Dionne Bennett – Sugar Hip Ya Ya
10 songs – 47 minutes
Dionne Bennett is a British-Jamaican singer-songwriter, producer, and radio personality and Sugar Hip Ya Ya is her debut album after a storied background in television, musical theatre and academia.
Her biography records her love of all Afro-culture influenced genres from blues and jazz to rhythm & blues, soul, reggae, drum bass funk, rock & roll, and beyond. Sugar Hip Ya Ya, however, sits perfectly in that blues/soul/R’n’B bracket that Etta James made her own. Indeed, James’ influence is acknowledged from the first track, a ferocious reading of “Tell Mama”. (The only other cover on the album is a timely and uplifting version of the Pointer Sisters’ “Yes We Can”.)
Sugar Hip Ya Ya is produced by two-time Blues Blast Music Award nominee Little G Weevil, who also wrote or co-wrote most of the tracks as well as adding lead guitar to the title track and backing vocals on other songs. He deserves great credit both for the excellent sound but also for capturing some superb performances.
Interestingly, the band and background vocals were recorded at Sounday Studio in Budapest, Hungary, while the lead vocals and horns were added a few days later at Supersize Studio in Törökbálint, Hungary. Such is the quality of the performances, however, that they genuinely sound like everything was recorded live. There is a real vitality and verve to both the playing and singing.
The musicianship is top class throughout. The core band comprises László Borsodi on lead guitar, Mátyás Premecz on organ and keyboards, Attila Herr on bass and Lajos Gyenge on drums and percussion. They are joined on various tracks by Tamás Sóvári on trumpet, Zoltán Albert on saxophone, and Jonathan Andelic, Aba Zsuffa, Robert Zoltán Hunka and Little G Weevil on backing vocals. Every musician is outstanding, but this is not an album of virtuoso soloing (though no doubt they could do that if they wished). This an album of well-crafted soul/blues/R’n’B songs, played and sung with rare passion.
The title track is a 70s-style funk workout, while “Spy Me” has a guitar/keyboard riff that Deep Purple probably wish they’d written in 1974. The bass riff in “My Life” is almost worth the price of admission by itself, while the top-tappingly catchy “Full Time Job” has hints of the early 80s (think “Footloose” or Huey Lewis), even down to the irresistible hand claps.
And over each track, Bennett’s wonderfully dynamic, melodic voice imposes emotional commitment and rhythmic power. Equally comfortable on the driving “Get It Right” or the haunting “Don’t Fall For Love”, there is a real sense that Bennett has got it all.
By the time the final track, the glorious soul-funk of “Get Style” finishes (and on this track the musicians really do let loose), you just want to start listening to the entire album again.
On the evidence of Sugar Hip Ya Ya, Dionne Bennett is going to be a big star. This is a very, very impressive debut album.