Alexandra O’Neal has had a music career spanning more than 30 years, coming to prominence in the middle of the 1980s, he can boast some very impressive musical stats in deed, releasing eight studio albums and fourteen singles that entered the Top 40 charts in the UK during the 1980s and 1990s. ‘If You Were Here Tonight’, ‘Fake’, ‘Criticize’ and ‘Saturday Love’, all becoming defining songs of the era. Blessed with that tough 60s soul voice with the same grain, range and physical stature of such greatness Otis Redding. ‘Hearsay30’ sees O’Neal collaborate with Manchester based funk band Mamma Freedom with a full re-recording of the classic 1987 album. The original ‘Hearsay’ was Alex’s second solo studio album, released in July ’87, (which followed on from the critically and commercially successful 1985 album ‘Alexander O’Neal’). The original ‘Hearsay’ continued with similar genres of: Pop, R&B, Soul and post-disco Minneapolis funk – all recorded between 1986 and 1987 in sessions at the famous Flyte Time Productions in Minneapolis, this was the birth place of the sumptuous paring of Jimmy Jam, Terry Lewis and Mr O’Neal. The Minneapolis duo of Jam and Lewis were the hottest go-to producers at this time, there unique abrasive Minneapolis funk grooves with light melodic hooks suited the perfect Juxtaposition for Alex’s soulful voice. ‘Hearsay’ was a fun type of concept album, being set around the attendees of a house party hosted by O’Neal. Over the course of the album/evening, the themes that where played out include O’Neal’s advances towards a particular woman in the room “What Can I Say To Make You Love Me”, as well as his observations on other attendees of the party – a courting couple ‘The Lovers’. A spiteful gossip-monger ‘Hearsay’. A loudmouth implied groupie in ‘Fake’ and a nagging ex-lover ‘Criticize’. Unrequited admiration in ‘Crying Overtime’, and culminating in the finale “When the Party’s Over”, where O’Neal finally persuades the woman to stay after the party is over, and why wouldn’t she?
So, fast forward thirty years to ‘Hearsy30’ and the opening in track ‘Criticize’ sets us up for what lays ahead. Full funk band, real bass, wah wah guitar, synth/horns stabs and Alex’s vocal in fine form – driving the song. ‘What Can I Say (To Make You Love) delivers the most sumptuous mid tempo ballad, with his vocals sounding stronger than ever, the band as on all the tracks deliver a compelling back drop – the Jam and Lewis edges have been taken off and the song delivered to its real soulful home. ‘Hearsay’ is transformed into a joyous shuffler, against the songs hard damming lyrics. ‘Sunshine’ takes the original hooks and weaves them into a thing of beauty, Alex, the band and the backing vocal killing it at every turn. ‘Fake’ mimics the original, big funky drums, dirty bass and clav – making this sound like the ultimate old skool funk cut. ‘Cryin Overtime’ effortlessly takes Alex back to the balladeer which he excels at, again the vocals are amazing, aided by the the huge backing vocals which bring the song to a crescendo. ‘The Lovers’ give the listener a breather with a blissed out groove and a host of good advise in the lyrics. Mamma Freedom really excel here, being a bit braver to inject there guitars and pianos licks. From the first notes aand ad libs ‘Never New Love Like This’ highlights everything that is brilliant about these interpretation – and them some. The vocals and song are free to express all the joy and excitement of love. Alex sings high, soft and then pushes his vocal to there edge in a soul wrenching Booby Womack style, its the best you’ve party you’ve been too. ‘When The Party’s Over’ is the perfect bookend to this album, the track that sounds classic Jam & Lewis, once again Alex and band deploy all there mastery to the full, even using a delicate trumpet to ascent the vocal.
So, thirty years on – what do we have. As set of songs that time has now deemed as – great. Vocals and a band that have surpassed the original. This album is a home coming where all the traditions off the music that culminated in the 80s heavily produced Jam and Lewis productions have unveiled the beauty that lay at there heart. It could be very easy to disregard the credibility of these cutz, as not as cool as Rick James (for the funk), or Bobby and Otis (for the soul), but 30 years on, Alexandra and the Mamma Freedom band have gifted us with the ultimate home where these songs should of always lived. For that we thank you.
Martin Madigan 5/5