2015-09-03 / Arts & Entertainment News

New soul

The next generation of singers keeps the emotion strong


It might not be played as much on the radio nowadays, but musicians — and listeners — are still lured to it.

As long as people possess a heart that can break and emotions that run deep, there will be soul music.

Think of James Brown down on his knees, begging, “Please, please, please.”

Or Al Green wailing about how he’s so tired of being alone, and won’t you help him, girl, soon as you can.

There’s a new generation of singers performing soul music, and the emotions are still as raw.

Here’s a look at some who have released albums recently.

¦ An Oakland, Calif., singer who calls himself Fantastic Negrito has put out an eponymously named five-song EP.

If you call yourself Fantastic, you better be.

So is he? Yes — and incredible, amazing and mesmerizing, too.

I’m hooked on Fantastic Negrito and can hardly wait for a full-length album to be released.

In his song “Lost in a Crowd” (which was the winner of the 2015 NPR Tiny Desk Concert Contest, but unfortunately is not on the EP), he sings, “There’s no tomorrow/It’s here, it’s on.”

And that’s how he approaches each song. As though this very moment is all he has, he sings with a desperate urgency, like a guy grabbing you by your lapel and pleading, “Listen! I have something important to tell you.”

“An Honest Man,” the first song on the EP, opens with melodic moans that sound like a chain gang. “Night Has Turned to Day” has a gospel sound, complete with piano, percussion, tambourine and clapping: “I feel so good! Night has turned to day!” he sings. It’s a song of redemption, of second — and maybe third, fourth and fifth — chances.

St. Paul & The Broken Bones 
COURTESY PHOTO St. Paul & The Broken Bones COURTESY PHOTO Fantastic Negrito’s website describes his sound as “black roots music for everyone … blues with a punk attitude.”

¦ Gospel and soul singer Leon Bridges of Fort Worth, Texas, released his debut album, “Coming Home,” in June on Columbia Records.

In May, Rolling Stone magazine named him one of the 10 New Artists You Need to Know, saying he “sounds like Usher as a vintage crooner in 1963.” NME magazine called him “an artist to watch in 2015.” And The Wall Street Journal describes him a “throwback to ’60s soul a la Otis Redding and Sam Cooke.”

He dresses as though he’s stepped out of the late 1950s, too.

Up until last fall, Mr. Bridges worked as a dishwasher. But once record labels heard his classic soul sound, dozens of them fought to sign him.

¦ In keeping with the vintage theme, Curtis Harding sounds straight from the 1970s on his “Soul Power” album that was released in May. Offering a dozen songs in just under 41 minutes, it’s like an amalgam of what you would have listened to on the radio 40 years ago, all with a foundation of soul.

“Don’t Wanna Go Home” sounds like a British Invasion band singing a soul song, while “Surf” has fuzzy guitars and a kind of psychedelic vibe to it. “Keep On Shining” sounds like a Curtis Mayfield song with an Earth, Wind and Fire message of positivity.

Mr. Harding told SPIN magazine that, “Soundwise, it’s all over the place.” He calls it “sloppin’ soul” … because I’ve taken the leftovers of everything I’ve encountered and put it together with the music I really love to listen to, which is soul music.”

It doesn’t sound contrived, but organic. It’s a more muscular kind of soul, with some elements of rock and even disco.

Mr. Harding, the son of a gospel singer, has been a back-up singer and writer for Cee-Lo Green.

¦ Eli Paperboy Reed’s latest album, “Nights Like This,” which came out on Warner Brothers last year, is somewhat of a departure for the singer. Yes, it’s soul, but more upbeat, packed with high energy and adrenaline. You can hear elements of pop and even some Beach Boys influence in the songs.

They’re relentlessly enthusiastic, filled with hooks and catchy riffs.

Songs such as “Shock to the System” are undeniably soul, especially when Mr. Reed wails in his falsetto.

Eli Paperboy Reed 
COURTESY PHOTO Eli Paperboy Reed COURTESY PHOTO He has said he’s been influenced by the late 1960s/early ’70s Chicago soul music of performers such as Tyrone Davis and Mel and Tim (“Backfield in Motion”). But on his latest album, there’s a lot more pop than soul.

According to a note on his website, Mr. Reed says this album “had more of a pop flavor while returning the soulful roots that, to be perfectly frank, I couldn’t get away from if I tried.” He notes he’d just gotten married and was writing “the kinds of positive, fun, creative songs that reflected my mood.”

But the happy music just isn’t as soulful or raw as his previous recordings.

¦ If you’re looking for unrestrained soul, check out the 2014 full-length debut album “Half a City” from St. Paul & The Broken Bones. Wow, what a voice! Lead singer Paul Janeway can growl and howl.

This white boy looks like a high school math teacher or a stereotypical accountant, but he can sing like Al Green or Otis Redding. And if you watch his music video of “Call Me,” or caught his performance on “The Late Show With David Letterman” in January (also available on YouTube), you see that he has some pretty slick dance moves, too.

In a music video of the album’s title song, Mr. Janeway hollers like he’s in church on “Let Me Holler! Let Me Holler!” (He trained to be a preacher, but didn’t become one. And he was also a couple semesters away from getting a degree in accounting, when he turned to singing.)

Mr. Janeway’s singing is soulful and intense, full of urgency.

As he told NPR’s “Morning Edition,” “It’s really difficult for me not to sing every time like it’s the last time I’m going to be on the planet. I don’t care if we’re playing to five people or 5,000, I have a thing in my brain that clicks … it’s like I’ve got to give every possible fiber of my being into my voice when I’m singing.”

The album was produced by Ben Tanner of Alabama Shakes, the seven-piece soul band from Birmingham, Ala., that opened for the Rolling Stones twice on their recent tour. Who needs any other stamp of approval? ¦

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