Wednesday, March 3, 2010

New neo-soul (Caucasian style)

It seems that every few years there's a rekindling of the soul flame by male singers of the white variety.  I love most types of soul and r&b, whether it's the original releases by the masters (Stax, Hi, Motown, James Brown, etc), the late 70's/80's variety (Earth, Wind & Fire, Prince, Sade) or more recent artists (Sharon Jones, Erykah Badu, Maxwell).  Most, if not all, great soul, r&b, and funk has been produced by, and mostly for, a largely black (primarily Southern) audience.  (Great book on the subject - "Sweet Soul Music: Rhythm and Blues and the Southern Dream of Freedom" by Peter Guralnick).  Blue-eyed soul has been around as long as rock and roll...white artists/labels/managers would take songs originally performed by black artists and marketed to black audiences and water them down for a white mainstream audience.  Pat Boone singing "Tuttie Fruitie" comes immediately to mind - it's really awful and the clip I've seen of him singing the song is like a bizarre minstrel show.  But then there's also excellent soul music performed by white artists and not diluted at all.  The music is real authentic soul, and it's sung with such conviction that it erases any predisposed notions of who should sing what kind of music.  Steve Winwood, Boz Scaggs, and early Hall & Oates were my original introduction to this mini-genre.  More recently, both Joss Stone and Amy Winehouse both have incredible voices that are a great fit with soul music.  (Although Winehouse's producer Mark Ronson tends a bit too much toward mimickry and production tricks).  And someone named Remy Shand released an excellent neo-soul CD in 2002 but hasn't been heard from since. There's a boatload more as well, I'm just touching on a few artists.  But I digress, as the reason for this entry is that I've heard a few new artists whom have released some new music that fits the criteria: a) good songs rooted in more or less traditional soul, and b) they're white. 

Mayer Hawthorne - real name is Andrew Mayer Cohen, released a CD ("Strange Arrangement") in Sep 09.  A Jewish kid from outside of Detroit (now based in LA) he's obviously heavily influenced by Curtis Mayfield, Motown, Al Green, and more.  One can't pick better role models for this kind of music, and the disc is excellent.  You'd never know it was some geeky kid from Ann Arbor.  The band is good, and there's a few outstanding songs including "The Ills" a great Curtis Mayfield tribute/rip-off. 

Daniel Merriweather - I honestly don't get all the hype.  He's an Australian singer that hooked up (professionally) with Mark Ronson.  He sang on a few of Ronson's songs on his CD, and now Ronson has produced Merriweather's first disc.  It's ok, he's got a good voice, but the production just doesn't sound  authentic to me, although they try very, very hard.  The songs are just ok and much of it sounds just like what the NEXT BIG THING would sound like.  Overproduced and slick.

Sean Carey - I have no idea who this guy is, evidently there's another singer named Sean Carey, but that's not who I mean (if you know what I mean).  I found him while on Eric Lindell's new site, which links to his new record label, Sparco.  Which is horribly run, judging by the site.  Zero information and the links for purchasing music don't work.  In any event, they stream a few songs from the roster, and this guy sounds great, particularly the song "Beautiful Place".  The album comes out in April, hopefully the label will get it's act together to properly promote it.  They also have the new Lindell disc coming out then too, called "Between Motion and Rest", it sounds very good, much better than his incredibly mediocre last disc. 

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