Most helpful positive review
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on April 21, 2009
The Quick & Dirty:
Soulive returns with a gritty, soulful, funky musical statement that's sure to please.
After the experimentation that was "No Place Like Soul", the legendary jazz/soul outfit Soulive strips down to the basics to produce a musical statement that's as familiar as an old 12" and at the same time fresh as the sunrise.
First of all, the mixes on "Up Here" are extraordinary, taking the lo-fi feel of earlier work ("Get Down") and adding the slightest gloss to it to keep things interesting. The panning of similar elements vary from track to track, so things feel less predictable and more like each track is its own little universe. The vocal mixes are excellent, too, with Nigel Hall's work feeling like it is work that was recorded contemporaneously with Sam Cooke and James Brown. As a result, "Up Here" crackles with urgent intensity and unbridled creative energy.
The composition and instrumentation is exactly what we would expect from such a technically sound outfit: sharp, expressive, subtle and intelligent. No one overplays, and even the solos (as outstanding as they are) are kept to a minimum bar count to let the rest of the music breathe and groove. The core ingredients of Soulive (Alan on drums; Neal on bass keys and organ, clavinet and upright piano; Kraz on guitars) do what they do best: interplay, support and compliment. The extraneous elements (the Shady Horns and the afoementioned Hall on vocals) add that little extra garnish to put the project over the top. Just a really pleasing listen all around.
A few outstanding tracks are the hip-hop soul of "The Swamp", the 60's groove of "Too Much", and the slinky flow of "PJs".
That is not to say, though, that "Up Here" is perfect. While "Too Much" is a great blend of old soul, emotive vocals and thoughtful lyrics, "Tonight" shows how easily the same approach can fall flat if not executed well. With its forced vocals (someone should pay James Browns' estate royalties for Hall's plagiarism), trite lyrics and confusing phrasing, "Tonight"'s only saving grace is the groove that takes the song out.
And "Prototype", a cover of Andre 3000's outstanding song from "The Love Below", is uncharacteristically mediocre. Soulive's rendition doesn't take anything off the table, but doesn't bring anything to the table, either. What made Andre 3000's version work was the simple approach: sparse hip hop drums, flowing bassline and the laissez faire, proudly imperfect approach to the vocal work (a la The Ohio Players' Sugarfoot). On Soulive's attempt, the drums drive, but are reverb-heavy, so you lose the crispness of the groove; Hall's vocals are a little weak and vibrato-heavy in the falsetto range; and towards the end the song gets a little muddy, but is rescued by Kraz' flowing solo into the fade. Yes, it's different, and I would rather not have a carbon-copy done when it comes to covering existing compositions, but I was expecting something more, something greater.
The Bottom Line:
Self-produced and recorded, "Up Here" takes a familiar formula (tight arrangements, energetic delivery, amazing solos) and seasons it just right with accentuating elements (funky horn licks, a smidge of vocals), producing a well-rounded and engaging piece of work.
Welcome back fellas. We missed you.