In recent years, one of the better makers of romantic, seductive soul has been Phil Perry. In the ‘70s, the Illinois-born singer was part of the group The Montclairs who achieved moderate R&B success, but it would be Perry’s 1991 remake of the Aretha Franklin song ‘Call Me’ that propelled Perry’s career. Since then Perry has worked on numerous albums, releasing several of his own including 2013’s superb Say Yes, which featured a great remake of the Sam Cooke classic ‘You Send Me’. And now, he’s back with his latest offering A Better Man.
The album is well polished and attempts to bridge the gap between old soul and neo-soul, which suits Perry well. His voice is easy on the ear, and whilst Perry doesn’t perhaps possess the range of some of the other soul singers releasing music today, he delivers his vocals with passion and gusto; clearly a singer who loves his craft.
The album starts with the title track ‘A Better Man’, which has Perry pleading to his lover that he can improve and become, well, a better man. The song is thoroughly enjoyable, aside from the synth horns low in the mix, and the background vocals complement Perry without overwhelming his lead. ‘You’re the Only One’ follows much in the same way, layering the background vocals over a seductive neo-soul groove. Indeed, Perry is at his best on these romantic love songs, and he once again demonstrates his ability to craft such gems.
A Better Man also boasts of collaborations with the smooth jazz trumpeter Rick Braun, saxophonist Kim Waters, and ex-Shalamar lead singer Howard Hewitt. Unlike other soul collaborations in the past year – looking at you Smokey – these collaborations don’t have the feel of being thrown together purely for profit. Braun’s trumpet and Perry’s voice are perfect together, and Waters’ understated saxophone is a delight on the record. The duet with Hewitt is inspired, using lyrics from Bob Marley’s ‘Get Up, Stand Up’, and shows Hewitt to be also in fine voice.
Overall, A Better Man is for the lovers; for the romantics. Perry has found his niche in creating these beautiful ballads, and should be applauded as an older soul artist still dedicated to making decent soul records in an era when many stick to the more profitable task of touring. Perry deserves a bigger audience than he has, but you get the feeling that as long as Perry’s current fan base want him around, he’ll be there for them.