UB40's Lead Singer Releases Solo Album Running Free, the new album from UB40's frontman Ali Campbell, is a reggae-soul-pop tour de force. It features The World's Greatest Rhythm Section, Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare, collaborations with some legendary singers and musicians, several sublime cover versions, and the unique voice and songwriting excellence of Mr Red Red Wine himself.
With so many famous names on the record, and so many great songs, both originals and covers, Running Free, only Ali's second solo album (the follow-up to 1995's Big Love), is bound to dominate the airwaves on its release. There will even be a duet concert next year at the Royal Albert Hall guest-starring the various singers who appeared on the album, while every one of the artists has been filmed for a special 'Making Of' documentary for TV broadcast later this year.
Talking of Red Red Wine, Running Free is the natural successor to UB40's best-loved album, the appropriately titled Labour Of Love, on which Birmingham's finest covered songs by their musical idols in their own inimitable style. On Running Free, Ali goes one better by inviting his musical idols to sing with him.
"They were a joy to work with," says Ali of his team-ups with soul icon Smokey Robinson and reggae giants Aston "Family Man" Barrett and Ernest Ranglin. It's not surprising that Ali is so enthused: "This is a classic party record with great people on it," he says. "And it's a bunch of great songs."
True enough, every track on Running Free has something to offer, whether it's partnerships with some of music's all-time greats or collaborations with no less talented though relative newcomers from all areas of the contemporary music scene such as Mick Hucknall, Bitty McLean, Beverley Knight, Lemar and Katie Melua.
And each track, recorded at Jamaica's Anchor studio and Eden in West London, is filled with melodic delights. There's the version of Johnny Nash's 1968 Top 5 hit, Hold Me Tight, whose infectious skank has already been wowing audiences across Europe. I'll Be Standing By, a cover of the Al Green song, features guest vocals from Lemar and is another superb example of lilting Lovers Rock, the contrast between the sweet vocals and tuff beats, plus the solid rhythms and crystalline production, making this one of many contenders for single release on Running Free.
The title track, a faster-paced original composition, is a duet with UK soul diva Beverley Knight, and the male/female vocals work superbly well together. There are other boy-girl duets on Running Free: Cold Around My Heart is an original tune with a swooping, elegant melody. Don't Try This At Home, another original song, this one featuring Katie Melua, could also easily be lifted off the album for single release, with its infectious rhythm and pretty chord sequence.
Then the men get a chance to shine. On Would I Lie To You, Bitty McLean, a former tape op at UB40's Dep International studios, helps turn the Charles & Eddie song, one of the most-admired latterday soul tunes, into a beautiful slice of lilting reggae.
Hallelujah Time, the Bob Marley song, is no less than a Motown summit meeting, featuring as it does vocal contributions from Smokey Robinson and awaiting a vocal addition from Stevie Wonder . Don't Go, a version of the Drifters song that he's always wanted to cover, features Ali solo he even does the basso profundo "don't go's"! It's another great party tune.
I Want One Of Those is another original composition, and shows Ali soaring gracefully over the melody. There's a version of Smokey's 1981 Number 1 smash, Being With You, this time with Mick Hucknall on the mic. Brave are the men who tackle Stevie's vintage Village Ghetto Land ¬ step forward, Aston "Family Man" Barrett, Ernest Ranglin and Don Yute, with extra toasting from the studio engineer's kids as Ali's social conscience shines through. Finally, Ali's brother Robin joins him for a poignant rendition of the Campbell boys' childhood favourite, Devoted To You by the Everly Brothers.
"There was no compromise," says Ali of Running Free and the sense of freedom he enjoyed during recording. "I was in control. I was as happy as a pig in shit, working with my heroes. In fact, I haven't been this excited about a record since Labour Of Love."
Running Free - album release October 1st
Hold Me Tight -- single release September 24th Running Free Track Listing 1. Hold Me Tight
2. I'll Be Standing By feat. Lemar
3. Running Free feat. Beverley Knight
4. Cold Around My Heart
5. Don't Try This At Home feat. Katie Melua
6. Would I Lie To You feat. Bitty McLean
7. Hallelujah Time feat. Smokey Robinson & Stevie Wonder
8. Don't Go
9. I Want One Of Those
10. Being With You feat. Mick Hucknall
11. Village Ghetto Land feat. Aston Barrett, Ernest Ranglin & Don Yute
12. Devoted To You feat. Robin Campbell