One of the true stalwarts of British pop, Beverley Knight has plugged away gamely for over a decade, producing a steady, solid stream of minor R&B hits. Her fifth album finds her delving into the genre's soul and gospel roots. Music City Soul was recorded in Nashville with a live band, and is impeccably produced: every bass lick and rhythmic detail sounds exquisite. The songs, though, are mixed. The faithful replication of a 40-year-old sound can seem dull and dusty in places. As with most revivalism, there are too many polished signifiers of an idea of "authentic soul" rather than tunes to back them up; consequently, the album is at times little more than a retro exercise. However, there are enough moments when Knight shakes off the inertia to make this a worthwhile project, letting her hair down in spectacular fashion. Black Butta and Saviour are two of the best songs of Knight's career, full-throated funk with thunderous rhythm sections that find her in lascivious mood, while on Queen of Starting Over and Tell Me I'm Wrong, the delectable arrangements come into their own behind luscious, heartbroken ballads.
CD: Beverley Knight, Music City Soul
Alex Macpherson is a freelance journalist who writes for The Guardian, New Statesman, Metro, Fact and Attitude. He distracts himself by checking tennis results, attending street dance classes and trawling for new music in the name of research