Switched On – Charles Webster: Decision Time (Dimensions Recordings)

reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

Not many producers could come back with an electronic music album 19 years after the last one. Yet that is exactly what Charles Webster has done with Decision Time, ‘following up’ his widely acclaimed 2001 opus Born On The 24th July. Webster is very highly respected in dance music circles of course – he learned his trade as an engineer with Juan Atkins and Kevin Saunderson, then moved to San Francisco in the 1990s and recorded under the pseudonym Presence as well as his own name.

Decision Time, as with the previous album, is curated by Webster but features an array of vocal talent, from established dance music royalty Shara Nelson and Terra Deva to South African talent Sio, Thandi Draai and Sipho.

What’s the music like?

Classy. Very little would seem to have changed for Webster in two decades of writing, which is of course an extremely good thing. Webster writes music of real feeling but with meticulously detailed production, so he can create a smoky atmosphere through deep house or more urban soul, brought to life by the chosen vocalist.

Shara Nelson’s guest turn, This Is Real, is heat soaked and emotive, while Sio’s second track Love Lives has a wide open production with intimate vocals. This is a trick Webster manages on several occasions, including Secrets Held, an atmospheric piece of soul where vocalist Emilie Chick draws the ear in.

It is in the deep house tracks where he really plays the winning cards though, the shuffling beats of I Wonder Why twinned with evocative, spacious keyboards, and the tougher beat of Music given a lovely wide perspective before Thandi Draai’s excellent vocal comes in. Webster uses an accordion sound in the middle which works beautifully.

Closing the album are two contributions from Ingrid Chavez, The Spell and The Second Spell. Chavez wrote the spoken word element of Madonna’s Justify My Love, and she appears with Burial, who gets a rare co-production credit on the second of a pair of pieces that crackle with atmosphere. If anything, Chavez’ vocals are better here than with Madonna!

Does it all work?

Very much so. Webster is still a master of creating vivid scenes with his music, be they in smoky, street-based soul or in hot weather deep house music. His use of orchestration is sublime, as is his knack of pacing in the music.

Is it recommended?

Heartily. It has made me revisit the older releases I have from Webster in my collection – and if you’re already a convert then you will need no persuading to buy. If the name Charles Webster is new to you, though, make sure you waste no time getting acquainted with his sublime music!

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