Monday, June 27, 2011
The Soul of John Black - Good Thang
I don't like R&B, but I love Soul.
The difference? Well . . . it's soul. Soul has it. R&B doesn't. In my small, over-generalizing mind, soul is the music of musicians, reaching down deep into their inner beings to tell a story. R&B is the province of producers sitting in the booth playing with vocal effects to make a buck. You can keep your Usher's, I'll take Maxwell. Not interested in Chris Brown, I'm into Bill Withers. Don't want Beyonce. I'll take Me'shell Ndgeocello.
Actually, right now, the only thing I want is The Soul of John Black.
The Soul of John Black is the work of one immensely talented John Bigham (JB), a long time veteran of the music scene. This guy's resume is his calling card in soul credibility, having worked with and written songs for Miles Davis, played guitar and keyboards with Fishbone for eight years, and toured and recorded with the likes of Eminem, Joi, Bruce Hornsby and Ripple favorite, Everlast. And let me tell you that experience shows on this magnificent outing.
It was back in 2009 that I first heard the enormously groovy vibes of The Soul of John Black and his album Black John. Back then, I had no hesitation in labeling him a "soul savior" and hailing his album as "the soul album of the year." And wouldn't you know it, the cat has gone out and outdone himself on his newest album Good Thang. If you're taste veer towards the grand ol' days of Stax, or the truly tasty sounds of pure '70's soul, Bill Withers and Al Green with a touch of the bluesy vibe of Robert Cray, this is the album for you.
I remember a while back, I did an interview with John, trying to dig down into his influences and methods. When the interview was done I got an email from his publicity firm, apologizing --saying sorry over and over for his curt answers like:
Me: "Genre's are so misleading and such a way to pigeonhole bands. Without resorting to labels, how would you describe your music?"
John: "My Music."
Personally, I couldn't understand what they were apologizing for. I loved it! I loved the authenticity of his answers. I loved the fact that he had no time or patience for my meandering missives and instead preferred to let his music do the talking. And that's exactly what he does on Good Thang. This isn't an album of fancy production or over-the-top choruses. This isn't an album designed to become the latest craze on YouTube or whatever. It's an album of amazingly pure warmth, deeply organic, and teeming with authenticity of soul.
Good Thang is every deep-rooted soul album you loved in the seventies, given a glorious shine and freshened up for 2011. That's not to say the album is "retro." It's not. True soul is timeless, and that's what The Soul of John Black has fashioned here. An album of timeless grooves and ageless emotions. Since his last album, John went out and got engaged and had a baby, and the transformation that's had on his life is rapturous. Ignoring just-for-fun songs like "Digital Blues," and what comes across is the overwhelming theme of the album: how John found contentment in this sometimes cruel, not always fair world. He's loving his family, loving his life, and that joyous flood rains over me like water to a man dying in the desert. This is an album of joy and love, and really when was the last time you found one of those that didn't reek of being contrived?
Not here, John's passion and "life is good" emotion fills every groove of this album. Forget anything else you've heard, this is the feel-good album of the summer in the truest sense of the word and it's just begging to bring the groove to your backyard BBQ or warm summer night of lovin'.
Song's like "Good Thang," and "Strawberry" elevate with the thrill of a man fulfilled with the woman in his life and the family he's creating. Honesty here. True honesty. Whether played over a deep, retro-Al Green groove or played with a loose strung, backyard blues vibe. It's real, and that's all that matters. Other songs, like "Digital Blues," or the massively funky "Oh That Feeling" keep the energy flowing and the butts ready to shake. Throughout, the guitar work is perfect.
But I'm not going to go into each song here, and I'm not going to describe the guitarwork. Really, if you dig old soul and blues, you owe it to yourself to explore these veins. But no review of this album could be complete without a special nod towards "Lil' Mama's in the Kitchen." This is the story of John waking up one day and staggering out of bed heading towards the kitchen. He can smell the coffee brewing as he peers around the corner and see's his lady making breakfast. There, he pauses. Not to interrupt her, but just watches. In that moment, everything crystallizes for him, everything about his life, his woman, his new baby. His newfound joy for life.
It's such a moment of honesty that it nearly took my breath away. His words are so clear I can almost smell the coffee and the bacon, see the baby perched up in the high chair in the corner. He's watching her "in her family way" moving about, drifting from the stove to the refrigerator and suddenly it's so clear what he's working for. What each song he writes is for. What all the struggle is about. There's nothing contrived here. It's a man in love, determined to make the best of himself he can for his family. He's watching his woman doing the most routine thing in the world and he's falling in love all over again. He's "feeling good today" and damn . . . so am I. Just hearing this song shot me immediately to all the times I just watched Mrs Racer sleeping with that little smile on her face, or dancing, or laughing at some horrible joke on television. That's what love is all about. Not the grand gestures, but the littlest moments.
Ok, enough proselytizing. But really, when is the last time you heard a song that made you feel something that powerful in your own life.
And that's why I loved my "silent" interview with The Soul of John Black. He really didn't have to answer my questions, and I really didn't have to ask them. We just needed to let the music do the talking.
Buy here: Good Thang