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Nicole Willis and the Soul Investigators

Keep Reachin' Up (Pony Canyon)

I'd always wondered why Gang of Four (a band I like) would have an inspirational shelf life longer than that of, say, the Supremes or James Brown. Though the neo-soul movement tried to marry the soul tradition to hip-hop, until recently, few people seemed to directly revisit the prematurely extinct genre. But now, with leading lights like Sharon Jones and new indie favorite and soul veteran Bettye LaVette gaining traction and attention, a straight-up old-school soul revival seems plausible. Nicole Willis has been making soul music of one variety or another since 2000, albeit in a much more avant-garde form, filtered through disjointed layers of glitch, like Minnie Riperton in a Prefuse 73 Cuisinart. No traces of that approach remain on Keep Reachin' Up, a record that connects the beats between Donna Summer, girl-group claps and the orchestral soul of Curtis Mayfield. The swank, the shimmy of strings and the expertly laid rhythms of Willis's tight cast of co-conspirators make this a timeless resuscitation of classic grooves.

 
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