THE EXCELSIORS-CONTROL THIS.

THE EXCELSIORS-CONTROL THIS.

When The Excelsiors recently released their debut album Control This, on BBE Records, one thing shawn through, Shane “Sureshot” Hunt’s love of Jamaican music. It shines through from the opening bars of Mrs. Magic, right through to the closing bars of Soon I Will Be Done. So much so, that Control This is akin to a love letter to Jamaican music. That’s no surprise.

Shane “Sureshot” Hunt is a devotee of all things reggae. What Shane doesn’t know about Jamaican music isn’t worth knowing. His knowledge of Jamaican music from the sixties to the eighties can only be described as encyclopaedic. He loves everything from ska, rocksteady, reggae and dancehall. That’s not all. Shane is also a fan of hip hop. The best way to describe Shane’s musical taste is eclectic. 

That’s been apparent throughout Shane’s career. He and Danny Clavesilla released a trio of albums as Sharpshooters. Their debut was 1996s Choked Up, which was released on Conception Records. They also released Buck The Saw in 1997. Then six years later, the Sharpshooters’ third album Twice As Nice was released on Light In The Attic Records. That was the last we heard from the Sharpshooters.

After the Sharpshooters, Shane released three volumes of the Soundbwoy Super Status Reggae Breaks And Beats series. They’re regarded as some of the best reggae compilations released in recent years. No wonder. They feature the great and good of reggae music, which is Shane’s first love. That’s apparent on Shane’s new project, The Excelsiors. 

His new project The Excelsiors is the perfect showcase for Shane’s eclectic musical tastes. On Control This, Shane has been inspired by everything from AOR, Afrobeat to classic soul, disco, jazz-funk, Northern Soul, Philly Soul and even two-tone. This comes courtesy of the cover versions on Control This. This starts with with Grover Washington’s jazz-funk staple Mr. Magic. It’s given a makeover and becomes Mrs. Magic. Then there’s covers of Debbie Deb’s freestyle favourite Lookout Weekend and Carole King’s classic It’s Too Late. That’s not all. Barrington Levy’s Here I Come becomes a mammoth live jam and the two-tone of The Beat’s  Mirror In The Bathroom is given a much needed rework. One of the most intriguing covers is People Make The World Go Round. Penned by Thom Bell and Linda Creed, it was originally a hit for The Stylistics. Since then, it’s been covered by numerous artists. None of the covers is quite like The Excelsiors’ rework of this Philly Soul classic. However, there’s more to Control This than cover versions.

Control This is also a showcase for Shane’s songwriting and arranging skills. He’s penned two of the eleven tracks on Control This,  In The Name Of The Father and Cold As Steel. Shane has also rearranged a traditional spiritual, which becomes Soon I Will Be Done. It’s another compelling track that shows another side to The Excelsiors’ music which is best described as old school with a modern twist.

Unlike many modern artists, Shane isn’t a fan of music software. No. He prefers “real” instruments and analogue equipment. This means a real live rhythm section comprising bass, drums and guitars. They’re augmented by keyboards, percussion, steel pans, horns, harmonies and strings. The result is real music, which was recorded live to tape. All the various takes were then comped. Eventually, the eleven tracks on Control This were completed. 

The result is an album that’s very different to other albums that have been released recently. That’s because Shane has eschewed modern production methods. You won’t find software, samples and plug-ins on Control This, The Excelsiors’ debut album, which I’ll tell you about.

Opening  Control This is Mrs. Magic. Drums reverberate before washes of Hammond organ set the scene for a needy, heartfelt vocal. Strings sweep in. So do harmonies. By then, The Mighty Pope’s vocal is a mixture of power and passion. Deep down in the arrangement, the rhythm provide the sultry heartbeat. What grabs and holds your attention is the vocal. Needy and desperate, it’s an outpouring of emotion.

Covering a classic like Carole King’s Too Late Baby, isn’t easy. After all, the definitive version has been recorded. This doesn’t put The Mighty Pope of. He grabs the song and delivers a soulful, heart wrenching vocal. It’s as if he’s lived the lyrics. The arrangement is understated. Instruments drift in and out. When they do, they make their presence felt. Especially the strings. They sweep and swirl. Keyboards, percussion and the rhythm section add a reggae groove. Later, horns and harmonies play important roles. However, it’s The Mighty Pope who plays the starring role. He dawns the role of soul survivor and wears it like a badge.

In a previous life, Lookout Weekend was a freestyle favourite. It’s totally transformed by The Excelsiors. Straight away, it heads in the direction of Afrobeat. That’s down to blazing horns and the rhythm section. There’s more than a hint of reggae. That’s not all. Listen carefully and disco hi-hats hiss while The Mighty Pope delivers a stomping, vamp, as this freestyle favourite takes on new life and meaning.

Another track that’s transformed is Barrington Levy’s Here I Come (Broader Than Broadway). It becomes a joyous and irresistible live jam. From the opening bars, the familiar sound of crackling vinyl makes its presence help. It’s akin to listening to an old and much loved slice of vinyl. A buzzing bass, stabs of keyboards and soaring, testifying harmonies accompany The Mighty Pope’s urgent, enthusiastic vocal. The addition of the harmonies are a masterstroke. They’re the perfect foil for the lead vocal on this joyous and irresistible live jam.

In the Name of the Father is one of two tracks on Control This, that Shane wrote. It has a spiritual sound. That’s obvious from the get-go. This spiritual sound comes courtesy of The Mighty Pope’s powerhouse of a vocal. It’s yin. Yang is an arrangement that’s bold, dramatic and theatrical. Together, they play their part in a powerful and spiritual sounding track.

Thom Bell and Linda Creed wrote People Make The World Go Round for The Stylistics. They were one of Philly Soul’s top songwriting teams. People Make The World Go Round is a classic, with lyrics that ooze social comment. They’re just as relevant today. Especially when Omega Rae delivers the lead vocal. Behind her, a pulsating, driving arrangement unfolds. Providing a contrast to the rest of the arrangement are steel pans and horns. Then there’s an Eastern influenced drone. All this plays a part in the reinvention of a Philly Soul classic.

A Land Far Away (Satta Massagana) was originally written and recorded by Gene Rondo. Shane decided it was ripe for reinvention. He was right. Gospel tinged harmonies and braying horns join forces. They provide the backdrop for The Mighty Pope’s emotive, sincere vocal. He’s accompanied all the way the rhythm section and percussion. Harmonies and horns drift in and out, as a joyous genre-melting anthem unfolds.

This Is Sunshine Music is a funky, soulful version of Zap-Pow’s This Is Reggae Music. Most people won’t have heard the original. Hopefully, they’ll be inspired to do so. The unmistakable sound of a Hammond organ is joined by the rhythm section and another powerhouse of a vocal from The Mighty Pope. He never gives less than 100% when he delivers a vocal. Power, sincerity, hope and emotion melt into one. That’s the case here. It’s as if he’s desperate for you to listen to every word he sings. Later, strings shimmer and quiver, adding to the feel-good sound of this funky, soulful opus.

Mirror In The Bathroom gave The Beat a hit single in 1981, during the two-tone era. Here, it’s reinvented by The Excelsiors. A digital rhythm is accompanied by bursts of space invader synths and washes of Hammond organ. Old and new sit side-by-side. Adding to the soulfulness of the Hammond organ are harmonies. They’re the perfect foil to The Mighty Pope’s vocal. He combines power, emotion and social comment. The result is a familiar track that’s reworked for a new musical generation.

Cold As Steel is an instrumental written by Shane. It has a moody understated introduction. That soon changes. The darkness is gone and sun comes out. What follows is musical sunshine. Steel pans, percussion, rhythm section and keyboards join forces. The music becomes joyous, cinematic and irresistible.

Closing Control This is the spiritual sound of Soon I Will Be Done. Hypnotic drums pound and washes of keyboards sweep in. So do gospel tinged harmonies. Taking centre-stage is The Mighty Pope. His vocal is full of belief, sincerity and hope. It’s almost joyous as he sings “Soon I Will Be Done…there will be no dying over there.” After the spiritual sounding vocal, The Mighty Pope exits stage left right. He’s kept one of his best vocals until last.

As debut albums go, The Excelsiors’ Control This is one of the best I’ve heard this year. It features eight cover versions, a reworking of a spiritual and two new songs from Shane “Sureshot” Hunt. They showcase Shane’s talent as a songwriter. However, he’s more than a songwriter. 

Arranger, musician and producer are three other rolls Shane has dawned during the making of Control This. Another roll Shane has taken on is musical arbiter. For Control This he’s chosen eight cover versions. This meant a trip through his record collection. Shane has delved deep into the furthest corners of his record collection. In doing so, he’s chosen a compelling collection of cover versions for Control This, which was recently released on BBE Records

Shane’s crate digging expedition resulted in covers of AOR, classic soul, disco, jazz-funk, Northern Soul, Philly Soul and even two-tone finding its way onto Control this. This compelling collection of cover versions are a mixture of classes and hidden gems. Among them are Grover Washington’s Mr. Magic, Debbie Deb’s Lookout Weekend, Carole King’s It’s Too Late, Barrington Levy’s Here I Come, The Beat’s Mirror In The Bathroom and Thom Bell and Linda Creed’s People Make The World Go Round. These songs are reworked. 

In The Excelsiors’ hands, they take on new life and meaning. Sometimes, they’re far removed from the original, that it’s as if they’re new songs. That’s down to one person, Shane “Sureshot” Hunt. His vision, imagination and adventurous spirit is behind the sound and success of The Excelsiors’ debut album Control This, which marks the next step in the career of Shane “Sureshot” Hunt.

THE EXCELSIORS-CONTROL THIS.

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