Sugar Hip Ya Ya
Prepare for blast-off. This one comes as an explosive surprise. British Jamaican singer-songwriter, producer, and radio personality Dionne Bennett, who has forged most of her career in Europe, means business. We can thank Little G Weevil for bringing Bennett to our attention as the album was recorded in Budapest, Hungary with local musicians. Weevil adds his lead guitar and background vocals to the eight originals and co-writes that he assembled for the project that covers an array of Black music forms consistent with her live shows and with her “The Suga Shack” for local radio station, Radio Cardiff, UK.
Bennett is fearless. It takes more than a little hutzpah to kick off the proceedings with Etta James’ 1968 Muscle Shoals hit, “Tell Mama,” but Bennett delivers the requisite power and then some. The horn-infused Albert King-like Stax groove colors the title track, celebrating the voices of independent women, a cause Bennett stand behind in her work with the music organization “Ladies of Rage’ which she chairs in Wales. This big sound comes from guitarist Laszlo Borsodi, bassist Attila Herr, drummer Lajos Gyenge and keyboardist Matyas Premecz with the Jambalyaa Horns – trumpeter Tomas Sovari and saxophonist Zoltan Albert.
It’s Gyenge that lays down the thunderous beat for the funky, exclamatory “Spy Me.” The Bennett takes her foot off the throttle, easing into “My Life,” singing about her Jamaican roots, as the reggae beat begins to waft in over the tinkling electric piano. She bursts out again with the rousing “Full Time Job,” embracing her calling as a singer. Bennett then engages in a two-song sequence letting us know just where she stands regarding racism and social injustice. Admittedly, it’s hard to listen to Allen Toussaint’s “Yes We Can Can” without thinking back to Barack Obama’s 2008 Presidential campaign but the arrangement here is solid, avoiding the cheesiness that the song took on at the time. She goes further in the next one, the dubstep “Let It Rain,” sampling Martin Luther King Jr. from his “We Shall Overcome” speech. It’s as if she nods to Marvin Gaye, Ann Peebles, and Bob Marly in one terrific song, (until all the whooshing sound effects following the King sample) with its punchy horns and danceable groove.
“Don’t Fall for Love” alternates between the classic Screamin’ Jay Hawkins “I Put a Spell on You” riffs to some balladry as she admonishes us over a stirring B3 solo from Premecz in the outro. The clavinet ushers in the funk for the pulsating, imploring “Get It Right,” which has the guitarist taking a soaring flight. Weevil and Bennett end with a no-holds barred jam session on the nine minute “Get Style’’ with solo statements from all as Bennett leads the singalong – “Get style, ya, ya, ya, ya, yeah” capping this rousing, feel good album. We could all use this as we climb ever so slowly out of this godforsaken, stay-safe, stay-quiet pandemic state. Bennett is a balm (and a bomb too), and let’s hope we hear more from her soon.
- Jim Hynes