The preeminent groove machine Soulive is back with this thoughtful nod to funk, soul, rock, hip-hop, reggae and old-school R&B and some of their sharpest, most mature songwriting to date. No Place Like Soul also features the debut of their newest member, vocalist Toussant. This is the first new artist release on the relaunch of the legendary Memphis soul label Stax Records. The band will be on tour in the summer of 2007 for the months of July through September visiting 13 cities with more to come.
The recently revived Stax label initiates its first release of new music with the appropriately named Soulive. The band's fifth studio effort, and first with a full-time vocalist, both solidifies and scatters the group's sound. By not utilizing high-profile guest vocalists, the focus is back on songs as opposed to the jazz-oriented jams of the past. Recent addition Toussaint acquits himself well, singing with old-school energy and passion that meshes with the group's similar slant. But it comes at the expense of the skin-tight Crusaders-styled approach, once a staple of Soulive's sound. A few instrumentals, such as the rather plodding "Bubble" and the Stevie Ray Vaughan-inspired "Outrage," allow the guys to flex their considerable chops, yet this is clearly the act's most controlled, song-oriented effort yet. Toussaint goes falsetto loverman on the syrupy closing ballad "Kim," but the album coheres most effectively when Soulive hit a mid-tempo groove, as on "Callin'," the opening Sly Stone heavy funk-rock of "Waterfall," and the handclap-driven title track. Toussaint's reggae roots emerge on "If This World Was a Song" and his dusky voice is also a terrific match for the grinding funk of "Morning Light." Most of the improvisational jazz the threesome built their reputation on is MIA, which is particularly noticeable in Neal Evans's B3 keyboards moving to a supporting role. But Soulive take a step forward into the past on this retro excursion, and the impressive results should expand their audience--although possibly at the expense of some established fans drawn to the band's less structured material. --Hal Horowitz