HARTLEY AND WOLFE-BESPOKE FUTURE.

HARTLEY AND WOLFE-BESPOKE FUTURE.

Last year, DJ Vadim released his tenth solo album, the critically acclaimed Don’t Be Scared. One of the singles from Don’t Be Scared was I’m Feelin’ U, which featured Essex’s finest purveyor of all things soulful, Greg Blackman. Now a year later, DJ Vadim and Greg Blackman are about to release their first collaboration as Hartley and Wolfe. Their debut album Bespoke Future, will be released on BBE Music on 18th November 2013. 

Bespoke Future is best described as a genre-melting album. Musical influences and genres are thrown into the musical melting pot by Hartley and Wolfe. There’s everything from Americana, dub, electronica, funk, hip hop, Nu Soul, R&B and soul on Hartley and Wolfe’s Bespoke Future. Drawing inspiration from everything both American and British soul and R&B. Listen carefully, and you’ll hear everything from Rick James, The Isley Brothers, Omar, Loose Ends and Soul II Soul. It’s a musical journey with more than a few unexpected twists and turns. No wonder, with DJ Vadim taking charge of production, while Greg Blackman, tunesmith extraordinaire, laying down some of his trademark vocals.

Over the twelve tracks on Bespoke Future, Hartley and Wolfe create music for the head, the heart and the dance-floor. Songs of life, love, betrayal and rejection see Hartley and Wolfe paint pictures with their music. Evocative songs, where Hartley and Wolfe use music like an artist uses paints. Bespoke Future is their canvas, where they explore the vagaries of life, love gone wrong, rejection and politics. Cerebral and intelligent, Hartley and Wolfe don’t forget about hooks. They’re certainly not in short supply. Neither are songs for the dance-floor. Whether you like your music soulful, funky or dance-floor friendly, then Bespoke Future has something for you. Hartley and Wolfe see to that. You’ll realise that’s the case, when I tell you about Bespoke Future.

Opening Bespoke Future is You’ve Got Nothing. As it opens, there’s a real laid-back, summery vibe. Greg scats above an arrangement that reminds me of Nightmares On Wax. Maybe its the sound of crackly vinyl and the filters? Soon, it’s all change and a thunderous bass drives the arrangement along. Still it has a summery vibe, with reggae, soul, funk, gospel and hip hop thrown into the melting pot. Greg’s vocal is heartfelt and powerful. Full of frustration he threatens to walk away, having been pushed to far. Yet he doesn’t, he’s loyal and tells her that. He then adds scatted harmonies, before singing call and response, demonstrating that powerhouse of a vocal that, for far too long, has been one of British music’s best kept secrets.

Wistful and melancholy describes the introduction to The Little Things. Again, there’s the sound of crackly vinyl, that gives the track a vintage sound. Then when Greg’s vocal enters, it’s reminiscent of D’Angelo and Prince. He uses his full vocal range, his vocal a sassy, emotive and needy vamp. Behind him, keyboards, crispy beats and the pounding bass join harmonies. The backing vocals drive Greg to even greater heights on this sassy, soulful, funky opus.

Behind Close Doors sees another change in direction. Space-age synths are joined by hypnotic beats and Greg’s impassioned, but pensive vocal. Soon, the track’s heading in the direction of hip hop. Greg’s lays down wistful vocal, before a feisty rap takes charge. Despite that, it’s Greg’s vocal that you focus on. It sounds as if he’s loved and lived to the tell the tale, on this fusion of hip hop, funk and soul.

It’s as if the scene’s being set on the cinematic Room To Breathe. With its big, bold and dramatic cinematic arrangement, it’s like a track from a seventies Blaxploitation movie. That’s partly to do with the swirling, sweeping strings, funky rhythm section and keyboards. Then there’s Greg’s vocal and the harmonies that accompany him. Dramatic, with an authentic seventies sound, they’re ying to the arrangement’s yang. By the end of this three minute musical journey, you’re almost convinced that you’re listening to a forgotten seventies Blaxploitation movie. That’s how good this cinematic, hidden gem is.

What I’ve Been Told almost picks up where Room To Breathe left off. Bursting into life, Greg delivers his vocal against an arrangement that’s uber funky. Driven along by the rhythm section, stabs of blazing horns punctuate the dramatic, galloping arrangement. Again, it could be another track from a Blaxploitation movie. Especially given the lyrics, which are full of social comment. They’re a reflection on 21st Century society, about being taught not to trust establishment figures. It’s as if this inspires Greg. As he sings calls and response, his vocal is full of frustration, anger and disgust. Adding the finishing touch, are the soaring harmonies. They play their part in a track that’s soulful, funky, cerebral and has a strong social conscience.

Turn The Volume Down sounds like a track about the morning after the night before.  A fragile, thoughtful and introspective Greg delivers a gloriously soulful vocal against a backdrop of synths, handclaps and harmonies. Realising he’s got to change, he wonders if now’s the time to “Turn The Volume Down” on his hedonistic lifestyle?

A myriad of beeps and squeaks open Console, a track where electronica, funk, soul, R&B, Nu Soul and hip hop unite. Against a futuristic backdrop of synths, crispy beats and harmonies, Greg combines hip hop and soul effectively. With its 21st Century sound, this demonstrates another side to Hartley and Wolfe.

This World has an experimental sound, as Hartley and Wolfe take you on an intergalactic journey. Electronica, hip hop, funk and soul are combined during this four-minute adventure. Sci-fi synths, hypnotic drums and harmonies provide the backdrop to Greg’s vampish vocal. His vocal is full of frustration and confusion as he sings: “there’s so much I don’t understand.” A powerful comment on life in general, Greg breathes life and meaning into the lyrics, delivering them with emotion and power.

Dancing In Circles sees a return to the sound of You’ve Got Nothing and The Little Things. It’s the chords and instruments used that lead to this comparison. There’s even a brief similarity to The Style Council, when chiming guitars, keyboards and crispy beats combine. Then Greg’s heartfelt, soulful vocal enters, it’s one of his best. He sounds like Robert Palmer, and is fed up “Dancing In Circles.” How he’s “grabbing the chance.” Nervously and hopefully, he hopes he’s not left it too late. His vocal is replaced by a rap, and we never find out whether he’s still “Dancing In Circles. Despite that, it’s one of the highlights of Bespoke Future.

Larry The Cat is totally different from the other tracks on Bespoke Future. With his tongue placed firmly in his cheek, Greg introduces us to Larry The Cat. Funky, dramatic and dance-floor friendly, Greg vamps his way through the track with beats and squelchy synths for company. The result is a track that shows just how eclectic an album this is.

Lady Sunshine sees Hartley and Wolfe fuse soul, funk and electronica. Greg seems inspired by Rick James, D’Angelo and Prince. There’s also a nod to Robert Plant and old blues shouters, as his vocal is transformed. It’s quite unlike previous tracks. As for the track, it’s dance-floor friendly, funky and soulful. The tempo is dropped, with drums and bass providing the heartbeat, while synths adding sci-fi sounds and drama. As genres melt into one, an irresistible and infectiously catchy track unfolds.

Closing Bespoke Future is Never Understand. Slow, with an eerie, ethereal, sci-fi sound, the sound of crispy vinyl, then whispery vocals, joins beeps, squeaks and crunchy beats. Greg’s vocal is urgent, full of emotion, frustration and confusion during this tale of love gone wrong. This increases as stabs of synths, marching drums and urgent harmonies come towards him. Despite that, he still manages to despairingly, deliver the line: “you’re a fool.” An emotive, dramatic relationship song, this bookends Hartley and Wolfe’s debut album Bespoke Future nicely.

Bespoke Future, the debut album from Hartley and Wolfe, is proof that the musical partnership of DJ Vadim and Greg Blackman, works, and works well. With DJ Vadim’s production expertise and Greg Blackman supplying some of his most soulful vocals, this is a musical marriage that won’t end up in the divorce courts. During the twelve tracks on Bespoke Future, Hartley and Wolfe never let the quality drop. As they do this, musical genres and influences melt into one.

Indeed, Bespoke Future is a genre-melting, roller-coaster musical adventure. Hartley and Wolfe innovate and push musical boundaries. This they do throughout the Bespoke Future. They’re continually reinventing themselves, crossing and criss-crossing musical genres and boundaries. There’s everything from ambient, drum ‘n’ bass, dub, electronica, funk, hip hop, Nu Soul, R&B, reggae and soul, within the twelve tracks on Bespoke Future. Influenced by everyone from Rick James, The Isley Brothers, Prince, D’Angelo, Omar, Robert Palmer, Loose Ends and Soul II Soul. All these influences and genres are combined within Hartley and Wolfe’s melting pot. The result is Bespoke Future, a delicious dish, best tasted often. 

Another way to describe Bespoke Future, is as a musical journey. As musical journeys go, it’s one with more than a few unexpected twists and turns. A genre-melting journey from the innovative duo of Hartley and Wolfe, Bespoke Future will be released on BBE Music on 18th November 2013. Hopefully, Bespoke Future will be the first of many collaborations between DJ Vadim, the John Coltrane of hip hop, and Greg Blackman, Essex’s very own purveyor of all things soulful. There’s a reason for that. The reason is Bespoke Future, Hartley and Wolfe’s debut album is full of innovative, genre-melting music, that’s funky, deeply soulful and dance-floor friendly. Standout Tracks: You’ve Got Nothing, The Little Things, The Little Things, Room To Breathe and What I’ve Been Told.

HARTLEY AND WOLFE-BESPOKE FUTURE.

2 Comments

  1. Thanks so much for this, Derek. A really insightful review that left me feeling you’d “Got It”, so to speak.

    Two small asides:

    1 – The Nightmares On Wax connection is pretty easy to explain. Here’s me live with them in 2011 😀 https://soundcloud.com/greg-blackman/gb-n-o-w-live-in-ibiza

    2 – On Lady Sunshine the only influence you missed was “Uncle” Charlie Wilson. Other than that, almost shockingly bang on.

    BIGUP yourself!

    Greg Blackman – AKA: Mr Wolfe.

    • Hi Greg,

      Thanks for your kind words. Glad you like the review. I thoroughly enjoyed reviewing Bespoke Future. Let’s hope there’s a followup soon.

      I thought I remembered you working with Nightmares On Wax in the past. They’re a big favourite of mine, especially Smokers Delight and Car Boot Soul. They’re two albums I always return to. Thanks for the link, I’m listening to you with Nightmares On Wax as I type.

      The “Uncle” Charlie Wilson influence I should’ve got. I was racking my brains trying to think what it was. So, that’s solved that mystery.

      Good luck with Bespoke Future. I hope it’s a huge success.

      Best Wishes,
      Derek.

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