Bing Ji Ling – Shadow To Shine (funk/ soul)

Tummy Touch Records TUCH2025, 2011, CD album, 38m 34s, £6.99

This is a record drenched in the seventies, literally dripping with honeyed, soulful, in-your-face, grinning disco lurve. I mean, look at the cover. Quinn Luke is a man who lives his creative convictions (or knows exactly how to give his audience the impression that he does).

These songs are full of that wonderful fusion of the sexual and the spiritual that defined the best of the disco era: ‘when I get you alone here’s what I’m gon’ do/ gon’ love all your outsides and your insides too’ he sings in ‘Hypnotized’. Bing Ji Ling has embraced the aesthetic of the cheesy, and confronts us with the uncomfortable truth that we only think it’s cheesy because we are afraid to admit publicly to feeling the things he gives voice to. Like his illustrious predecessors (Barry White, Earth Wind And Fire, Tower Of Power, Al Green, and many more seventies soul and disco lyricists and performers) Luke doesn’t set out to write a specific, analytical description of a relationship, but deals in universals, most notably the positive vibes of deep sexual love, or the sadness of its termination. If he was writing poems or novels it would be empty sentimentality, but this is music, and he has an impressive command of melody and harmony to add depth and nuance to his message.

Does that sound like I’m asking you to re-evaluate disco and seventies soul and find them creatively profound? I hope so, because you should. While much music of that era did indeed peddle empty sentimentality, there was also a great deal that touched something more significant, with its total disregard for coolness, its unmediated joyfulness, and its unrestrained outpouring of positive emotional generosity. This was the era in which peace and love hit the mainstream of black American music, and it left a legacy that has been almost unfeasibly influential, although few artists have had the courage to revisit it in the round as Bing Ji Ling has on this recording. Peace and love is a controversial message: it says ‘fuck you’ to many of the vested interests in our society and economy, and since it proved impossible to stamp out in the late sixties, the cultural mainstream has spared little effort to co-opt and de-radicalise it. Bing Ji Ling reinvests it with meaning, because he makes it unmistakeably clear that he believes in it.

These ten songs are filled with dreamy sunshine and mellow groove, that I anticipate forming a core component of my personal soundtrack this summer. Relaxed but tightly locked-in rhythm section feels are festooned with an array of expertly crafted sonic raiment, from predictably funky, clean guitar, swooping strings and idiomatic brass and woodwind arrangements, to psychedelically burnished noise. On ‘Hold Tight’ there is so much grit on the Hammond organ that the tone wheels sound like grindstones spinning, and ‘Bye Bye’ is dominated by a fuzzed out guitar more reminiscent of ’69 than ’74; but still, both songs are shimmering waterfalls of sincere, groovy soul.

The musicianship throughout this album is top notch, with a fantastic feel and developed technique: Luke himself is an excellent guitarist and vocalist, but he is too much of an all round musician to let those skills become the focus of the album, which is never about the playing, but always about the groove and the vibe. There’s really nothing bad I can think of to say about this recording: it won’t be to everyone’s taste, but for those that can listen to it without their cheese alarm ringing, it’s a slice of irresistible summery joy.

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