Charles Webster Born on the 24th of July

There's something about the smoky atmospheres and melancholic strains that makes Charles Webster sound like a fraternal twin to Massive Attack, but born ten years late. The fact that Blue Lines' star vocalist Sara Jay makes an appearance here is purely incidental; it's the exaltation of electronic music's urbanity with a sweet sense of subtlety and soul that affords such comparisons. Though best known as house producer under the aliases Presence and Love From San Francisco, Webster brings in grand piano phrasings to grace soft red ambient reverberations and vintage drum-box pulses. While none of these sounds actually do much to break new ground, it's the emotionality that oozes from their arrangements that allures, that and the lyrics. Boasting the likes of Terra Deva, Pete Wright (Atjazz), Steve Edwards (Basement Jaxx) and Jay, among others, the voices on Born... actually have something to say. Verses on tracks like "Be No-One," "I Understand You" and "Your Life" reach for an effortless meeting between existential blues and the more passionate modes of R&B. The vocalists take it further by executing their lines with a slight restraint of techno's mute attitude. Again, not the kind of thing to rejuvenate the next wave in down-tempo/trip-hop music, but definitely something that offers more to connect with than just the beats. (Strata)