Album review: TITO JACKSON – Under Your Spell

Pete Feenstra chatted to Tito Jackson for Get Ready to ROCK! Radio in July 2021.

Tito Jackson - Under Your Spell

Gulf Coast Records And Hillside Global [Release date 06.08.21]

‘Under Your Spell’ is an expected delight. Having made his solo debut in 2016 with ‘Tito Time’, this album strikes a balance between his formative musical styles and new material, all illuminated by ten special guests.

It’s an aptly titled album, especially in terms of the layered sounds, call and response vocals, hypnotic soulful grooves and catchy Motown style hooks, all overseen by both Tito and Michael Kurt Jackson (which may or may not be a cryptic name).

It’s all glued together by lashing of funk, soul and some old school r&b, which sometimes evokes Sly Stone.

In short, ‘Under Your Spell’ is a celebratory, uplifting, feel good album, but the initial tracks are very short, while there’s a semblance of clutter as he tries to incorporate 10 stellar guests into 11 restless, but musically related tracks.

In fact, despite the infectious funky moments, the snappy hooks and bass led grooves, it isn’t until the three quarter mark with the big band rendition of B.B. King’s ‘Rock Me Baby’ that the whole thing really gels.

You could of course make a case for the riff led single ‘Love One Another’. It features Stevie Wonder’s trademark harp alongside an infectious hook and could be an anthem for our times.

There are also guest vocals from Bobby Rush, Marlon Jackson and Kenny Neal, but it teeters on the brink of over egging the cake.

And just as the repeated chorus irresistibly lodges itself in the subconscious, it suddenly stops, robbing the song of a suitably climatic finish.

No matter, ‘Under Your Spell’ impressively pulls together various blues related styles that Tito is known for. There’s funk, soul, r&b and even a blues that his dad would have enjoyed.

His role is that of a catalyst as much as a front man, as he contributes lead and backing vocals, intricate guitar lines, and self-penned songs that never overstay their welcome.

He’s essentially team player, working throughout the album with producer/songwriter Michael K. Jackson, to achieve a balance between the pull of the dance floor and the disciplined song writing, as on the superb book-end ‘I Got Caught (Living In A Dream)’.

He immediately establishes a horn-led, hook-laden template on the opening ‘Wheels Keep Turning’ which feels like a composite of different recordings in one song. The mixed back solo in the middle also sounds like a kazoo, but it’s counterweighted by a killer hook with a call and response vocal.

His vocal comes to the fore with a faux falsetto lead on the big band feel of ‘Big Leg Woman’, which includes a couple of priceless rhymes :”big legs and scrambled eggs” and  “She’s got me waiting for the bacon.”

He also enjoys a sparkling duet with former O’Jays vocalist Eddy Levert on the excellent ‘All In The Family Blues’, which is full of passion and contrasting timbres.

Both Joe Bonamassa and Jonathan Long’s mixed back guitar parts struggle to make a significant impact on the funky title track, though if you listen carefully there is some aching slide and melodic riffs before the groove takes over again, and then suddenly stops.

Tito revels in his duet with B.B. King’s youngest daughter Claudette on B.B.’s ‘Rock Me Baby’, helmed by bass player Russell B. Jackson, who anchors the kind of groove with energy and feel to facilitate a stellar horn arrangement. George Benson finds enough space to let the first of his 2 solos breathe, while his second defining solo alongside Darrell Lavigne’s sprightly piano, is the work of a master.

The lilting funk of ‘Dyin Over Here’ is also a delight. The subtle bv’s and booming horns give the  track its swing-led bounce, but again a perfunctory finish leaves Tito having to fill the subsequent void.

However, does serve to illustrate Tito’s vocal ability. Whereas on the previous tracks he is mixed way back amongst sundry voices, here he applies his faux falsetto phrasing tellingly.

And somewhere in the middle of the mix is Kenny Neal on rhythm guitar, though you would be hard pushed to identify him

And that is the main problem with an otherwise enjoyable album. It’s simply too busy at times, so giving us only fleeting glimpses of Tito’s own abilities.

Much of the album is built on short tracks that once they have made their mark, quickly move on in a melange of funk, blues and soul.

But perseverance brings reward, as evidenced by ‘You’re Gonna Push Me Too Far’, which opens with a live crowd sample, before revealing itself as a soul classic with Steely Dan style harmonies and a contrasting sinewy guitar solo.

Tito finally teams up with Eddie Levert on the former Jacksons and Philly soul song-writing team of Kenny Gamble/Leon Hull who contribute the excellent ‘All In The Family Blues’.

It’s a sultry, soulful and delightful duet which flows into Eric Demmer’s resolving sax solo.

There’s even some Doo-wop bvs on a smouldering retro track of the highest order.

Better still, is the Memphis soul meets rap style of ‘I Got Caught (Loving In A Dream).’ Featuring Steven “Ice Buck” Powell on vocals, it also finds Tito doubling on guitar, bv’s and as the vocal engineer, on a song that significantly references Johnny Taylor.

It’s the perfect finish to a broad based album that beguiles smoulders and ultimately convinces.

There’s enough good stuff here to suggest that this could well be Tito Jackson’s long overdue step into the limelight. ****

Review by Pete Feenstra

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