been away from the solo project arena for nearly ten years, a mouth-watering taster menu EP was served up in early 2019 and now UK Soul troubadour Noel McKoy is back with a delectable seventeen track main course CD high-quality ‘People Make Change’. And the wait was definitely worth it.
What is noticeable from the get-go and throughout this generous set is the high-quality production, mixing and of course Noel McKoy’s superior vocal control and delivery. The lead-off song and album title track ‘People Make Change’ masks it’s underlying sober political message of how power hunger world leaders are causing economic turmoil and uncertainty with a sublimely seducing summery musical flow – guitar, bass, drums, percussion, keys and those smooth vocals all working in perfect harmony. And yes that is another of the UK’s finest, Mr Tony Remy twanging those guitar strings so sweetly.
The back and forth sway of ‘Love Under Control’ with its urgent and incessant backbeat marries oh so well with Noel’s vocals. On ‘My Lady’s Gone’, although as the title and lyrics imply, his lady has moved on, this original album mix evokes an uplifting feel-good vibe. Three-quarters of the way in, Noel’s fluent scat alongside the lead guitar is a notable nod to the legendary Guitarist/Scat master George Benson. This combined with the intermittent jazzy keyboard interspersions wrap you up in a warm soothing musical blanket.
‘Motown Babe’ likens the memories and presence of that significant other/past love in one’s life to the unique golden era of ‘that’ Motown sound. ‘Let It Go’ is a dynamic, continuously pumping foot-stomper that would work equally well within a heaving club environment or as a backing track for a vigorous Mr Motivator fitness workout routine; it simply inspires you to get up and get moving.
The stimulating vibes continue on ‘Making Love Music’. After you’ve enjoyed a romantic candlelight meal for two together simply put this tune on a continuous loop and the rest of the night will just melt away – pure grown folks music courtesy of Mr Noel McKoy. No surprise to see Noel’s British Collective cohort Don-e on re-mix or re-fix duties – Teamwork makes the dream work. The mellowness, fragility, honesty and, sweet lyrical sentiments of ‘Only Human’ are highlighted by the track’s simplicity. The gentle undercurrent of classical guitar, courtesy of co-writer Jonathan Turnbull, intertwined with sparse piano and a baseline which is as hypnotic as it is rhythmic.
A class track will remain a class track for eternity, and the re-introduction of ‘Will You Fly Away With Me,’ lifted from his critically and publically praised Oct 2009 ‘Brighter Day’ set is a welcome addition, bringing this massively underrated tune to the ears of a newly acquired audience thanks to Noel’s association with and high profile success of The British Soul Collective. The highest praise I can give this gorgeous tune is that the late songwriter/singer extraordinaire Mr Curtis Mayfield would have been proud to record this song – Check out those silky chords and vocal throughout.
‘Real Love’, was originally released on his good friend Prince Sampson’s debut album and entitled ‘Where Would We Be’, however, Noel loved the tune so much he gave it a fresh title and makeover. The light rock-a-by-baby sway of ‘Real Love’ lulls the listener into its melodic flow from the first chord. This no doubt is hugely due to the introduction of the much-underutilised harmonica, which is subtlety laced throughout the tune. A most infectious tune which you’ll find yourself unwittingly humming as you go about your day.
Ten tracks into this generous album that just keeps on giving and I’m still hard-pressed to come across anything that remotely matches the description of a filler. ‘Night Nurse’ is no exception. Not to be confused with the stand-alone Freddie McGreggor reggae classic, however, the similarities are echoed in the yearning and longing within Noel’s vocal for a companion i.e a Night Nurse to immediately satisfy his love pangs which leave you in no doubt that only one remedy will do.
On ‘Where Does One Go’ Noel brings a touch of Ronald Isley and the Isley Bros to the proceedings. By now the grasp of life’s ups and downs that are captured so succinctly within Noel’s lyrics are almost taken for granted. Proof positive that this album is written by a man who has lived a full and rounded life and furthermore has the gift of expressing these life lessons in song. The teasing guitar, regimented military style drum cadence and light instrumental intro of ‘Mind is the Keeper’ draws you into this mid-paced finger and toe-tapper well before Mr McKoy’s vocal enters the fray. The deal is sealed midway through when those sumptuous piano and guitar chords are brought to the fore. Game over.
The musical sparseness of ‘Naked’ compliment both the title and lyrical content – a very minimalist yet captivating tune. By way of mood contrast ‘Lonely Ones’ elicits a more sombre feeling with its funeral procession style piano chords. The underlying message is a sobering one, addressing the plight of the silent minority out there who outwardly may seem to be content with life but inwardly crave companionship and affection. The subtle Soul II Soul shuffle and refreshing use of panpipes which underpin ‘World of Dreamers’ bring a touch of mystique to this impressive album as Noel extols how the love of a good woman can be so fleeting, parting can be such sweet sorrow and the rekindling of that past love can be such pure joy as they realise their dreams together, no longer in the relationship wilderness.
The penultimate track ‘I’ve Changed’ sees Noel confessing that he may have fallen short as a big brother mentor and role model to his younger sibling and is more than willing to make amends; not wanting his brother to emulate his mistakes and former wayward life. The album is rounded out with the high octane track ‘Shake’, an unmistakable nod to Noel’s South London roots having been exposed to all genres of music growing up. To this end ‘Shake’ fuses together the raw frenetic of Paul Weller and The Jam with the Rude Boy vibe which were both prevalent back in the day.
It may sound clichéd, but with every fresh listening of this album a different track stands out as my favourite – the album has so much depth. The natural and burning question on digesting this full-bodied recording is when does Mr McKoy plan on releasing tour dates to further illuminate these compositions in the live arena. Until such time, welcome back Mr Noel Mckoy, we salute you for continually pushing against the flow to bring us such wholesome musical nourishment.
Michael J Edwards