This positive review is in no way influenced by my meeting Durand and the band after the show and him complimenting me on my Aquascutum raincoat and telling me I looked “sharp”.
Not one little bit.
The current state of gritty traditional soul is a bittersweet affair. The late career acknowledgement that Sharon Jones and Charles Bradley received was well earned and long overdue. Sadly we’ve lost both of them in recent years to illness.
All is not lost though, with the likes of Daptone and Colemine labels keeping the contemporary flame alive, with Numero Group covering the archival bases. The last couple of years has seen some fantastic albums arrive from young artists working in the field, such as Son Little and JP Bimeni, whose Free Me album was a personal highlight of 2018.
Durand Jones and the Indications are back now with their second LP, American Love Call, which is released at the start of March. Featuring the twin lead vocals of Durand and drummer Aaron Frazer, the Indications are a fresh take on the genre.
Their debut was released on a shoestring ($452 including a case of beer to be precise) in 2016 after the band had met at Indiana University. They performed as a one-off initially for fun, quickly realising that they had something special going on, some lightning to be bottled. Durand’s Louisianan church roots are evident in his vocals, continuing the lineage of classic Southern soul singers. Jones can play the saxophone too and his sense of melody is evident in the band’s songs. The rest of the band are as sharp as a nail from bassist Kyle Houpt’s cool groove and guitarist Blake Rhein’s Steve Cropper rhythm work to Steve Okonski’s mellow electric piano. The band are steeped in the tradition as Jones explains:
“Soul music’s been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. I remember being a little kid and being in my dad’s truck, and whenever ‘Devotion’ from Earth, Wind & Fire would come on the radio, he’d swerve into the left lane, then into the right lane.”
The Rough Trade gig was a loosener for the band. Their first concert of 2019, showcasing new material during a short UK tour without their horn section to coincide with the release of the new LP.
But boy was it sharp. Jones and co nailed the old fashioned soul revue. Full of personality, the two vocalists offer a unique counterpoint, allowing the band to shift between the grittier material such as Smile and Make A Change led by Jones and the sweeter low rider sound of Frazer on Is It Any Wonder and the new single Don’t You Know. Frazer is Smokey to Jones’s Bobby Womack. Whilst the sound is clearly classic, lyrically it offers up contemporary commentary. Frazer described the current state of the USA as a dumpster fire with over 75% of the population living paycheck to paycheck when introducing Morning In America. Unfortunately in austerity era Britain, many are faced with the same stomach churning lurch towards month end.
For us, the show was just about perfect, bringing deep joy to a dark chilly January evening. The highlight was an extraordinary version of Can’t Keep My Cool, the beautiful ballad from the debut album. Taking it down a notch for the lovers in the house, the performance was consummate, especially from Jones. Dropping to his knees, using huge dramatic pauses, not scared of letting silence take centre stage – this was spinetingling stuff. I swear myself and N will look back at this in years to come and say “do you remember when Durand sang etc”. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house.
Chatting to the guys afterwards, they confirmed they’ll be back in the UK for the summer and the festival season, this time with the horn section. I’d unreservedly recommend seeing them. For the feet, the heart and the head, Durand Jones and the Indications are just what the world needs in 2019.