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I think this album is fantastic! I was lucky enough to see Marti live a couple of weeks ago and it was amazing. The songs are more 'mature' than alot of his earlier stuff with Wet Wet Wet, and his voice is dead sexy! Come Back Home is brilliant and Let the Sun Walk You Home is great too. The album starts well with Still Standing and continues to hold the listeners interest, right until the end track. I'm so glad I got to hear him sing solo, as opposed to with Wet Wet Wet. The album is a pleasure to listen to.
I am not afraid to admit I like Marti Pellow. I think he has a fabulous soulful voice. However I get frustrated with some of the material he has recorded both in his solo career and with the Wets. He has done a lot of MOR, sickly sweet dross. However when Marti is on full form such as on Hard To Cry, the highlight of his debut album and more recently Walking On Water from the Wets newest Greatest Hits CD, or even his version of Heaven Help us All from his original Memphis Sessions way back in 1986 he is hard to beat. His voice is powerful, soulful and just sends shivers down my spine. When I heard he was releasing the album he has always dreamed of recording backed with a stunning live performance on Jonathan Rosss Saturday morning radio show I decided to buy the album Moonlight on Memphis.
Marti describes Moonlight on Memphis as his labour of love. It was recorded in Memphis and was produced by his hero and friend Willie Mitchell (producer of Al Green and other soul legends). He got together the best soul musicians in the south and even paid them himself. I was looking forward to it as it was billed as real old-fashioned southern soul. However after hearing it a few times it is like most of his career there are flashes of greatness marred by the mediocre.
There are things I love about the album. For starters three is the instrumentation. It just screams class. There is no electronic wizardry here at all just a range of old fashioned instrument from piano, brass, Hammond organs and strings. The album when it is at its best captures the raw sound of the recording studio.
When Marti is on top form he is hard to beat. The album gets off to a promising start with Still Standing a song about surviving, a favourite theme with Marti after his well-documented battle with alcohol and heroin addiction. It is a song written by Willie Mitchell and ear marked for Al Green but given to Marti. He does this song justice as his vocal is soulful and it seems to come from the heart. It is backed by a classic sounding commination of brass and swirling Hammond organ riffs.
Then it goes slightly down hill for a couple of tracks as Marti veers into familiar territory. Cue the strings and soppy love songs. Cant Stop Loving You is a gentle sentiment ballad that has its moments with Martis voice going throaty and husky but most of it just floats by insipidly. The only other redeeming feature is some nice brass in the background. The worst offender on the album is the third track Its All About This song is Martis composition about his experience of seeing the devastation in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. I am sure it is a future candidate for a Children In Need record or some other sickly sweet charity due to the choruss saccharine lyrics. Its all about caring, its all about shirring. Its al about giving too Marti swoons. Pass us the sick bag please. On the bright side it does have quite a pretty tinkling piano introduction and some nice strings. Our Love is a touch better. Martis vocals on this one are laid back and this along with the trumpets and piano gives the song a late night feel. It has a nice strolling rhythm in the middle, which is quite endearing. However I am not sure about the ship in stormy weather metaphor in the lyrics.
The next song Mend this Heart of Mine starts with the cliché I wish I could fly right up into the sky (is he secretly responding to Orville the duck) In fact the whole song is one big cliché. It is another of the weaker songs that really lets Moonlight on Memphis right down.
Luckily there are better songs just around the corner. My favourite songs are those which have quite simple, sparse instrumentation that really let Martis vocal shine through. Let the Sun Walk You Home is one of those songs. It is just beautiful. The simple piano arrangement with just a hint of organ works so well. Marti sings the opening line When you are tired of living almost wearily and the subtle backing vocals harmonise with him beautifully. It reminds me slightly of a downbeat spiritual song. I am not sure about the whistling at the end, which mars the song slightly for me.
How Much Love is another late night soul number that starts off with a smoky vocal that builds to Marti going full throttle with his amazing vocals. .
I Dont Know Why is not a cover version of Norah Jones wonderful song. Instead it is another one written by Willie Mitchell and it is totally fantastic. It really is the stand out song on the album and one of the best things Marti has done in his entire career. I like it because it is totally different and brings Marti away firm how many people perceive him. He is at his best when he has something to get his teeth into. The song is about unrequited love but its not soppy, its grown up and sensual. The vibe is sactually quite funky due to the mix of brass, funky guitar and organ. His vocal is pretty different from any other one has done. Its hungry, raw and at times slivers along very sexily. He really does sing like a man possessed by his woman. It almost has a feel of Sly and the Family Stone to it. I think this is the song to change the mind of Marti Pelow haters everywhere.
Unfortunately he goes back into charted territory for Come Home. His vocal is clear and ringing, its nicely sung but the song just pales in comparison with the magnificence of I Dont Know Why.
I feel sorry for Marti. If this were his first release people would be decreed the new soul wonder and would be winning Awards such as the MOBOS. Instead people will always think of him as that grinning buffoon who tortured their ears with Love is all Around in 1994 and not look any further. Thus I fear he will not get the critical acclaim he deserves with this album.
I bought my copy of Moonlight Over memphis on Amazon for £8.99
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 Still Standing
2 Can't Stop Loving You
3 It's All About
4 Our Love
5 Mend This Heart Of Mine/And I Feel
6 Let The Sun Walk You Home
7 How Much Love (Hang On)
8 I Don't Know Why
9 Come Back Home
10 Searchig For You