“It was sad music. But it waved its sadness like a battle flag. It said the universe had done all it could, but you were still alive.” Terry Pratchett
I was lucky enough to grow up in a household dominated by Motown: Smokey and Stevie, Marvin and Martha, Levi and Leonard. By the time I was a teenager I was on first name terms with half of the back catalogue. When I turned thirteen Alan Parker’s excellent movie The Commitments had hit these fair shores and I discovered the other half of my soul family: Aretha, Otis, Wilson, Percy and Solomon – to name but a few – tore me apart.
The thrill of this music is the emotion. Heartbreak and lust twirl in ceaseless abandon. It’s all jam today and screw tomorrow. Life should be lived, not procrastinated over. These artists implore you to give yourself over to desire. For me, listening to soul music is like being refuelled. It’s the timber for my flames. The deep, abiding joy that I feel every time I hear a nailed on horn section never fails to catch me when I fall.
The abiding power of soul music is clear from the number of cover versions that have appeared. While everyone listens to the classics our modern artists just can’t resist dipping into their pool of creativity. For example, a quick google of my favourite song – the Tracks of my Tears by Smokey Robinson, fact fans –finds more than fifty different versions from the pretty good, to the slightly bizarre, to the screaming at the TV horrific.
Despite this, I’ve found original new soul music pretty hard to come by until fairly recently. However Leon Bridge’s popularity seems to have arrived on the crest of a wave featuring a bunch of pretty excellent musicians and – as my girlfriend is now officially bored of my soul soliloquising – I thought I’d throw a few out here instead.
Starting in Birmingham, Alabama we have St. Paul and The Broken Bones. This is a bunch of people who love classic soul so much it hurts. You can see it in Paul’s eyes, as he wails like Wilson and looks like Alan Carr. I caught them twice last year and while their recordings really don’t do them justice, Half The City is one of the best things I heard in 2014:
Nathaniel Rateliff has made a name for himself in indie folk circles for his heartfelt, melancholy tunage (check out the marvellous Three Fingers In) but splits his time between that and fronting the 7 piece band Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats, who have a record due later this year. They make some old-school Sam Cooke style stomps which deserve your attention:
Finally, well almost finally, Alabama Shakes have just released a brilliant record – Sound and Color- which takes a classic soul sound and throws it at some early 70’s style experimentation. Gimme All You Love has already taken over my in car listening, which has resulted in some funny looks as I scream along at traffic lights:
A quick mention, as well, for the excellent Mike Clark and The Sugar Sounds. I discovered him through one of my favourite music blogs (I am fuel, you are friends) and you absolutely check out Burn You Up, which you can get at from Blank Tape Records.
Skewed Quiff has been sitting around on its arse doing very little of late so while you wait for some new tunes here’s the first half of my barbeque playlist.