Saun and Starr ‘Look Closer’ (Daptone) 4/5

saun-and-starrThe New York based Daptone label is best known for its leader group Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings. An integral part of this band in live performance are the two female background singers and the duo of Saundra Williams and Starr Duncan-Lowe aka Saun and Starr have a varied and impressive portfolio, having recorded separately with the Glory Gospel Singers and Desco label and collectively throughout the 1990s as the Good ‘n’ Plenty Girls. The new album is, as one might expect from a quality label such as Daptone that promotes live studio performance, an all analogue affair and consequently has that authentic 1970s feel. The British media have picked up on ‘Big Wheel’ and, with its Meters style guitar intro, it has ‘instant classic’ written all over it and a rare grove tune in all but name. The Stax sounding horns and no holds barred vocals make this the strongest song of all. However, the album as a whole holds up remarkably well and the duo have made the mid-tempo soulful groove their trademark and this is wonderfully illustrated on ‘Sunshine (You’re blowin’ my cool)’ which, with its clipped guitar, conjurs up those great recordings from Muscle Shoals. A first single, ‘Hot Shot’, is a catchy ditty with a memorable horn riff and this is to date Daptone’s best-selling 45. Southern soul in the Shirley Brown ‘Woman to woman’ vein is evoked on ‘Another love like mine’ and features one of those lengthy monologue intros. If there is one side to the duo that will develop with time, then it is surely the ballad repertoire and of those on offer on this debut, it is the mournful sounding ‘If only’ that stands out and offers just the right balance of variety to proceedings. For some classy Philly soul, the horns and guitar breakdown of ‘Look closer (can’t you see the signs?)’ could scarcely be bettered and this is another dimension to the pair that might be more fully exploited in future recordings. As a gritty slice of retro soul, this works a treat and one can only refer to the duo henceforth as Dapettes of distinction.

Tim Stenhouse