Given its current status as granddad music, it would probably come as a bit of a shock to many modern day clubbers to learn that soulful house was once considered a cutting-edge, underground-as-hell genre. But it was: One of the earliest offshoots from the early Chicago jack-track sound, the style combined the drive of house, the electronic R&B strut of Paradise Garage material, the spirituality of gospel and the intense passion of disco in a way that was, at the time, quite revolutionary. In the late '80s, one of the soulful house's main outposts was the New York area, as clubs like the World (which counted David Morales and Frankie Knuckles among its residents) and Zanzibar (with Tony Humphries on the decks) —along with underground parties like Wild Pitch and House Nation—delivered the sound to adoring dance floors. By 1990, a new club called the Shelter, led by DJ/producer/industry vet Timmy Regisford, had taken over as soulful-house headquarters.
The Shelter has been running with Regisford in the booth every since, discounting a few breaks; its latest incarnation is set to debut in February. But the music itself—or, more to the point, its popularity—hasn't fared quite as well. The reasons are many: Its original fans are just a bit past their clubbing prime, and relatively few have taken their place; newer versions of house (not to mention techno, bass music and all the rest) stole soulful house's thunder ages ago; and, quite frankly, the genre's explicit emotionality and love for noodley solos can be a bit too much for many. But Regisford is nothing if not a trouper, and on his new LP, At the Club, he does his best to save his beloved sound from calcification and present it as a still-viable form.
Regisford—despite his reputation as something of a traditionalist—has always paid attention to what's going on outside of his comfort zone. He was among the first NYC jocks to pick up on Isolee's "Beau Mot Plage" in late 1999, for instance, and tracks like Ame's "Rej" have always found their way into his playlist; his recent productions have the propulsive cadence of a chugging Objektivity cut. That galvanic rhythm provides much of the underpinning for At the Club—the tightly-wound, moody "Game" could easily be mistaken for the latest Dennis Ferrer release.
That's the album's sole instrumental, but the vocals—from iconic house vocalists such as Arnold Jarvis and Kenny Bobien, and relative whippersnappers like Lynn Lockamy and Jaidene Veda—steer well clear of the dreaded "screaming diva" strain. (A sampled Fela Kuti also makes an appearance on the album's two excellent Afro-tech tunes.) Deepness is the key here, ranging from the creamy, melodic sort (the subtle "Still") to the vaguely old-school variety ("Special One"). Will the album transform any Panorama Bar regulars into Shelter heads? Highly unlikely. But it's a strong effort, one that sees the seminal Regisford adapting to the times with aplomb. And who knows—it's possible, given a smart edit or remix, that you will hear a tune from At the Club at your favorite European discotheque.
Tracklist 01. The Djoon Experience (feat Kenny Bobien)
02. Sorrow, Tears & Blood (feat Fela Kuti)
03. Beats Of No Nation (feat Fela Kuti)
05. How Does This Feel (feat Georgia Cee)
06. Make Me Love You (feat Nickson & Amera Light)
07. Masterpiece (feat Arnold Jarvis)
08. At The Club (feat Lynn Lockarmy)
09. Someone Like You (feat Lynn Lockarmy)
10. Special One (feat Arnold Jarvis)
11. Still (feat Arnold Jarvis)
12. Torture (feat Lynn Lockarmy)
13. You Give It (feat Arnold Jarvis