For someone who’s made her name in the dance world, Billie Ray Martin has A LOT of soul and it’s evident on this new album, The Soul Tapes. A true labor of love, it took a decade for this album to be realized. The sound is remarkable – produced by the one and only Jon Tiven, this sounds like it, indeed, came out of Willie Mitchell’s Royal Studios for Hi Records in Memphis – small wonder, since that was, in fact, Ms. Martin’s intention/vision. And frankly, it’s an amazing vocal transformation for this German-born chanteuse to sound as American and soulful as she does.
Just the opening track, “Your Ghost Is Right Behind Me” puts any questions of doubt to rest – it’s a powerhouse achievement, both sultry and heartbreaking – her voice conveys pain but at the same time, makes you ache in the best way you can. Everything works; the gospel-like nature of the track’s feel, the backing vocals and that deadly guitar solo at the end makes you automatically feel like this was released in 1972. “Two Cents For A Heart Of Gold”, with its organ figures and rimshot rhythm is an obvious nod to/continuation of “Love And Happiness” and damn it, it’s spot on – and listen to that bass line… “Strongheaded Woman” is as instantly classic as its catchy and should be on every radio; “One Way Street” has a Stax feel, especially with the tightly gated drum and reverbed guitar and is one of my particular favorites in this collection and Ms. Martin’s take on the old O.V. Wright classic, “That’s How Strong My Love Is” kicks this legendary track into another stratosphere.
Simply put, this was the kind of album (if I’m being honest) I envisioned Joss Stone to deliver after her debut, The Soul Sessions – but it never happened. Until now and by way of Billie Ray Martin. Not many artists can pull off this kind of performance – but Ms. Martin definitely has. A complete winner.
The Soul Tapes is available now