Releasing any number of cover singles, with the arduous task of having to live up to previously built up expectations, can be daunting for any artist. Having reached her seventh studio album, Beverley Knight can be commended for releasing Soul UK, comprising exclusively of British soul covers. Had she been a less experienced artist, her latest work may have been considered little more than egotistical self-indulgence. Yet because of her soulful mark having been firmly made on the music industry, her well-established fan base will surely relish this unusual treat as Knight pays homage to her personal musical influences.
Three tracks in comes the single Mama Used To Say, adding a satisfying twist to the original by adding her pleasant female vocal, rendering the cover bubbly and sassy. Her recent performance of the track on Later… with Jools Holland, with all its sizzling passion, will certainly have served as an appetiser, and may even have been enough to persuade the more casual listener towards the album.
As she revealed on the show, the album is intended as a celebration of the work of British soul artists, and hence the first track Fairplay, covering Soul2Soul, was an obvious choice. Nonetheless, this does not detract from the quality of that soulful vocal expressiveness Knight has honed over the years. In other tracks she has selected more niche content, namely Say I’m Your Number One (originally by 1980s artist Princess). Its matches her passionate vocals and is melodically soothing.
A confident choice is Omar‘s 1980s track There’s Nothing Like This, which was Omar’s most popular single and made a significant impression at the time. Yet once again, Knight’s gamble has paid off, having formed a modern, sensual version of Omar’s breezy single. Being without a major label may cause listeners to wonder whether her ability to come up with new material is running dry, but with clear vocal talent and passion for what she is keen to label as ‘celebration’, the reforming of older releases can surely be marked as a willingness to increase awareness of the soul genre. It should not be forgotten that she has successfully created six albums of original material prior to Soul UK, and hence it is more likely that her aim here is to appeal to a wider audience rather than to hide a lack of creativity. This in itself is not without difficulty, as the possible intended effect of reeling in older listeners by reminding them of soul favourites of the past may not be achievable if their memories are not matched, perhaps resulting in a dismissal as opposed to an interest in her earlier work.
Overall, while it may be unlikely that those who were not already fans of the genre will be taken aback, it is hoped that Knight’s fans will appreciate the journey into the mind of this soulful, sassy woman, and that fans of the genre as a whole will rediscover, or perhaps be introduced to, some forgotten gems of Soul UK.