Sunday, March 29, 2009

New Old Souls

Soul music aficionados will welcome the arrival of a trio of new discs that all uphold classic soul traditions. In fact, these three discs - The Revelations’ Deep Soul (, Black Joe Lewis and The Honeybears’ Tell ‘Em What Your Name Is ( and Naomi Shelton and the Gospel Queens’ What Have You Done, My Brother? ( - provide a full weekend’s worth of soul-filled listening.

Friday night belongs to the Revelations. This Brooklyn-based sextet serves up seductively smooth soul that’s seasoned with some street grittiness. Although the savvy band lays down “deep soul” grooves, the key to the band are its singers: lead vocalist Tre’ Williams’ silky urgency couples wonderfully with his supporting singer, Rell (a one-time Roc-A-Fella artist who also penned Usher’s hit “Here I Stand”). The band’s budding magic percolates throughout this disc, from the dynamic leadoff track “Stay Off” to the timeless vibe of “Everybody Knows” and wrapping up with the potent one-two punch of “Heavy Metal Blues” and the Curtis Mayfield-flavored “He’s A Hustler.” There are only seven songs on Deep Soul, although the band goes on to slow jam into the night with a full set of instrumental renditions to fill out this disc.

If the Revelations establish a mood for a romantic Friday night, then Black Joe Lewis cranks out party music for a raucous Saturday night. Lewis’ inspiration is James Brown, and he doesn’t really try to disguise it. (he thanks Brown is the liner notes). His supercharged debut disc explodes with his band’s blast of JB-like horns and his own Brown-esque grunts and shouts on the fiery opening tracks “Gunpowder” and “Sugarfoot.” But Lewis and his Austin-based crew are too wild a bunch to be mere Brown knockoffs. He spins a funny tale of a ladies’ man’s comeuppance in the funky “Get Yo Shit’ while he’s just as convincing showing less bravado on the gritty “I’m Broke.” But the rowdy workouts like “Big Booty Woman,” “Bobby Booshay” and “Boogie” rule the day here, and give Lewis the chance to showcase his electric guitar chops too. Although he doesn’t fully escape Brown’s shadow here (you can visualize him dropping to his knees ala Brown during the closer “Please Pt. Two”), Lewis definitely puts on a captivating, attention-grabbing performance here.

After all of Lewis’ ribald ways, it’s only natural to turn to some Sunday salvation. And that’s when it’s Naomi Shelton’s time. This Brooklyn singer provides a splendid bridge between soul and gospel. While her inspiring music speaks to God, it isn’t strictly gospel music. The sixty-something Shelton sings with a commanding, suffer-no-fools voice – something like if Tina Turner had stayed in the church and not ended up playing arenas (although the opening song “What Is This” makes one think that it’s something Dylan might have done). The playing here is the most restrained of these three discs, but it’s expertly done (performed by various Dap-tones and ex-Wilson Pickett sideman Cliff Driver). And her backing singers, the Gospel Queens, sound like they could have walked right out of a Brill Building session. This is just a glorious disc, populated with memorable tracks like the revival tent rouser “Trouble In My Way”, the politically charged Am I asking Too Much” and the moving cover of Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Going To Come.” Daptone Records, who has already introduced the sensational Sharon Jones to the world, has found another soul-stirring singer in Naomi Shelton.
Show all

Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Hot Panda Experience

Looking for the next “hot” band? There’s already Hot Hot Heat and Hot Chip. Now welcome Hot Panda. They come from chilly Edmonton, Alberta, although the band’s co-founders Chris Connelly and Maghan Campbell apparently drew musical inspiration from their time living in Oslo, Norway.
So, what’s the sound? It’s a giddy, rapid-fire pop-rock. A bit New-Wave-y, but they aren’t afraid to bash away at their guitars either. Nor are they afraid pick up an accordion, glockenspiel or kazoo. It’s the type of dial-a-style, ADD rock that their western neighbors in the Vancouver scene (think the New Pornographers) dish up. But also add in a dose of the cheeky, chant-y UK punk-pop of groups like Los Campesinos and Johnny Foreigner, and you get a sense of where Hot Panda is coming from.
Their thoroughly delightful debut disc Volcano…Bloody Volcano came out in February on Mint (home to other off-kilter Canadian banks like The Buttless Chaps, Immaculate Machine and Young & Sexy). It’s a disc that I’ve returned to frequently over the last couple months. Volcano’s a zippy joyride through Connelly’s odd tales navigated through the twisty, bouncy melodies. Kooky, catchy tracks like “Cold Hands/Chapped Lips,” “It’s Worth Eight Dollars,” “Afraid of the Weather” and “Whale Headed Girl” all stick in the synapses.
I went to see them at their L.A. debut at the Mint on March 25, and they were just as winning live - full of goofy humor, joyous playing and herky-jerky rhythms. Singer Connelly might be a bit of an acquired taste with his slightly theatrical, sometimes-yippy-sometimes-adenoidal croon, but he never tries to be too serious which makes him more endearing than annoying.
Their spirited, crazy-quilted pop-rock sound makes them a band to keep an eye on.