Albums by British cabaret bands who specialize in soul and jazz are a pretty small subgenre of recorded music. That shouldn’t surprise anybody. However, it was a surprise when the people at Licorice Soul Records assembled a strong compilation from this tiny pool of material. In 2009, they managed to assemble a credible second volume. That’s a minor miracle. The fact that it’s a fun, solid listen is the icing on the cabaret cake.
Working Man’s Soul 2 differs from its predecessor in a crucial way: there is more of an accent on songs. Fully half of the selections feature vocals, most of them being covers of pop chart material reconfigured for the dance floor. For example, Mythology’s take on the Uriah Heep favorite “Easy Livin” bleeds out the crunching guitar-and-organ assault of the original to transform it into a jazzy little groover anchored by Ray Manzarek-styled keys while New Jersey Turnpike’s redux of the Doobie Brothers’ “Long Train Running” dispenses with the acoustic guitars of the original to push forward the organ playing and funky backbeat.
There are also covers of conventional soul material done in an English soul-boy manner: Vince Earl Attraction’s take on “Can’t Get Enough Of Your Love” might lack the velour-soul smoothness of the Barry White original but it succeeds on pure conviction and Black Abbots’ cover of the Stax fave “Soul Man” is a barnstormer in a manner reminiscent of The Commitments. However, the most interesting vocal-based entry is an original by Quartz entitled “Social Values.” It’s a wah-wah-driven lite funkster with eccentric yet heartfelt social commentary lyrics.
Fans of the first volume’s instrumentals should rest assured that there are plenty of quality instrumental moments here. The ABC Hit Band’s rendition of Deodato’s “Super Strut” is a slick slab of dance-funk laced with some nice synth and guitar solos while Wigan Youth Jazz Orchestra’s “Sax Bap” delivers horn-driven, percussive jazz-funk worthy of the best car-chase soundtrack cues from the 1970’s. Also, look out for Gary Allcock’s Midland Jazz Stars’ brassy instrumental cover of “Norwegian Wood”: it swings and blares with a contagious, uncontrolled energy.
Working Man’s Soul 2 also sandwiches in a few fun novelties: Graham Smith’s take on “You Are The Sunshine Of My Life” offsets its deliciously chintzy organ work with some rock-solid drumming but the winner in this arena is the Melodian’s steel-drum version of “Fur Elise.” Crazy as that combo might sound, the finished product is a breezy, winning little groover. The latter description would also make a good way to pitch this disc overall.