Monday, September 12, 2011

The London Souls - Sensational Synergy

The London Souls are a much needed breath of fresh air. For much of the last few years, most everything I've been writing has been in regards to bands and artists that have been around for nearly as long as I have. This New York City three piece writes cool songs, sing well, play the hell out of their instruments, and sound as if they spent a great deal of time diligently working out arrangements for their excellent debut release.

Led by guitarist/vocalist Tash Neal, the band plays like they've not left the rehearsal studio since they met. Joined by the incredible Christ Saint on drums, and bassist/vocalist Kiyoshi Matsuyama, The Souls are a tight, and exceptionally dynamic aggregation. They spent three years gigging before they laid down their first long player, and it shows. Recorded at Abbey Road Studios by Ethan Johns (yes, that would be Glyn Johns' son - yes, Glyn Johns, who recorded and engineered The Who's Who's Next), the record is a wonderful reminder of the studio's grand history, yet is completely contemporary in tone and mood.

The London Souls - what an appropriate moniker for a bunch of upstarts that sound as if they were nourished and nurtured by the voice of Stevies Marriott and Winwood, the guitars of the James -  Hendrix and Page, and the rhythm section of the aforementioned Who.These boys destroy the faux posturing of so much fake reverence for vintage rock that appears these days, and show how to properly pay homage, without being some mass marketer's transparent puppet. This is no phony fantasy, this is real rock.

She's So Mad opens the record with a holy communion of Zep-like riffery married to little Stevie Winwood's childhood glory, I'm A Man. They push and pull the beat around as if they defy it to get out of control, with bassist Kiyoshi, and drummer Saint jousting to see who can do a better job of keeping Tash on his game. It's a glorious mash of classic rock that suggests what The Yardbirds may have accomplished with decent sonic capabilities. Tash Neal doesn't have amazing chops, but what he brings to the table as a guitarist is an incredible knowledge of rock history, and taste. You'll find yourself smiling and happily agreeing with the choices he makes throughout the record.

A swaggering rock intro rings is Someday, before Christ Saint arrests the beat and slides into a ska-scape that has Neal loping through the first verse, only to return smartly to straight swagger for the pre-chorus and refrain - these guys play it as smart as a Brooks Brothers suit on Wall Street. These arrangements are so good they piss me off. So young, so good. I bow in gracious appreciation.

If Curtis Mayfield had ever written a song with Sir Paul, the result surely would not have been far from She's In Control. The walls of Abbey Road surely shuddered with a nod to the past when this bassline was laid down. Did the studio bring on this Taxman re-write, or did these guys bring it with them? Either way, it sounds great, as they obviously borrow, but without being crass - they do it right, and add lots of their own artistry - Christ Saint is the best new drummer I've heard in ages, and he excites me tremendously. He is a fabulous dervish of energy and creativity.

This bunch clearly have worked their collective asses off to keep things interesting, and moving. Parts and song sections combine elegantly and sympathetically - Future Life winds through change after change without ever tripping, or sounding stilted - it breathes as it strolls by, including some wonderfully complex vocal sections and harmonies.

Old Country Road comes out choogling, with a loving nod to Fogerty's CCR, but they only suggest the past, never quoting, only paraphrasing. This song swings and struts like crazy as again the rhythm section is once more magical - these guys play with time like they own it. They manage to sound casual as they display musicality far beyond the reach of normal mortals.

The ghost of McCartney past again raises its head on the wistful acoustic number, Six Feet. From the fingerpicked underpinning to the loping bass line, this wouldn't sound at all out of place on an early solo Paul outing, with a happy dose of Ronnie Lane's days in The Faces thrown in. Even here, Saint and Kiyoshi never let down their guard for even a single verse. You won't find a single tune on this disc with a static, staid rhythm.

A great mixture of Southern soul and 70s stadium rock is up next. Stand Up shows signs of the righteous soul poetry of James Brown and the grandstand antics of Grand Funk Railroad. Cool twists and turns have this one whipping around like an amusement park ride. Tash Neal rips off some really greasy leads and fills as he keeps abreast of Saint's stop and go drum display - this sounds like a lot of fun was had in the recording of this romp. Nothing tentative to be found here, The London Souls strut.

Sequencing an album is hard work. When to speed up, when to slow down, when to not break a mood, when to break up a mood. Between producer Johns and the band, they pretty much nailed it. This record flows so easily that if you told me that this was a band that had been making records for twenty years, I would not doubt it for a second, or bat an eye. I truly love being this jazzed by a new band - great stuff.

Tash Neal is an incredibly musical individual. As a guitarist he relies on smart changes, slick double stop fills, and an admirably encyclopedic knowledge of rock guitar history. He's learned all the lessons and assimilated them into a unique style which never sees him succumb to overindulgence. His vocal prowess is equally skilled - he is melodic and clever with his phrasing - he's no belter, never gonna be a Plant, or a Daltrey, but he's a great songwriter who delivers his message with creativity and confidence.

His playing and singing on Easier Said Than Done is a grand example, as he plays killer rhythm and sings a melody that is both catchy, and intelligent. When he gets to the bridge, he introduces an change in tempo and interesting melodic chord changes that suggest he's listened to his share of XTC and Cheap Trick - this is good, good songwriting. He breaks it all down with a reprise of the chorus that becomes pianistic and choral before he whips the tune back into his rhythmic intro and a stutter stop ending.

I Think I Like It brings the band back to bombastic rock before slowing down for an impassioned verse with call and response vocals that are instantly endearing and will have you singing along whether you intend to or not. Nash tears it up with a brief, slashing solo, then the band rejoins with a refrain that rides out the tune. This is certainly to be sang by audiences for a long time to come.

Abbey Roads raises its history again as some Sgt. Peppery keyboard flourishes appear on Dizzy, another slice of pop/rock that sees Christ Saint worship at the alter of Keith Moon - this guy is the coolest rock drummer to come down the pike in a while, and is alone worth the price of admission.

The album wraps up with a couple of arena rockers, Under Control, and The Sound. The latter may just be the coolest track on the record, with more call and response vocals from Tash, and Matsuyama, and some stunningly sweet and clever harmonies. I can't say enough about how impressed I am with the time they have taken to put together an album that could have easily ridden on the strength of the songs alone -  but this crew went way above and beyond what has become acceptable, and have delivered an album worthy of the grand room in which it was recorded.

A stunningly good debut, and a band that is going to be one to watch. Buy this today! 

1 comment:

Steve Hymer said...
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