Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Videos by American Songwriter
Why should Daptone, Eli “Paperboy” Reed and James Hunter have all the fun when it comes to churning out classy contemporary/retro soul? It’s a question Nick Waterhouse might have asked himself back in 2010. Or more likely, why can’t that pie get a little bigger with a shot of blue-eyed R&B from a West Coast bred lover of the kind of ’50s and ’60s sounds Austin Powers used to find “groovy baby”?
Nine years, three critically acclaimed albums and plenty of road work later, Waterhouse has answered that query to everyone’s satisfaction. His music finds the perfect storm where Ray Charles, the Dap-Kings and JD McPherson meet for a shimmy-shimmy-ko-ko bop combination of styles guaranteed to get any dance floor vibrating.
But lyrically, everything is not quite as rosy in Waterhouse’s world. On the hip Motown-infused “Wreck the Rod,” he croons, “Love is a trap/ Love is a lovely suicide pact” as backing singers shout “love” in staccato harmony, a King Curtis-styled tenor sax wails, and Waterhouse howls with abandon. On the slinky, stripped-down “Which Was Writ,” he sings, “I used to trust but I learned that I was wrong” over a feline walking bass, subdued guitar and backing “woo-woos.” He’s angry about televised fakers — be they politicians or preachers — on “Man Leaves Town,” a toe-tapping jazzy garage rocker with the biting lyrics “Man came to town/ came through your TV screen/ convinced you he knew just what you mean.”
There are plenty of edgy love tunes too, like the swinging “Urge Coming On,” the disc’s only cover. Here the backing singers bring the churchy Raelettes/Ikettes feel (not surprising since the song’s writer Joshie Joe Armstead was once a member of both those vocal acts) as Waterhouse goes pure Jackie Wilson. And just for fun, he adds an instrumental called “El Viv” that combines the Champs’ “Tequila” with a shot of Booker T. and the MG’s that’s as frisky and lively as watching Pee Wee Herman dancing.
Even when the concepts are heavy as in “Song for Winners,” where Waterhouse sings, “I tried listening/ tell you what I hear/ I hear no fearlessness/ only fear,” the garage-soul of the plucky “Shakin’ All Over” lick will keep you boogying like no one is watching.
It’s an all killer-no filler set that’s the culmination of everything Nick Waterhouse has accomplished for the past nine years. He might have plenty bugging him, but with soul music this joyous and exuberant, you’ll be too busy riding the groove to care.