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British Soul Singers Lovingly Revive a Genre
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British Soul Singers Lovingly Revive a Genre

Arts & Life


Now, from cold to hot buttered soul. The British have had a long love affair with American soul music. In the 1960s, London clubs were grooving to the sounds of Motown. And small groups of soul fans popped up all over Britain. Fast-forward 40 plus years and the British are making their own soul music and doing it with great success.

Just ask our music critic, Chris Nickson.

CHRIS NICKSON: What is it about us Brits and soul music? We'd loved it, danced to it, and devoured it for more than four decades. But lately, in a lovely twist, we'd been sending it back home to America.

(Soundbite of song, "Some Kind of Wonderful")

Ms. JOSS STONE (Singer): (Singing) I don't need a whole lotta of money. I don't need a big fine car.

NICKSON: The recent wave began in 2003 with a teenage Joss Stone. She emerged with a voice far beyond her years and a natural eerie affinity for vintage soul.

(Soundbite of song, "Some Kind of Wonderful")

Ms. STONE: (Singing) My baby, he's all right. Me and my baby, we're so tight. Don't you know he is some kind of wonderful. Yes he is some kind of wonderful. He is some kind of wonderful.

NICKSON: But what no one imagined was that she was simply paving the way for a wave of British soul singers, like Corinne Bailey Rae.

(Soundbite of song, "Put Your Records On")

Ms. CORINNE BAILEY RAE (Singer): (Singing) Girl, put your records on, tell me your favorite song. You go ahead, let your hair down. Sapphire and faded jeans, I hope you get your dreams, just go ahead, let your hair down. You're gonna find yourself somewhere, somehow.

NICKSON: If Stone's Otis Redding and (unintelligible) majestically reborn, Corinne Bailey Rae has the smoothness of the O-Jays and Philadelphia soul. It's a sound that's brought three Grammy nominations.

Ms. RAE: (Singing) Realize that you don't even have to try any longer. Do what you want to. Girl, put your records on, tell me your favorite song.

NICKSON: And the next big thing is already here, James Morrison, a young singer raised in Middle England. Here in the U.K., he has already sold 1.5 million copies of his debut, "Undiscovered." With strong echoes of Stevie Wonder in his voice and a pop feel to the songs, you can hear more than a touch of Motown in his music.

(Soundbite of song, "Call the Police")

Mr. JAMES MORRISON (Singer): (Singing) closed eyes, big lines, I get so tempted just to let it ride sometimes. Looks good, tastes bad, makes me wonder where I buried all the dreams I had. And all I see is a less-good version of a man I don't want to be. All I feel is you tying me down to something that just isn't real. And all I need is some truth, God help me before the devil buries me. I can't do nothing if I can't do something my way.

NICKSON: These are the big commercial successes. But there's also a burgeoning underground scene centered around the monthly soul family club night in London. Terri Walker is the merging name in that crowd. Her third album, "I Am," has a lovely fresh sizzle that's funky and liberated.

(Soundbite of song, "I Am")

Ms. TERRI WALKER (Singer): (Singing) Here we go. I am that thankful, and you're right I am, yes I am. That thing that makes you catch your breath, yes I am, yes I am. I can make your sister be the man, yes I can. There's nothing that I can't achieve. No. You follow the star, that I can create something. You got to know by heart, because I have known who I am. I am what I am, a (unintelligible). I can, yes I can, to do anything that I have to do.

NICKSON: Once she sings, you feels she's lit every joy and heartbreak, and isn't afraid of them. Maybe that's why we love soul so much. It expresses the passion our British reserve generally keeps inside. Or perhaps the music has a resonance that goes beyond those paths. Or maybe, it's just one of those inexplicable fatal attractions. Whatever the reason, soul is back, and the Brits are doing it.

NORRIS: We heard the music of Terri Walker, James Morrison, Corinne Bailey Rae and Joss Stone. Our critic is Chris Nickson.

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