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Something To Be Said For The First Time,
This review is from: Up Here (Audio CD)
Well the "first time" I refer to is my first time listening to a full on Soulive album. That was one reason for picking this up. The other was the involvement of Nigel Hall on vocals. He's a keyboard player/vocalist who,with no intentional bragging, I must say I actually knew in his early days of performing. And quite well. But it was more giving a group a fair chance in my case. I've listened to so much funk of different types such as jazz funk,techno funk,boogie funk,dance funk and flat out funk funk. During the late 90's/early 2000's there seemed to be a particular emphasis on a type of funk that very closely followed the James Brown production approach. Not necessarily his innovative instrumentation. But more the idea that his sometimes ragged sounding productions were intentional. So the end result was a lot of bands such as Greyboy All Stars and Lettuce,early in their careers making records with a live band sound but comparatively meager production values at times. I honestly felt Soulive tended to be a little that way at times. But since funk snobbery seems almost like a contradiction in terms to me this seemed like the first album of theirs I'd want to take a look at.
And a funky album it is for sure. It's mostly instrumental and very very inventive. And since the musicians on this album never number more than five it's surprising how full the sound is. The title song and,"Backwards Jack" and "The Swamp" are particularly heavy that way. Somehow,the way the drums and guitar are played in such a way that the sound is full near the point of bombastic. Not usually the way one would think of funk,a music usually defined by breaks and rests. But the energy level is so heavy and the grooves are so strong that it hardly makes a difference. Nigel who,honestly from what I heard of him live,either was heavily directed or touched up in the studio to enhance his "untutored" vocal ability (trust me,it's true) does justice to the more "united funk" type jams such as the topical "people music" of "Too Much" and more midtempo closer "Prototype". These have more of a Tower Of Power melodic pop funk type flavor,the latter with great vocal over dubbing adding to the occasion. The crawling "PJ's" benefits from these spacey organ flourishes. Even before the advent of the synthesizer,it's amazing the level of unusual sounds a Hammond organ was capable of if played by talented people. Alan Evans takes one lead vocal hear,grunting his way through the very JB inspired "Tonight" rather than Nigel's crooning approach.
So it works more than surprisingly well. It features a band that possesses some strong first class talent in terms of funk as well as...some who shall we say aspire to be world class talent . And even on the one song I neglected "For Granted",they have a strong rootedness to their music. On that song alone it's a clear reminder of the influence of Hugh Masekela's African jazz and afro-latin boogaloo had one the very beginnings of funk in the early to mid 60's. Considering the fact your likely to find Soulive in the jazz section of a record store is also an important statement. Funk,same as jazz,stands very much on it's own as being spawned from a mixture of different musics stirred together like a gumbo. It's no irony that historically both music's have roots in New Orleans. But without getting too far off subject Soulive are one of the few bands I've heard that have played what I refer to as "traditional funk" (if there was actually be such a thing) and still allow the different musical ingredients of the "funk stew" to stand out in a big way. Very much recommended to all Soulive fans. And also I would say not too bad a way to get into them either.