Ellis Hooks may only be in his late 20's but he has been plying his trade as a singer and songwriter for several years. For his debut album, "Undeniable," Hooks was teamed up with producer Jon Tiven, the man who brought success back to Wilson Pickett with "It's Harder Now." The links to the great soul singers do not end there either, since Hooks' label (Zane) was also the home of the late (and great) soul singer Eddie Hinton (who like Hooks was from Alabama), and both vocally owe a debt to the mighty Otis Redding.
The opener, "Something 4 Everyone," hits you right between the eyes. It is a very powerful, hard hitting tune, that sounds like an oldie, but like all of the tunes here was penned by Hooks along with Tiven and his wife, who also play guitar and bass. Hooks is equally home on gentler, more subtle material such as the ensuing "Everything's Falling Around Me" which, like many of the songs here, has a catchy chorus.
Most of the album's best moments come on the tracks where things are slightly more restrained. "Blaze Up The Town," "Your Love Is Too Strong," and "Waiting For The Rapture" in particular, are all worthy of special mention. On these songs Hooks' voice is allowed to more naturally come to the fore, using power and punch only to add emphasis.
Although Hooks' natural territory is soul, there is a brace of bluesier numbers. The autobiographical "I Been There" is fairly straight blues, and features some fine muddy harp courtesy of Mason Casey. In addition, the penultimate track, "Your Last Chance," rattles along at the same tempo as Junior Parker's "Mystery Train," almost veering into rockabilly territory.
The closer, "Burnt By The Flame Of Love," rounds off in style, and leaves you wanting more. This is the sort of song where Hooks sounds most at ease, ad libbing as he goes along, like it was a live show. Pay close attention, however, otherwise it sounds like it ends mid-track. On closer listen, however, there is a subtle keying into the ending just before it happens. Then lean over, and hit the play button again!
Ellis Hooks has to be in with a shout for best male vocalist of the year, being in possession of one of the finest grittiest soul voices around. The rocky edge to several of the tracks may not be to everyone's taste, although it is something of a trademark of Tiven's production style. Several of the songs also need a full horn section to do them justice. These are minor qualms, however, since "Undeniable" rates among the very best debut albums of the year.
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