Sing (If You Want It)
, September 7th, 2011 10:48
Back in 1989, British acts led by Soul II Soul burst out of the underground to create what remains the most important and pivotal time for UK soul. Since the mid 80s, warehouse parties and pirate radio stations had pulsated with this distinctly urban and British street sound. With stations like Kiss FM now going legal it was time for the Brit soul movement to crossover to the mainstream.
Out of that scene came a young singer from Kent called Omar with a 12" entitled 'I Don't Mind The Waiting'. Released on the small Kongo Dance label, it signalled the arrival of a major UK soul talent. Two years after his debut single slipped out of Kongo Dance his breakthrough came with 'There's Nothing Like This'. His first single for Talkin' Loud, it saw the underground status of this Guildhall School-educated singer truly blown. Not only charting in the UK, Omar became one of the first UK soul artists to make a mark on the US scene, influencing and inspiring everyone from D'Angelo to Jill Scott. Another big admirer was Stevie Wonder, who upon hearing Omar's distinctive voice vowed to work with this young British singer.
That promise eventually came true with the appearance of Stevie on Omar's much anticipated sixth LP, Sing (If You Want It). Released in 2005, the album also featured Estelle and Angie Stone. Despite shifting 50,000 copies, the closure of the label and a number of other industry setbacks saw the LP remain a cult item, something Tru Thoughts label owner and Omar obsessive Robert Luis wanted to put straight. "It was so heavily anticipated. Everyone knew it could have sold ten times that," he explains. More recently Omar has forged new links to the UK dance underground, working with Maddslinky (aka Dave Jones) on the soulful garage track 'Special' and on the killer UK funky hit 'Dancing' (added as a bonus track on this reissue) with Jones' other Tru Thoughts alter ego Zed Bias. This was how the relationship between Omar and the label was cemented, leading to Luis to expose this great LP to a new audience.
Opening our ears gently with the breezy soul of 'Sing', it's only really on the heavy jazz lick of 'Kiss It Right' that Omar's voice really starts to shine. By the time you reach the beautiful harmonizing and sweeping strings of 'Get It Together' and the heavy analogue soul of 'Your Mess' you start to understand why Robert Luis felt the need to push this one again. And what of those collaborations? A heavy piece of organic soul, 'Feeling You' sets Omar's deep vocal against Stevie Wonder's masterful musicianship for a real grower of a soul track. We might not have heard from Estelle for a while but 'Lay It Down' reminds us what a great storyteller she is, making a heartfelt plea for peace to London's youth ("Eight years old, he's got the barrel in his hand, turning it around, wonder what this thing is - pow"). And while the soulful boogie of 'Stylin'' with Angie Stone also works nicely, the real star of the show here is Omar, who crosses the styles effortlessly whether dropping heavy dance numbers like 'It's So' or the breezy modern soul of 'I Want It'.
As thoughts turn to a newly recorded LP and forthcoming live sessions for Gilles Peterson's Worldwide show, it's time to once more feel the force of one of our true soul legends.