Archives for posts with tag: Aretha Franklin

Album Review: The Olympians, The Olympians (Daptone Records, Oct 2016)

olympians coverWhen we appreciate acts like Aretha Franklin, James Brown, and Al Green, their presence, performance, and most of all their vocals are what stand out. But pick one of your favourite tracks from that era and listen again, this time zooming in on the backing band.

Soul music demands tight performances, steady rhythms, and discerning instrumental breakouts that ebb and flow with the shape of each song. Among the musicians who created soundscapes for these legends were acts like The JBs and Booker T. & the MGs.

Happily, there are musicians today who carry a torch for impeccably executed instrumental soul. Many of them can be found in the stables of Daptone Records, ably extending and innovating a great musical tradition.

The Olympians is a project conceived by Toby Pazner, a musician in the Daptone family that had a vision for a themed instrumental album and the wherewithal to assemble the right players to bring it to life. Among them, Thomas Brenneck, whose recordings with the Dap-Kings have been churning out great instrumental music for years, including the much celebrated backing on Amy Winehouse’s blockbuster, Back to Black album (Island Records, 2006).

In The Olympians, Pazner, Brenneck, and their band have created a simply mesmerizing album. Stripped away to a core sound of soul with hints of reggae, the soundscape is the star.

“Apollo’s Mood” has an addictive rock steady groove reminiscent of William DeVaughn’s “Be Thankful for What you Got” but also features horns and organs that elevate and round out the track. “Sirens of Jupiter” is also remarkable for its use of Harp and Afrobeat-influenced horn sound against a bassline inspired by Marvin Gaye’s “Inner City Blues.” The album’s remaining nine tracks are just as engaging and widely varied.

I’ve always found that the musicianship on an album is key to its longevity. The Olympians are aptly named in this regard. Champions, all of them.

The Players (and their affiliations):

Thomas Brenneck (Menahan Street Band, Budos Band, Charles Bradley); Dave Guy (Tonight Show Band, The Dap-Kings); Leon Michels (The Arcs, Lee Fields, El Michels Affair); Nicholas Movshon (The Arcs, Lee Fields, El Michels Affair);  Homer Steinweiss (The Dap-Kings, The Arcs); Michael Leonhart (Musical Director for Steely Dan, David Byrne); Neal Sugarman  (The Dap-Kings, Sugarman 3); Aaron Johnson (Antibalas, El Michels Affair); Evan Pazner (Lee Fields); and Toby Pazner (Menahan Street Band, Lee Fields).

Related Listening

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The Budos Band, “Budos Rising,” from The Budos Band II

(Daptone Records, 2007)

 

 

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Menahan Street Band, “Everyday a Dream” from The Crossing

(Dunham Records, 2012)

 

 

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Lee Fields & The Expressions, “Ladies,” from My World

(Truth & Soul Records, 2009)

 

 

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Amy Winehouse, “Valerie,” featuring the Dap-Kings

(Island Records, 2006)

 

 

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Young-Holt Unlimited, “Soulful Strut

(Brunswick, 1968)

 

Related Reading

Lee Fields & The Expressions, Faithful Man

Soul Reviver – Daptone Records in New York Times Magazine (2008)

Album Review: Faithful Man, Lee Fields & The Expressions, March 2012 (Truth & Soul)

First, a brief history of retro soul

I started noticing “retro soul” or “soul revival” when the distinctive music from the 60s starting emanating from unlikely and modern sources. Most notably, German electronic music production team, Jazzanova, released Of All the Things in 2008 (Sonar Kollektiv). Ten days later, Seal released the aptly titled, Soul (Warner Bros.) featuring a cover of Sam Cooke’s 1964 tune, “A Change is Gonna Come,” which dovetailed almost purposefully with the Obama ’08 campaign.

Then, like a car you never notice on the road until you buy the same model, retro soul was everywhere. Hip-hop giant Raphael Saadiq had released The Way I See It (Sony BMG) the same year. Earlier in the decade, the Daptone Records label landed on us like a time machine from 1968. Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings looked and sounded like a 60s soul/go-go band with all the rhythm, horn, and sass of the best of that era.

Lee Fields & The Expressions, Faithful Man

lffmHalf a century after soul music pioneers like Ray Charles, Otis Redding, and Aretha Franklin gave us this music, Lee Fields & The Expressions have released an album that feels more real than retro.

Unlike the modern-day tributes mentioned above, Faithful Man has an authenticity in the music, the vocals, and yes, the soul. Arrangements are stripped down, tight, and unassuming. The rhythm section is solid but not overdone.

Wish you were here and the title track are painfully good. Walk on through that door is a rock-steady groove with classic studio backing vocals. You’re the kind of girl is a hit, pure and simple. All the tracks are strong and they don’t render this album a one-trick pony, unlike most genre tributes. The reason is the vocals.

Lee Fields is not just an aspiring singer mimicking a style he heard on some old records (he actually recorded his first 45 rpm record in 1969). This album is new but Lee Fields himself is vintage. His vocals take a hold of you. They evoke the yearning of Otis Redding, the faith of Sam Cooke, and the coolness of Ray Charles.

Whether you are a fan of the classics from 50 years ago or caught on to the revival in the last decade, Faithful Man will quickly slip itself into one of your musical mainstays.