Chris B – New Direction Album Review

Written by Michael

November 28, 2010 3:19 pm

4 starsNew Direction, the debut album by sought after producer Chris B, attempts many things. Some it accomplishes, spectacularly, some don’t succeed quite so well. The upshot however is that this is a lovingly assembled album, the dedication shining through right from the start. The level of detail is at times magnificent, and the overall Jazzy feel to the album fits nicely with it’s purpose, or the purpose we gather, to provide a sumptuous backdrop to many an occasion. Whether it serve as exquisite bar music, hangover medicinal beats or a Balearic sunrise soundtrack, New Direction is an album you simply can’t fail to enjoy.

The album kicks off with an intro, a piece of music in no rush, with soft beats and ambience. First track up is “A New Direction”, a track featuring the Saxophone sounds of Lady V. Quite early on a soaring Sax kicks off proceedings. Many a Jazz enthusiast may choose to stick their nose in the air at the Jazz elements occupying this track. However, those of us not so used to this style of music may find it refreshingly cool, it reeks of musicality, a quality Chris B possesses in abundance. The track demonstrates how electronic music has come on leaps and bounds since the synths of the 90s and is now finding new ways to merge beautifully with more traditional sounds. In fact, there are times when an almost classical hint is detected.

Lady V’s playing is the absolute highlight, and one of the overall highlights of the entire album. I actually saw Lady V perform at a Hed Kandi night several years ago and I ended up leaving bitterly disappointed. Her sounds had been insultingly dribbled on by the music, and the sound set up was horrendous, turning her sumptuous notes into a screaming banshee. So it was a relief to discover how true her talent actually is.

24 Hours is the next track and from the off is a more upbeat house affair featuring the vocals of Janine Small, the first of five tracks she adds her sounds too. Albeit a repetitive track, it’s full of mood and rhythm, the dreamy vocals soaring and elevating the feeling. “In Haus Music” is the third full track and is a more deep house affair than the previous two. In just three tracks we’re already seeing such a diverse range of feel and dynamic, yet each are equally well executed. “In Haus Music” is a little more background and not so much a signature track as the first two but the production is still top notch and it’s a thoroughly enjoyable number.

The deep house element continues throughout into “In Your Hands”. This is almost in Way Out West territory, the track feels very similar but the execution is just as good as the iconic WOW boys achievements. The vocals are again fantastic, Janine Small makes New Direction just as much her album as Chris B’s – which we’re sure he’s thankful for since the coupling of his production and her vocal talents is a match made in heaven – so to speak! The house vibes are all there for you to enjoy.

“Free Your Soul” demonstrates why Janine Small is so important. The production is again sublime and the track isn’t bad, but it definitely feels empty when it is devoid of either Janine Small’s vocals or Lady V’s “saxophonics”. It is perhaps an indication that Chris B’s strength lies in his ability to tie collaborations together, injecting his own medicinal vibes, to create cracking tracks – rather than going it alone where the end result is a little disappointing.

We’re soon back to the good stuff however with “Shades of Transparency” which brings all three of them together, Janine Smalls vocals, Lady V’s Saxophone and Chris B’s production. The deep house vibes persist but the Jazz vibe is of course back with the Sax and Smalls vocals are again, soaring and dreamy, the sound of someone seemingly filled with wonder – perhaps at her own ability. This is a track that proves the musical credentials of EDM (as if many other producers of late have not already done this). “Shades of Transparency” is an effortlessly cool track, listening to it you can already picture yourself sipping a Vodka Martini, shaken, not stirred, wearing a black suit relaxing in the most pretentious of bars, whilst you swoon of the beautiful waitress.

“Waiting for You” is perhaps the weakest of the Janine Small tracks. There’s a lovely piano riff but the vocals seem desperate in their nature, a more subdued vocal track may have better aligned itself with the piano. Of course, the production continues on as excellent as ever, the track possibly suffers from being straight after “Shades of Transparency”.

“Listen to my Mind” starts off almost with an R’nB feel, Janine Small “oo’ing” and “ahh’ing” as the beat slowly picks up, at a speed not at all in line with most house but with R’nB. The track therefore continues to illustrate Chris B’s versatility with his beat production. Every beat and bass line on the album is slickly assembled, the same pedigree and class oozing at the seems as you’d expect from a Heston Blumenthal dessert.

Where New Direction therefore succeeds is in its ability to not only bind together the different talents of Small, Lady V and Chris B, but effortlessly demonstrate the latters ability to produce a varying range of sounds, styles and feel with none ever really lacking in accomplishment. Chris B’s only weakness seems to be when he’s left completely alone, this is a guy that for us excels when in the creative company of others, his true talent lying in laying the bedrock and bringing together others talents and giving them a base on which to show off their ability.

4 stars

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