Provogue Records [Release date 14.02.19]
‘Believe’ is Albert Cummings debut album for Provogue records. It’s a surprisingly understated affair full of quality musicianship, but a few songs short of being a definitive album. Indeed, some of the best moments are often to be found in the sonic detail, rather than the whole songs themselves
‘Believe’ seeks to strike a balance between his sundry musical influences spanning rock, country, funk, soul and always blues, and the sense of Muscle Shoals history that hangs heavily on this Fame Studios session.
Cummings is a naturally gifted soulful singer well suited to much of the material here, even if some of the songs are a decent rather than inspired fit.
He’s a gritty and at times emotive singer whose guitar tones frequently mirror both his lyrical and emotional input.
‘Believe’ might even be interpreted as a concept album. He’s certainly got the self-belief and chops to tackle a project like this, while adhering to the dictum: ‘you only get out what you put in’.
He’s at his best on the self penned material which gives him the room to breathe and better still, solo meaningfully as an integral part of a song.
And if the album smoulders rather than ignites, it does explore some deep grooves and thoughtful and humorous lyrics, all tied together by intricate guitar work and a soulful rhythm section that always supports the song.
And yet, there’s a nagging feeling that AC is capable of much more, but contents himself here with a series of tasteful outings on which he only really burns deep into the album.
On ‘Queen Of Mean’ for example, he locks into a mid-tempo groove with more horns, call and response bv’s and an effective hook, offset by contrasting fattened tones and sinewy guitar lines. It probably evokes the Memphis Soul sound they were aiming for, but it doesn’t quite fit Albert’s more exuberant blues-rock style.
He’s adds a far more muscular solo on the superb ‘Get Out Of Here’, while the Nashville tinged twang of ‘Its All Good’ is a great song full buoyant bv’s and has one eye on commercial possibilities
Better still is the shimmering guitar tone on ‘Going My way’ which emulates his lyrical positivity and provides the album with the line that provides the uplifting title: ‘You can have anything you want all you need to do is believe. ’
It’s the album’s definitive track on which his understated power and tonal depth give the song its heft. His wah-wah inflected guitar is essentially an extension of his vocal. He digs deep for feel and runs with the groove, on a cut that is an absolute joy and makes you wonder why he didn’t stretch out earlier.
As it is, he sets out his musical template with the opening cover of Sam & Dave’s ‘Hold On’. It’s a song well suited to Cummings lived-in vocal style and his interwoven guitar parts, but it’s not quite the explosive opening the album would have benefited from.
Allied with a couple of pedestrian and overplayed Willie Dixon outings, of which ‘Red Rooster’ is marginally better than ‘My Babe’, Cummings gives himself plenty to do, whereas he should be using an album like this to showcase the best of his abilities.
In sharp contrast to the above, the inclusion of Van Morrison’s ‘Crazy Love’ is the perfect showcase for his own soulful phrasing.
He’s equally good on the Al Green influenced swampy groove of ‘Do What Mama Says’. It’s punctuated by baritone stabs and girly ‘call and response’ bv’s, before he switches from a deep resonant tone to a shriller attack and back again on the outro.
‘Get Out Of Here’ is another slow burner with a subliminal Beatles ‘Day Tripper’ inflection on the opening guitar line. The engaging narrative is spread over a lilting groove that suddenly kicks in with a muscular solo that fades far too soon.
The key to the album as whole is the sense of flow running through the heart of a purposeful yet at times meandering journey. Each partially resolved dynamic builds up the tension of the whole, which is finally resolved by the last 3 tracks of which ‘Going My Way’ and ‘Call Me Crazy’ are outstanding.
On the country tinged ‘It’s All Good’, he sings “I love the life I’m living, it’s the only one I have,” before adding some hot picking with a melange of tones on an uplifting track that mirrors the title.
The album as a whole could have been title It’s All Good’, as it boasts plenty of quality playing, occasional inspired couplets and purposeful support from the accompanying musicians. But it’s the sense of restraint that gives this project a frustrating feel.
He does give us an example of what he’s capable of on ‘Call Me Crazy’. You can hear the additional bite and drive is in his brusque vocal attack which reflects the hard hitting lyrics; “You think I was born yesterday but I stayed up late last night.”
He further combines potent rhythm guitar with stinging note repeats, and ascending note flurries before a coruscating wah-wah break which blows the rest of the albums introspection out the water.
When you consider Provogue is a guitar led label, we could have done with more of the six string stuff. No matter, he belated tries to thematically redress the balance with a tough funky Freddie King book-end, ‘Me And My Guitar’.
He mixes flighty runs with real intensity and revisits his gnarling wah-wah tone on a double tracked rhythm and solo finish which achieves the same kind of subtle balance that glues together the album as a whole.
‘Believe’ restates all of Albert Cummings’ essential credentials – effortless guitar, gritty vocals and even wry humour – but it doesn’t really take him out of his comfort zone.
Existing fans will lap it up, but ‘Believe’ is a few songs and sparkling solos short of being a definitive album and his passport to a crossover market. ***½
Review by Pete Feenstra
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