Paul Tillman Smith ‘A Beautiful Heart’ CD/DIG (Chump Change) 5/5

“Having basically started my music career as a starving avant-garde jazz drummer, 19 and almost penniless on the streets of New York’s Lower East Side in 1967. Jazz drummer Norman Connors and I were best friends and roommates for a while, the difference being he could run home to his momma in Philly to eat and my momma was way in California. Rent was like 40 dollars a month, and I was lucky if I had that. Kenny Dorham and Cecil McBee whenever I would see them on the streets always bought me food. Playing the angry experimental jazz of that era mainly with saxophonist Sonny Simmons, Pharaoh Sanders and Albert Ayler was definitely economically dangerous.”

The above is the first paragraph from the liner notes of this classy fabulous album. And I found them fascinating. The production values on this set are at opposite ends to my normal Southern Soul fare, real instruments a variety of tempo’s and styles, and with various lead vocalists keeps you interested throughout, the songs are well written too. Two of my favourite under the radar singers are on here, Latoya London and Donnie Williams both of whom cut there teeth on American Idol, I was enamoured with Latoya London from the moment I saw and heard her and without doubt I thought Donnie was well ahead talent wise and should have won it. Latoya’s 2005 “Love & Life” set still gets some laser flicker time and in particular the sultry “More” should have made her a house-hold name amongst soul patrons, I remember playing “More” at Soul Essence circa early 2006 and the reaction set me believing we had a real star in the making. We also have the superb voice of Derick Hughes on here too, and a real bonus a composition that was put together in 1982 but never saw the light of day, well get your ears around Rosie Gaines and “Summer Skye”, a crisp dancer set for recognition over the coming months. The album was produced by Mr Tillman with a helping hand from one Norman Connors and it shows, in places this could be a Norman Connors album from back in the day.

A few highlights then “Out there in space” with Donnie at the helm, a sublime head nodding toe tapper complete with classy backing singers, the track that’s got me hooked is Latoya London and “Crying for love”, her voice appears to be not as strong as on her 2005 album, that’s not a complaint, I’ll take this lovely warm voice anyway I can get it. Tootie Williams gives us the stunning “April Fools” which carries on the slipping around tale in which she’s married but manages to get another man in love with her, the title gives away the rather sadistic notion that she’s enjoying the torment she’s piling on man number 2, so infectious. We have Derick & Tootie on a cracking version of “Sweet & Wonderful” as lavish as it gets. Soul radio will love every track and expect to hear this album plundered by various jocks, space is always at a premium, I’ve only scratched the surface here.

There’s a vast array of musicians on here far to many to name, buy the cd, read the liner notes and wallow in a very special album. Fish at Simply Soul has them, amongst other outlets.

Brian Goucher