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Nicole Willis and the Soul Investigators

Keep Reachin' Up (Light in the Attic)

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Born in Brooklyn, vocalist Nicole Willis started her career in the early '80s; she worked with everyone from The The and the Brand New Heavies to the late Curtis Mayfield. Relocating to Europe in 1999, she released her first solo album, Soul Makeover, the following year.

Keep Reachin' Up is Willis' debut collaboration with Finland's Soul Investigators. Like the Dap-Kings, who back both Sharon Jones and Amy Winehouse, the Investigators possess the knowledge, feel, and chops to make their records pass for R&B from the '60s and '70s.

Willis' coolly lilting vocals complete the group to vintage perfection. Coupled with finely executed string arrangements, the Soul Investigators don't combust, they groove -- while exploring the polished territory of Motown, rather than the rough 'n' ready rawness of Stax.

At the disc's midpoint, the track "My Four Leaf Clover," the band heats up. And by the next tune, "A Perfect Kind of Love," the band sizzles with wailing organ and raunchy guitar solos. This gives the band and singer the kind of interaction that musicians this talented deserve.

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