by: Freemasons

James Wiltshire and Russell Small (Small as in Phats & Small), aka Freemasons, are responsible for some of the best vocal house to come out of the U.K. over the past three years. On their first album as artists, Shakedown, they take the half-and-half approach, combining a compilation of their remixes for other artists with their own productions -- and inevitably, blissfully, it comes already mixed for your pleasure. Freemasons have, in a short time, well-marked their territory: their remix work in particular positions them as a more commercial, uptempo take on Masters at Work. Just listen to their remix of Luther Vandross' "Shine" (an artist MAW also worked with), replete with chunky piano chords, the ubiquitous hi-hat, and a propulsion very much absent in the song's original version. Also well worth noting is that this mix, as do most of Freemasons' work, features the complete vocal; this is no chop-shop take. This is also a good starting point because "Shine" samples Chic, who are clearly another touchstone for Freemasons, being as they put such importance on the song rather than just another four-to-the-floor thump-thump beat. Like Chic, Wiltshire and Small have a thing for strong female vocalists -- witness not only their remixes of some serious divas with serious voices (Angie Stone, Heather Headley, Loleatta Holloway, and reigning Queen of Pop Beyoncé) but their original work as well, much of which features big-voiced Amanda Wilson (the disco-strings-tastic "Watchin'" and 2005's nu-classic "Love on My Mind" are the most notable). Shakedown slams one great uptempo house track into another, over and over, over the course of two discs. Between the remixes, original productions, and the mixing of everything together, it's a nearly perfect dance comp. ~ Thomas Inskeep

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