Carleen Anderson ‘Cage Street Memorial – The Pilgrimage’ (Freestyle) 5/5

Layout 1British resident for some twenty-five years, the ex-leader singer of the Young Disciples delivers her seventh album in total and it is by some distance her most ambitious and strongest thus far, and undoubtedly representative of where she is currently at. The pared down setting, an unusual one at that, works an absolute treat and this may just creep into the end of year ‘Best Of’ lists, Anderson is most ably accompanied by vibraphonist Orphy Robinson, who doubles up on percussion, electric bassist Renell Shaw and violinist Samy Bishai. To put it bluntly, major labels probably would not have taken a chance on a project such as this, but thankfully for the listener and wider public, Arts Council England did and provided the musicians in the process with a grant and thus the album was recorded in the unlikely setting of Falmouth University, Cornwall.
The album is a highly personal summation of concerns close to Carleen Anderson’s heart and her family heritage and the issue of multiculturalism are two main themes that emerge strongly from the lyrics. Radio stations have been picking up on, ‘All That Glitters’, and this is certainly a strong contender for the initial single and is in fact one of the most compelling songs this writer has heard this year as a whole. What marks this album out in general is the superb cross-pollination of styles that encompass soul and gospel, jazz and chamber music, and even the occasional hint of opera, but overall the sound is remarkably cohesive, and finds a wonderful niche somewhere between classic soul and jazz. Anderson enjoyed an unusual childhood with her mother, Vicki Anderson, a background singer (and lead in her own right) part of the James Brown band, while her step-father, Bobby Byrd, was a pianist and singer. Carleen therefore was largely raised by her grandparents in Houston Texas, before at a later stage relocating to southern California. The British connection dates to 1988 when Anderson was a part of the J.B. All Stars, who toured during James Brown’s incarceration. So enjoyable was her stay in London that she set up residence and joined the Young Disciples who were signed to the Talkin’ Loud label. After splitting from that band, Anderson pursued a solo career and enjoyed modest success. Parallel to this, she acted as background singer for the likes of Bryan Ferry and Paul Weller, not forgetting Crescent City singer-songwriter and pianist extraordinaire, Dr. John.
Already nominated for Gilles Peterson’s Worldwide ‘Album of the Year 2016’, this album deserves to become Carleen Anderson’s biggest hit to date.

Tim Stenhouse