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No Place Like Soul

Soulive

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Album Review

No Place Like Soul is Soulive's seventh full-length (eight if you count the remixed Turn It Out), and the band's debut for Concord's then-recently birthed Stax label. The longstanding instrumental trio has reinvented itself by adding a fourth member in vocalist Toussaint from Boston (former frontman of the reggae outfit China Band). On Breakout, the band used guest vocalists such as Chaka Khan, Ivan Neville, and Corey Glover to further diversify its sound, but Toussaint (son of a Baptist preacher and former church choir leader) is an equal member of the ensemble. The sound is gritty, nasty, and pumped up on most of the set's 13 cuts. While Soulive had matured in their previous incarnation perhaps as far as they were going to, the addition of a permanent singer finds them back in the cradle, learning how to rebalance their sound with an additional wheel. The results are mixed, and that's not a bad thing at all. While it roars out of the gate with the funk-drenched "Waterfall" with Eric Krasno's guitar dirtying up the joint, it's rooted more in the nastiness of Southern soul than Funkadelic. Where the vocal dredges up the grit and grease and meets the organ fills, organic breaks, and wah-wah guitar head on "Don't Tell Me," the volume (and adrenaline) rush is less effective, however, with the band's shoddy backing vocals and the instrumental rave-up so full-on it nearly feels like an organ playing with Living Colour and a different vocalist. It's got a stuttered rock-cum-New Orleans groove that feels stilted by the production, though it might work well live.

But that's the only truly misguided moment here. "Mary" works well as a ballad, with a Spooner Oldham-Dan Penn feel, and Toussaint's vocal is flawless. The B-3 swells are in the pocket rhythmically, and Krasno's blend of electric and acoustic guitars accent the vocals beautifully. But it's Alan Evans' drum kit that gives the tune its teeth. The tough funk angle works best on tracks such as "Comfort," while a deeply Jimi Hendrix-influenced vibe fuels the wildly infectious instrumental cut "Outrage." The blend of funky breaks, fat bassline, atmospheric B-3, and Krasno's killer guitar work takes this cut up into the realms of Soulive's very best material. The slow midnight funk of "Mornin' Light" features Rashawn Ross' spare but effective trumpet lines filling the space between the bubbling dub-drenched Neal Evans bassline and Toussaint's ragged vocal, which is accented by the band's backing chorus and handclaps, giving it a gospel-esque "Wade in the Water" feel — the church meets the club under a Caribbean moon. By contrast, "Yeah Yeah" is decidedly more urban, feeling more like Black Nasty with all male vocals. It's got the P-Funk-Ohio Players groove down, though its decidedly more skeletal production gives the tune its own identity.

The dub reggae flavoring here mostly works very well, especially when it's combined with the band's other strong rhythmic elements, as on "If This World Were a Song" (though Toussaint's a bit over the top in his Bob Marley phrasing, without having the same crooning vocal strength). The Minneapolis by way of Lenny Kravitz-inflected vocal soul on "Never Know" wears a bit thin as well. The other instrumental here, "Bubble," is a spaced out bit of dub-strumental rockist funk. It meanders a bit and that's a good thing, since its rhythmic lines are so pronounced and its keyboard melody so robotic. The album ends with a beautiful ballad called "Kim" (written by Evans), easily among the best cuts on the disc. The drifting cosmic guitar that is equal part Shuggie Otis and Jimi Hendrix melds beautifully with Evans' lead vocal. The man can sing a ballad, and its lithe, languid melodic six-string lines are kissed with a limber bassline and a solid backbone snare and bass tom line; with all that B-3 swirling in the backdrop, it's psychedelic soul that's both pretty and tough. If there is a problem with No Place Like Soul, it's simply the same one that has been present since Soulive started recording: they do many things very well, and these are all ambitious musicians. Therefore, they can overreach, losing some focus on the whole while trying to get the individual parts right. That only happens in a couple of places here, and as a result, this is the band's most diverse and compelling project in a long time. There's no pose here; there's ambition and creativity and soul to spare.

Customer Reviews

No Place Like Vanilla

I USED to be a big Soulive fan, but they've become just another R&B band that you'd hear down at the local club. Why add the vocals and become just another backbeat band? Where's the nasty, dirty, funky grooves that permeated albums like Doin Something and gave Soulive the unique jazz funk sound that made them good? The only good track is Outrage.

Tight, Hard Hitting Soulful Grooves

People must come to terms with the notion that one of the best things about Soulive as a band is their ability and desire to constantly reinvent themselves. This is a tight, polished album, and you can tell the band put a long, long time into making it. It is a finished product, unlike Breakout (which just felt a bit rushed to me), and most every song has its own feel and character to it. It is certainly a different Soulive than before. Toussaint is a great addition to the band (as great an addition as any vocalist would be), and he brings the energy and feel that Soulive requires out of a singer. So many of these songs have the ability to be hits, actually radio hits, something I would rarely say about this band (not that it's a bad thing). Yeah Yeah is a great old school funk song, Don't Tell Me is a soulful R&B machine, and Callin' is... well, one of the catchiest songs you can imagine. Its soaring harmonies will bounce around in your dome with little to no respite or remorse. The people who bash this album are Soulive fans who miss the old instrumental group with the horns. I used to be one of those people, but look at this product - it is a great album produced by great musicians. Amazing bands don't stay the same, they are constantly looking for new and possibly better places to go with their music. Soulive is great evidence for this point, and I respect them immensly for that. Just get it, you won't be disappointed.

Yeah..what happened to the "Bridge to Bama's"???

Yooooo...What the dah' deal is with the nu-sound of my FAV group EVER?? If I wanted a dirty version of Maroone 5, this is what i'm looking for.. I know, it's a lil' rough but, I need my "Hi-Tek remixes" and "Glad to Know Ya's", "Arruga de Agua" and "Clap!" band back!!! I'm going to reluctantly invest but, come on fellahs.. Let's get it togeher..

Biography

Formed: 1999 in Buffalo, NY

Genre: Jazz

Years Active: '90s, '00s, '10s

Brothers Alan and Neal Evans, on drums and Hammond B-3 organ, respectively, form two-thirds of the soul/groove trio Soulive. Rounding out the group is Eric Krasno on guitar. The band was formed in the late '90s when all three members were under 25. However, each already had a substantial background in the jam band scene. Alan and Neal are former members of Moon Boot Lover,...
Full Bio
No Place Like Soul, Soulive
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