March 2009

Soul Stew Volume Two CD release
March 15, 2009 Lula Lounge Toronto
A Long Time Coming
by Joyce Corbett with photos by Roger Humbert
Lula Lounge was buzzing on Sunday for the release of Soul Stew’s new CD, Soul Stew Volume II, about ten years after Volume I — a long time to wait. The crowd of fans, gained along the way from Soul Stew’s days as the house band at Toronto’s iconic Bamboo Club, from packed Sunday nights at the College Street Bar, regular gigs at The Orbit Room, Dora Keogh’s pub and other venues around town, were joined by people who had never heard them before and would later leave happy to have “discovered” them. Some would discover new facets of musicians they knew in other contexts who are part of Soul Stew. How many jazz fans could imagine acoustic bassist Roberto Occhipinti with his classical background playing electric funk bass and singing back-up vocals? And how many could imagine jazz drummer Mark Kelso as a soul singer? (drumming simultaneously of course). Still, there is no doubt that the real focus of this band is Michael Dunston whose powerful voice was in its finest form on this Sunday night.
Soul Stew pumped out their renditions of classic soul, R&B and funk tunes with great heart, soul and exuberance, engaging the crowd immediately with “People Say” from New Orleans’ funk band The Meters. The piece really showed off Michael Dunston’s vocal control, stage stature and how hard the band can groove. As Dunston`s voice lept effortlessly to the “dangerous” at the end of “getting kind of”, Matt Horner contributed a little siren-like passage on the organ. The set rolled on with Marvin Gaye’s still relevant “Mercy Mercy Me”. The Isley Brothers’ funk classic “It’s Your Thing” saw John Johnson ripping through high speed rhythmic riffs and Dunston singing “I Can’t Tell You Who to Sock it To” with great gusto before the whole thing morphed into “Sing a Simple Song” and “you’re a shining star, no matter who you are”. “Talkin’ Loud And Sayin’ Nothing” led us to “Back Stabbers” (1972 The O’Jays, Philly soul) and eventually to “Love & Happiness” with a highlight solo from guitarist David Gray. But best of all, for me, was the incredibly soulful rendering of Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Gonna Come”:
“I was born by the river in a little tent / And just like the river, / I've been running ever since / It's been a long time coming / But I know a change is gonna come.” Listening to Michael Dunston sing this one is truly a moving experience, a demonstration of the power of song.

Michael Dunston
Between sets I got a chance to talk with Michael Dunston. His singing style in some songs made me think he must have grown up singing in the church, so I asked the question. Dunston sang in the church choir from the age of five and he was singing solos by the age of ten. He still watches Dr. Bobby Jones on TV on Sunday mornings, staying in touch with his roots. (Bobby Jones’ gospel show features performances by such gospel stars as Kirk Franklin, Yolanda Adams and Hezekiah Walker).

Other influences on his choice of path? As he stated on stage, reaching up into the air with the left and then the right hand - Stevie Wonder, Donny Hathaway, Stevie Wonder, Donnie Hathaway…

As a kid, Dunston would hear Stevie Wonder on the radio and sing along to songs like “I Wish” which has the line so many of us know, “Smoking cigarettes and writing something nasty on the wall (you nasty boy)”. Dunston told his mother he was going to be a singer when he grew up and his mother said, “don’t smoke cigarettes, it will ruin your voice.” (I didn’t ask him, but if his voice is any indication, he listened to his mom).

And Sam Cooke? Well, Dunston related the story of how his sister would come home with her boyfriend and they would be out on the couch after he went to bed. “A Change is Going to Come” would be left playing over and over, driving him crazy. He would end up covering his ears with a pillow. Years down the road, the band told him they had to do that song, did he know it?

The second set continued with another stream of classics done to perfection; the dance floor full with dancers, listeners and listening dancers. Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On?”, the classic “99 1/2 Just Won’t Do” (originally a hymn and freedom song in the 1960s), Curtis Mayfield’s “Pusher Man” and Al Green’s “So in Love with you”. Also in the set were “Funky Nassau”, “Now that We’ve Found Love” and “Love TKO”. The rousing funk/soul/R&B medley of “I Wish” (Stevie Wonder), “It’s a Family Affair” (Sly & the Family Stone), “You’re the Only Woman” (back to Stevie) and “I Want the Funk, give me the funk” got almost everyone singing along and left the dancers sweating and exhausted. In another vein entirely, “I Love You More Than You’ll Ever Know” sung with great conviction, completely mesmerized the audience with its emotional depth and vocal strength. Michael Dunston dedicated it to his wife who was present, close to the stage.

This CD release was truly a party. After all, Soul Stew Volume II was a long time coming.

John Johnson

Roberto Occhipinti
Soul Stew
Michael Dunston – Vocals
John Johnson – Sax
David Gray – Guitar, Vocals
Matt Horner – Keys
Roberto Occhipinti – Bass
Mark Kelso – Drums, Vocals


We welcome your comments and feedback
Joyce Corbett
• • • • • •
Roger Humbert
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The Live Music Report

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