Personal Life: Morning Light
Tokyo Dawn Records

Bursting with old-school sparkle, Personal Life's Morning Light oozes a delicious kind of jazz-inflected soul. Personal Life itself is the name adopted by project founder Robert Strauss for a London-based collective fronted by soul crooner Stuart Lisbie and featuring core members of Amy Winehouse's touring band. Given such participants, it's no surprise that the music exudes a powerful live feel of a type that once characterized music in general. There are times when Morning Light evokes the lush production style of Philly Soul producers Gamble and Huff, and the songs are presented in expansive arrangements where horns and strings embellish the core band sound. That it does so would appear, in fact, to be the group's raison d'être, given its self-authored pronouncement that Personal Life was conceived in order to “bring back into popular consciousness the sound, production, songwriting, and musicality dating back to the glory days of the music industry”—said glory days presumably those of the ‘70s most of all.

In keeping with track titles like “Morning Light” and “Bring it Back,” the material is suffused with positivity, uplift, and old-school sophistication; as attested to by the song's joyous tone, even a “Rainy Day in London (A Rainy Day in Monterey)” can't dampen the group's spirits. The band itself is as tight as could be imagined, with drummer Nathan Allen powering the group with a tight groove in “Classic Lady” and Strauss himself contributing funky guitar and bass playing throughout.

To put it mildly, the music overflows with exuberance, so much, in fact, that one wishes the album had offset the uptempo tracks with an additional ballad (or two) for better balance and contrast. The restrained passages that emerge during “It is What it Is,” for example, feel both refreshing and welcome, arriving as they do within a context that's so unwaveringly energized and extroverted, and in a perfect world, the disco-styled “Give Into the Night” and “One Step Closer” would be replaced by less frenetic cuts to allow the listener to catch his/her breath. While it might seem churlish to criticize a recording for being exuberant and high-energy, too much of a good thing can also be self-defeating. That caveat aside, however, Morning Light has much to recommend it, and lovers of classic soul should likewise find much about it satisfying.

August-September 2013