fri 24/02/2017

CD: Joel Culpepper - Tortoise | reviews, news & interviews

CD: Joel Culpepper - Tortoise

CD: Joel Culpepper - Tortoise

Black British talent in the making

This guy is a gifted mimic, still in search of his own voice
Joel Culpeper strikes out

For a young singer like Joel Culpepper, blessed with a fine set of vocal chords and remarkable skill in using them, there is a wellspring of black singing tradition to draw from – from gospel and blues through to soul and contemporary R&B. There are echoes in his sensual and seductive singing of Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson, Prince and many others. Like many African- American or Afro-Caribbean talents before him, and in tune with ancient African tradition, he pays homage to his teachers and yet manages at times to strike out into new territory all of his own.

The production, in the assured hands of Jimmy Hogarth (Amy Winehouse, Paolo Nutini), Roy Davis Jr (Seal, Mary J Blige) and others, is punchy, layered and inventive, always mirroring , with the utmost skill and discretion, the versatility of Culpepper’s voice. High points include “Don’t Mean I’m in Love”, a plea for slow-burning falling into relationships, and “My Father Son”, an eminently danceable up-tempo piece of split-rhythm syncopation that obliquely explores generational tensions.

At times, the stylistic referencing, given Culpepper’s unbounded gifts, tends to wander all over the place, including mannerisms reminiscent of the equally talented Benjamin Clementine. This guy is a gifted mimic, still in search of his own voice. The material is, musically at least, a little unoriginal, but this is pop music and frequent nods to the déja entendu are to par for the course.

It’s good to hear some black popular music that avoids the predictable and yet irresistible feel-good tropes of dancehall. Joel Culpepper is more of a traditionalist. Tortoise is a pleasure to listen to, and there’s no doubt that we will be hearing from him in years to come.

@Rivers47

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