Nicole Willis and the Soul Investigators ‘Tortured Soul’ (Timmion) 4/5

nicole-willis-soul-investigatorsThis is a trip back into the classic gritty soul era with just a modern twist. Lead vocalist Nicole Willis possesses a voice that sounds as though it has been honed on listening to the classic 1970s period of Chaka Khan while the Soul Investigators have listened to the likes of the Norman Whitfield era of Motown and the Hi sound of Memphis. The result is one of the strongest soul album of the year so far and a fine follow up to the critically acclaimed debut back in 2005, ‘Keep reachin’ up’. There is a terrific earthy production with collective horns and tight arrangements. Motown drum beats greet the incredibly soulful lead and harmony vocals on ‘Tell me when’ with an extended guitar solo for good measure.
Prodicer Didier Selin, who also doubles up on percussion, deserves a good deal of credit for achieving this. One of the key numbers is a Stax-influenced ballad ‘On the East side’ which provides Willis with the opportunity to deliver one of her most impassioned vocals over a rock solid rhythm attack. Moody and downtempo is ‘Best day of our lives’ may be, but an uplifting listen it most certainly is. The Norman Whitfield connection is most evident on the opener, ‘Light years ahead’ which a psychadelic late 1960s Temptations feel to it whereas ‘You got me moonwalking’ has more of a mid-1970s production sound with the use of strings. In any case it is a dancefloor winner. An unusual introduction leads into another uplifting song in ‘Now I can fly’. The surprising discovery in all of this is that the Soul Investigators are actually Finnish with a French producer. The instrumentation sounds straight out of Detroit or Chicago and that says everything about how well the band and producer have performed.

Tim Stenhouse