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The problem with soul music, especially music that you see nowadays marketed as soul music, is that it is often soulless. Slick, well-packaged R&B groups equipped with multi-million dollar backing tracks have usurped the positions once held by musical pioneers like Otis Redding and his legendary backing band, Booker T and the MGs.
In that sense, the latest release from San Francisco's Lord Loves a Working Man is the ultimate soul throwback. With a sound rooted in classic recordings from decades past, the group's eponymous full-length release reaches back and attempts to reconnect with the source of soul music. It's like a seance with dancing, and if you listen closely you can hear a little bit of everyone in there: some James Brown here, some Al Green there...
Led by Max Baloian, a Fresno native, the 9-piece group recorded the album last January in Friant with local producers Nino Moschella and Thomas Delgado. The resulting recording is a surprisingly honest representation of the stirring performance LLAWM served up at Fresno's Full Circle Brewery during the same month.
A mixed bag of originals, obscure covers and instrumentals, the album has a nice momentum to it, from the opening lines of "You Threw Out Your Lifeline" to the epic horn interplay in "Make It Real", it is full of dynamic grooves and raw energy.
Part of LLAWM's charm is how closely they manage to stick to their mission of revisiting 60's era soul without letting it get stale. On the more frenetic instrumentals like "New Hat," the group is channeling Muscle Shoals era R&B, but it doesn't sound like they are playing a style of music that is 40 years old. They could just as easily be referencing "Where It's At" era Beck.
With the spotlight focused upon their collective "soul mission," it's pretty easy to forget that LLAWM is also a great group of individual players. They have the good sense to lay low when vocalist Ben Flax delivers his lines, but also manage to execute savvy solos and dynamite intro riffs with precision. Especially the hot and squawk-filled lines saxophonist Jason Ditzian lends to the aforementioned "New Hat".
On the ballad "I'll Make It Up To You", keyboardist Rob Reich accompanies Ben Flax's plaintive vocal with lush chords and counter-melodies that draw the tune towards its scintillating climax.
The arrangements on LLAWM's record, the bridges, tones and melodic elements, are sketched with an uncanny precision by the group. They invoke the spirit of old soul music in a respectful and playful way. And in an era where most folks are focused on the "next big thing", it is good to see there are some kids still kicking around the old ideas and keeping them fresh.
Information about how to purchase Lord Loves A Working Man's new album is available at their website, www.lordlovesaworkingman.com.