Under Your Sky

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Finally! After four years and a handful of killer jazzed-out drum'n'bass 12" discs, Britain's favorite Home County boys, Professor Stretch and Ned Kelly, have issued a debut album. Under Your Sky showcases the pair's unique and profound understanding of jazz and pop R&B styles -- as well as their taste for nu soul -- and purveys the same jazzy groove you'd expect from a Compost disc. To fill out the band, they've enlisted the songwriting and vocal talents of Jeb Loy Nichols, who fronts the band on three of the disc's 12 tracks, and wrote the majority of the album, and Madeleine Edgehill, who appears on three more (with the track "68 Moves" being an instrumental and the others being duets with Nichols). Rapper Ghetto Priest and guitarist Andrew Smith also help out, as does the Bombay Philharmonic! Under Your Sky is a perfect blend of drum'n'bass, jazz, soul, reggae, R&B, and pop -- it's impossible to tell where one style ends and another begins or if they're all in there together at all times. The deep spiritual undertones on most of the tracks here make these folks more than just a dance track collective; they comes off as a real band in the same way that Attica Blues -- with their deep love of nu soul or the Silent Poets -- have an affinity for aesthetics and poetics in their sound. Edgehill immediately grabs your attention on the opener, "Stay a While," a sweet, acoustic guitar-driven downtempo love song. She could be a folk singer or a soul diva, but walks the line between with both sensuality and innocence. Nichols' melody was constructed for her smoky alto. Stanley Clarke's "Unexpected Days" changes pace and moves into the soul/funk pit with a sparse keyboard line giving way to a summer-night Brazilian rhythm and a driving funky riff that is undercut by a drum'n'bass loop. Again, Edgehill's croon is devastatingly accurate and believable; she finds the emotion in every line, every syllable, every utterance, and wrings it dry without excess. But Nichols is no slouch as a soul singer. His voice may be somewhere between James Taylor's and Bunny Wailer's, but he's got the soul feel, especially in the pop-reggae tunes, and can carry it to the listener. Check out "So Blue It's Black," with its dubby, trippy backbeat and shifting keyboard lines. The groove is deep, wide, and slippery, and Nichols croons as sweetly and seductively as Dennis Brown. There's also the liquidy country-soul of "Comin' Home," with its slow breakbeat backdrop and Roy Ayers-like keyboard backing in an easy, shimmering paean to longing and affirmation. The disc closes with a chorus/duet wail between Edgehill and Nichols on "In Between," replete with an oboe solo opening by Kate St. John before the orchestral backdrop -- à la Vaughan Williams' Pastoral Symphony -- frames the breakbeat pace. It's breathtaking, chilling, and full of wondrous textures and nuances. The bottom line on the Underwolves is this: Their debut lives up to all the promise of their singles and far surpasses them; in fact, they created the good vibes record for the summer of 2001.

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