Thursday, August 6, 2009

Review: Soulive - Up Here (* * * *)

Familiar to many but new to me, jazz/blues/rock trio Soulive are back with their eighth effort, Up Here, an exceptional instrumental (well, mostly) record that showcases not only the tremendous talent of the trio but the wealth of ideas the band bring to their music as well. The band members are Neal Evans (organ, piano, etc.), Eric Krasno (guitar), and Alan Evans (drums),though the guys collaborate to provide rich horn arrangements and a couple strong vocal performances by blues singer Nigel Hall. Tackling genres from acid rock ("Backward Jack" to soulful R&B ("PJ's), the group make Up Here thoroughly entertaining and consistently surprising while retaining a very accessible and effortlessly enjoyable style. Both fans and newcomers alike should be satisfied with this latest outing from these New York natives.

The tracks with vocals, like the so-sexy-it-hurts rocker "Too Much" and the James Brown-esque "Tonight" are great, don't get me wrong, but it's best when the trio allow the focus to remain on their virtuoso instrumentals. Opener "Up Right" appropriately gets it's name from the piano Neal Evans hammers on in between horn solos, while the guitar and percussion stay more in the background but are no less expertly played. "The Swamp" relies more on Alan Evans's drumming and "PJ's" is all about Krasno's weeping guitar, but the boys generally find a good balance, sometimes going the traditional jazz route and giving everyone a chance to shine on a single track (like on "Hat Trick," for example). This is fun, rockin' blues at its absolute best, and while there are a couple tracks that don't shine quite as bright as the best cuts, the record's 40 minutes contain no filler and plenty of killer.

I'm not much of a jazz junkie, but I imagine Up Here will have almost universal appeal, especially to those that appreciate intelligently composed and skilfully executed instrumental music. Even indie kids like me should have no trouble rocking out to this eclectic set. Eight albums in and Soulive show no signs of losing their edge.

Soulive on Myspace