Five years ago, Beverley Knight found herself paying homage to British soul artists on Soul UK, covering tracks that inspired her throughout her life. Her latest album Soulsville is a similar collection, albeit foregoing the covers in order to create her own material with a sound inspired by her part in the Memphis musical. After a five year hiatus from music, it’s basically exactly what Knight needed; a fresh sound, one that fits her style while showing a different side of her and her music.
Her newfound style is obvious from the minute the album opens. In contrast to the slick, polished sound of Soul UK, the guitars, organ and hand claps of Middle Of Love have a much rawer, powerful sound to them, fitting of the Memphis style she was seeking to emulate. It becomes even clearer on Red Flag, where the squeal of the guitar mixed with the clapping gives it a distinct blues edge that melds well with the continued soulful quality of Knight’s voice. The mixture of funky beats and blues or country inspiration that covers the album is a perfect fit for Knight’s voice, perhaps even more so than the more modern version she’s tackled previously, and the album’s upbeat tracks in particular feel extremely satisfying to listen to.
The album still features a handful of covers, with each chosen track being a Memphis classic that gives a real taste of the sound Knight wanted to incorporate. Her take on Big Momma Thornton’s Hound Dog, with assistance from Jools Holland, makes the best fit for her performance style, with the layers of guitars and piano each taking an identity of their own in the track but still mixing well with her vocals. Her covers of William Bell and Judy Clay’s Private Number and Sam & Dave’s Hold On I’m Coming are similarly enjoyable, despite not feeling like as natural a fit for Knight herself. With some simple ballads to tie the collection together, with the guitar and strings combination of Sitting On The Edge being the most striking, it comes together as an extremely comprehensive, cohesive piece of work.
While Knight’s previous work has all been highly enjoyable, there’s no doubt that Soulsville is some of her best work to date. The newfound inspiration has done wonders for her music, and she’s come back in full force with a collection of tracks that stand together and alone while still remaining genuinely enjoyable either way. Better yet, she’s managed to retain her own unique style whilst channelling these inspirations, which keeps it feeling distinctly like a Knight album. As musical experiments go, this is a clear success; Knight’s done it again with Soulsville.