Water For Your Soul
Lately it seems all the great soul singers, those in the wake of American soul and R&B Motown and Aretha, come from the UK. There’s Annie Lennox, Amy Winehouse, Sade, Corinne Bailey Rae, Estelle, Marsha Ambrosius and more. And there is Joss Stone. Who has been, reportedly, dissed in her home country for speaking with suspected Americanisms. Which is ironic, given that this genre which she not only inhabits but exemplifies, is an American one. Or it used to be. But if anyone doubted for a second that Joss is the real deal (and given that she could sing next to Mick Jagger, as she did in SuperHeavy, her extraordinary collaboration with Mick, Dave Stewart, Damian Marley and A.R. Rahman, and shine resplendently, this doubt is superfluous at best), take a listen to this and be schooled on soul. She’s a singer of tremendous prowess and grace. She’s also a gifted songwriter and savvy collaborator, who wrote these new songs with several other writers, including Jonathan Shorten (who with Steve Greenwell co-produced with Joss), Damian Marley, Mark Cyril, Richie Stevens and others. “Star” is Sweetly anthemic to the star in all souls, with a happy sing-along chorus on the inspirational lyrics, “We are who we are/Love us or move on/Don’t you know that there’s a star guiding everyone?” It’s the heart message of the album, that in all of us is a timeless greatness which unifies all human souls. That unity is alive in the passionate singing, beautiful instrumental textures, compelling grooves, and soul of compassion and love. There’s even a tribute to weed, “Sensimilla,” punctures old propaganda of the past to celebrate the organic journey of focus and transcendence available in God’s herb. It is, she writes, a “holy berry” which brings her clarity, and is a “thing of beauty.” She also sings the beautiful title word with great relish, imbuing it with a Stevie Wonder-like flourish. This is a delicious journey through song by a singer of tremendous power, polish and focus. And if that weren’t reason enough to add this album to your collection, she added a bonus gift: a little card into which seeds are woven, an invitation with the words: “Once you have finished reading this note, please plant… And wait to see your beautiful plants grow. Please post a picky on my Facebook. For every 100th plant posted, I will plant a tree in your name. Let’s water our souls.” Thanks Joss. Mine is already in the earth, and watered.
Man! This is great. When it seems like nobody knows the beauty and joy in real soul and R&B, the fun and the funk, along comes Malone with a new masterpiece. It all starts with a wonderful Stevie Wonder-like clavinet groove, an echo of classic 70s soul, and we are off and running into “Certain Distance,” written with guitarist-composer Bob DeMarco. Malone has always been a great and soulful singer, in the school of Dr. John piano-based, deliciously deep groove and funky vocalists, and a remarkable keyboard virtuoso (so great in fact the greats are calling on him; he’s been bringing his distinctive Hammond organ sound to John Fogerty’s live band for years now), but he seems to have been in the songwriting zone for a while now, as these are the greatest songs he’s written. This album has everything we love about Malone – great fun and funky songs, deep grooves, manic laughter, horns, beauty and more. Of course, it doesn’t hurt at all that many of the great musicians of our time have been enlisted for the Malone superband, including legendary (the word applies to all) drummer Mike Baird, drummer Kenny Aronoff, Marty Rifkin on slide guitar, percussionist Chris Trujillo and more. He brings is a wonderfully spirited rendition of the Ray Charles’ classic “Hard Times,” with a transcendent guitar solo by DeMarco that sounds like B.B. King sitting in with Brother Ray. Malone sings the hell out of this song. “Paris” is an elegiac ballad with a melody as romantic as the City of Light itself, and with a string arrangement written by Malone himself. (Like Randy Newman and Warren Zevon, he’s one of the only songwriters who can write arrangements). “Chinese Algebra,” inspired no doubt by Tom Waits, is a fully-charged rave-up instrumental, all mind-bending pianistics and powerful joy. Another great record by Bob Malone, who has been making great records for many years. Bravo.
Every songwriter crafts songs from simple elements- language, melody, rhythm. But rare – almost unheard of, actually – is the songwriter who builds his own instruments on which to play his music. But Bow Thayer has always done things his own way, not only walking a singular pathway, but cutting that path through the woods with his own hands. His newly devised axe, the bojotar, is an inspired hybrid of electric guitar, resonator guitar, banjo and dobro, and merges the qualities of each into this new instrument he devised with Eastwood Guitars. He also built his own solar-powered studio in which he records this music. “So We Build” is the aptly-titled first single from the album, a spirited, riff-based song with a compelling, complex groove. Think of a jam between Dave Matthews, Frank Zappa and The Band – with a cameo from Bela Fleck – and you almost get the effect: virtuosic complexities from a remarkable instrumentalist – the man burns on electric banjo – (a sentence rarely written) – and is passion unbound on every instrument he touches, and every song he sings. He formerly burned multi-instrumentally
He’s that rare fusion of a roots player with experimental jazz, creating a crossbreed music which defies categorization, but not delight. He formerly lit up the night in several bands, including 7 League Boots, Elbow, Jethro and The Benders, and started the Tweed River Music Festival. But it’s as a solo artist that he’s established himself as one of genuine ground-breaker, showing us possibilities few ever suspected, ignoring the conventional path to walk instead the road of pure music, pure expression, and great power.