Charles Wright – Something To Make You Feel Good – Album Review
Back again with Mr. Charles Wright venturing into solo-music aside from his role as leader of the Watts 103rd St. Rhythm Band – I was looking forward to what the man might come up with this time around. A highly-skilled musician, we had slightly mixed feelings on the lead-single “She Don’t Believe In Love” from his new album Something To Make You Feel Good when we checked that out a couple months or so back – but it wasn’t due to lack of skill or know-how, it was just an unexpected combination. After listening to Something To Make You Feel Good…I suppose those unexpected sounds & songs should have come at me a little more naturally this time around…but nope…Wright continues to surprise with the directions he’s taken on solo.
Much of that feeling…like how “Answer To My Prayers” begins…comes from the vocal-department. On the one hand, you’ll appreciate the freedom of expression in Wright’s music…on the other hand, you might find yourself wishing the notes, tones and production on said-vocals might match the strengths of the music more than they do. “Answer To My Prayers” was a great meter-stick to measure with and as the first song, naturally sets the impression for what we might hear on the record to follow. Wright sings with passion…and I like that…he’s missing a few tones and notes by more than a few inches wide of the mark…and that I didn’t like so much. It’s tough to evaluate someone like this that you know beyond the shadow of a doubt has an ear for music…it makes you question your own sanity as a reviewer really…makes you wonder if the music can be as spot-on as it is – what holds back Wright from staying in the studio for just an hour or two more to put in vocal performances that match the energy of the music?
Because LISTEN to the rhythm and groove of “Apartment Living” – and you’ll get what I’m saying. A track like this…with the music coming through so vibrant and strong…it deserves just as much time spent on those vocals as it does the music in my opinion. The bass-lines alone make “Apartment Living” worth the price of admission…great percussion tightly backing it up, same with the guitar notes – they’re sounding great too. When the vocals creep into the song, you can hear that slight addition into the atmosphere of the mix as well…which is usually an indication that they’re sitting just a bit too high up in the track. Using the repetition of its title, “Apartment Living” keeps the song simple by just using this one statement to act as the vocals and add additional rhythm to this second-cut on the record…and as a result of its sparseness, gains a few points by being driven strongly through the instrumentation.
“Looking For An Ugly Woman” had a few slight issues…but in an odd way, I felt like the vocals and the performance of Wright made a lot more sense here on this third tune. I’ll fully admit – “Looking For An Ugly Woman” sounds much more like a live-riff or jam with the vocals coming out freestyle…and the addition of the backing conversations from people partying make the entire track sound impromptu – like Wright just sat down on the couch with a bass guitar, plugged in and started up his song. Again, I appreciate the free-wheeling nature of the atmosphere and Wright’s approach…there’s undeniable soul that runs through his music. I felt at a few times on this track that the bass peaked a little bit throughout the mix…or was at least up a bit higher than might have been necessary…but on “Looking For An Ugly Woman” it seems to add to the ‘live’ feeling in the atmosphere of the song.
That aspect of the vocals adding to the thickness of the air & atmosphere of the mix rears its head big-time on “Better Watch Out” – you can definitely hear the difference in the way they’re being recorded in comparison to the rest of the music…and that’s not something that usually works too well in favor of the artist or band in question as far as listeners are concerned. Definitely a bit of peak-age in the full-chorus of vocals in the chorus as well…which again…leaves me a little puzzled as to what Wright might be going for overall when he’s so clearly capable of getting it ‘right’ at any moment. He’s taken even playful rhythms like “Better Watch Out” – which inarguably has strong hooks – but he’s taken these sounds in different, less accessible directions than what you know he’s capable of.
The jazz-funk combination of “I Got Feelings Too” is a highlight on this album for me personally…even with what felt like someone actually turning the entire volume-knob on the track and turning this down about 1/3 of the way through. I’d honestly be interested in how & where this particular record was recorded…because a lot of Something To Make You Feel Good sounds jammed…sounds live…and I mean – if that is indeed the case, then I’d feel like Wright would deserve more credit. If it’s all in-studio – it becomes a different story…and even a groovin’ track like “I Got Feelings Too” suffers a bit if that’s the case. I like Wright’s preachin’-from-the-pulpit approach and sharp tone to the attack on the vocals on this one…again, it peaks-out a little bit too much overall…but it does match the energy and ambition of the idea on this track a lot more than some of the rest. I seemed to come away with “I Got Feelings Too” really being more about the passion that Wright can put into the words he writes rather than a completely controlled tone…and that’s got its good-points too.
“She Don’t Believe In Love” was a welcome return to my ears. I know that I still stand behind the comments I’ve made in reviewing this track previously here on our pages – but I can also tell you that the crisp bass-lines on this one are certainly fun to return to. As it stands at the moment – I can also tell you that, mixed-feelings or not, “She Don’t Believe In Love” is also inarguably one of the stronger tunes on this album so far to this point. For the rest of my thoughts on this lead-single – click here.
I think a lot of what we hear from Charles is a serious attempt to bring that live-sound to a record. As I’ve pointed out, there’s been times it works in his favor…other times maybe not so much – but where he really gets it right, is on the uplifting/up-tempo track “Happiness.” To me – this track sounded like it got the extra attention and added detailing it deserved. The vocals come out incredibly smoother than the rest – the tones are all aligned and the performance itself is fantastic. The additional organ sounds make this entire track have a gospel-effect that plays wonderfully into the atmosphere of this tune – and in that live-setting we’ve been talking about, this is the kind of song that would get the whole room dancing and singing along. Excellent guitar work in this track too…it’s subtle, but it’s noteworthy.
In general, the middle of this record harbors plenty of strengths and great ideas & melodies from Wright. I think that “Thank God For Tonight” still has a few slight-issues in the production on the vocals – but this time around I really felt like the performance completely suited the song. Where they might peak slightly in the mix…I’d trade that no problem for the idea and overall execution of the performance that shines through “Thank God For Tonight.” Wright has written a really sweet song here…one that sways with gentle tenderness and gorgeous melody…and he even takes a moment to give us that low-down spoken-word moment where he’s directly speaking to us all in an aside. The music is tight, the vocals are loose…but the contrast in this song works extremely well in Wright’s favor. Really liked the melody of the chorus…has a great old-school pop/soul/blues sound working for it…”Thank God For Tonight” was a very inviting song to listen to.
“Made In The Shade” felt like another solid round of bass-lines and innovative writing in the music…but it also felt like Wright was roaming around looking for the right tones to sing this one within a few spots on this song. Put it to you this way…based on everything I’ve heard – I have no doubt in my mind that a lot of this material would come out sounding spectacular when being played live…I think a lot of the struggle I hear in these recordings is the battle to bring that sound to the recording. Right around the three-minute mark of “Made In The Shade” – Wright makes an attempt to silence all the doubters with an inspired verse that really hits the mark. Backing vocals sound spectacular on this cut – for the record, they’ve sounded completely solid all the way through this record and have really brought a lot of added vibrant-life to these songs.
The free-wheeling spirit of the piano and the attitude of the vocals of “Throwing In The Towel” stood out to me – I dig this tune. Excellent groove here once again…brought out largely through the excellent piano-playing and the thick, rich and rhythmic bass-lines. Vocally…I thought Wright fit this one really well once again…personally I like hearing that crack/break in his singing – I think it adds a lot of heart & character. That kind of stuff I don’t mind at all…in fact, usually it’s the kind of quality that pulls me onside of a singer to make me root for them, just like I do here on “Throwing In The Towel” from Wright. Missing tones or slipping notes is a different thing altogether – and I didn’t feel like there was a single step out of place on “Throwing In The Towel” – another solid highlight on this new album for certain.
I found that on a track like “Throwing In The Towel” where Charles lets himself a little more loose to his natural instincts was often a more favorable sound to my ears than attempts for a more controlled performance like on “Comfort Me.” Musically, I dig the added synth-atmosphere and the way this track swirls, evolves and grows…loved the backing vocals once again, loved the piano. Loved Charles outside of the written verse/chorus – when he’s freestylin’ it up towards the third-minute of this tune, he sounds right into it and inspired. It’s a sweetly-intentioned song…and much like many of Wright’s ideas here on this record, just needs a slight tweak on the boards or one/two more takes on the vocals and he’d be looking at much more stable ground and widespread acceptance of what is at its core, which is great songwriting.
In the event that you’ve been thinking I’ve been crazy and completely off-base throughout this entire review in my assessment, I present to you the glorious “Peace Of Mind” in my defense. LISTEN to the way that Wright takes this song on – and you’ll hear exactly where his strengths are. The more he lets himself loose, the better he sounds in my opinion…the more he focuses that control, the more mixed the results have been throughout this record. On “Peace Of Mind” – he sounds right into the music and he’s got me truly believing. Does that mean he’s singing this one completely cleanly? Heck no! But that’s never been my point in any criticism that I’ve had on Wright’s vocals – I like that natural rasp, break and gruff to his sound – and when he’s right on-tone like he is on “Peace Of Mind,” the dude sounds absolutely stunning and REAL. He also seems to really do well in these gospel-influenced tracks like “Thank God For Tonight” and here on “Peace Of Mind” – you can hear the added passion.
Returning to a more playful sound on the final track “Storybook” to end the record…this one was a tough one to evaluate as an effective ending. On one side of the coin, the song is as well-played musically as they all have been…but on the other side of that coin, Charles has put himself right on the borderline of a song that almost sounds more suited for ages 12 & under than he has the rest of us that might be listening. So…yeah…it’s well performed, well-played and honestly well-written too…but in terms of cohesion to the rest of the tunes on this record…I dunno…I might have saved this final track for a single or separate release. Really liked the additional trumpet at the end of this song…and I liked the melody in the vocals for the most part…”Storybook” is an undeniably odd ending to the record though, I’ve gotta say.
The multiple-sides to Wright’s personality and style have certainly come out all over this record – and for that I think he’s done himself proud. Each idea he’s had here has merit…some require a little studio retooling, but as always, the important thing is that the ideas are there. Something To Make You Feel Good succeeds in bringing out a well-rounded set of ideas and features some stunning moments on some of the individual tracks. Part of me feels like Wright rushed some of the vocals…and I think it all comes down to respecting the work that’s been put into those instrumentals and taking that extra time in the studio to make sure the vocals match that creativity and effort. I remain a little mixed on Mr. Wright overall – but I’ve got no doubt in my mind that the man has incredible talent for music…he’s made some interesting choices on how to approach the recording of this record…but he’s talented enough to know that these were indeed choices-made and not accidental. I think a lot of people will dig the freedom in the music and vocals, but I also recognize that others might struggle with accepting the sound. Time will tell if the choices Charles Wright has made here will pay-off for him and bring about another album…but from the sound of this record, I’d be willing to bet his enthusiasm and passion for music will keep him creative and in the studio for many, many years to come.
Follow Charles Wright on Twitter here: https://twitter.com/Charles__Wright
Join the thousands of bands & artists reviewed at sleepingbagstudios by clicking here!