Don't judge, you guys, but it took me randomly spotting a copy of Nicole Willis and the Soul Investigators' 45—"My Four Leaf Clover" b/w "Holdin' On"—while creeping on a clean copy of the Tenth Dymentions' killer, "the Bushman'," to remember it had been YEARS since I'd heard their awesome 2005 album, Keep Reachin' Up! Gosh, back in 2007, I was all over the album's domestic release!
I'm rarely impressed by tarted-up "retro" groups. They're usually kids trying too hard or hopefuls who get overhyped as sounding "exactly" like some specific period. Even if they get a passable look going while aiming for that period's sound, if the crap songwriting doesn't kill it, the big, bright contemporary production does. So, normally, I couldn't care less. Then I heard Ms. Nicole Willis, singing with the Soul Investigators... Their collaboration, Keep Reachin' Up, first issued last year in Europe, is packed with midtempo soul and crossover groovers—all A-sides—with only a few not-too-distracting funk flourishes. The songs are thoughtfully arranged, with occasional strings, and Willis's voice bounces around gracefully with no flashy dynamics or gangly vibrato. And Keep Reachin' Up maintains its brilliant soulful simmer when held against soul produced circa 1969–1971. The pesky production is just about right, like the Daptones' take on King label funk: The edges have a bit of tooth and it's just a tad overdriven for proper (period) punch...it perfectly suits their songs' late '60s/early-'70s informed-American-soul coolness.
As I listen to the album again, I'm impressed how well Keep Reachin' Up has held up! And I'd also say the record certainly dwarfs the one-off contemporaries, uh, like Welsh blue-eyed pop singer (whom I once championed) Duffy; does ANYONE remember her song "Mercy?" I'm now bummed blanked on Willis and the Soul Investigators' 2013 follow-up album, Tortured Soul, but it IS now on my want list. As for that a copy of "My Four Leaf Clover" b/w "Holdin' On," I bought it; I had no idea Willis's singles are as hard to find NOW as they were back in the '00s!