Maybe we’re getting in synch. Familiarity is certainly not breeding contempt though.
In the last three months, twice I’ve pre-ordered an album from Rough Trade only to later find out it is an album of the month. It was the heartbreaking majesty of The Imperial by the Delines in January. This month, it is Durand Jones and the Indications second studio LP, American Love Call.
There’s a commonality between the two records. They both take a recognisable genre of African-American music that is universally recognised, (R&B/Soul) and apply their own take on it. They are both records of immense integrity and quality.
And yet there’s a gap in terms of the appreciation of Durand Jones that some of this blog’s followers acknowledged when I posted about their instore a few weeks ago. They all recognise it is their problem, not the band’s. It is more about the genre. For some reason, soul music is often seen as being stuck at a point in time (the mid to late 60s to be accurate), when it is done with the authenticity and verve with which the Indications carry it off. Excuses get made that don’t regularly get made with other genres of music. I think it may be that for people of my age (just over 50 if you are asking), soul music was omnipresent in our upbringing.
Needle In A Haystack got played at the school discos. Nick Kamen took his jeans off to the sound of Marvin as the claiming of music by corporations took a grip. The 80s UK megastars like Phil Collins, Rod Stewart and Paul Young covered Motown classics with varying degrees of success. As a white boy becoming a teenager in the West Midlands in 1980, the feelgood attitude and emotional associations with Motown, Stax, James Brown, Young Americans, the Commodores, Earth, Wind and Fire – they were all there.
So I’d suggest that you put aside the preconceptions about the proximity of the sound to the originals, in much the same way that you put aside the sound of the Byrds when you first heard REM, T-Rex when Shakermaker came on the radio or XTC when you heard Blur. Just because you’ve heard something similar before doesn’t mean you shouldn’t hear it again.
Because if you don’t put down that baggage, you are going to miss out on one of the best, instantly enjoyable, refreshing albums that you will hear all year.
The first thing to say is that American Love Call is clearly a development on their first record. Whilst the debut was succinct, a couple of songs felt slightly undercooked, more a groove that fully formed compositions, the final song Tuck’n’Roll being the prime example.
American Love Call has more songs, is longer but is also leaner and sharper. It is broader lyrically with opener Morning In America, a commentary on post-MAGA Trumpian USA, a walk through a cold Detroit morning. There is a broader sonic palette too. which is already evident in the first track – the use of a string section, a fuzzy Ernie Isley style guitar solo.
I’m conscious that I’ve focussed on the nuts and bolts of the album – the instrumentation, the lyrics, the soul template. What I haven’t touched on is how the album makes me feel. If we take the second track and lead single, Don’t You Know, I’m swept away, visualising a soul revue with drummer Aaron Fraser’s falsetto leading his bandmates as they hot step in the background, swaying and finger snapping. The dubby echo of the opening refrain leads into the light as a feather chorus that had me sliding across the kitchen floor, spirits lifted.
The album inevitably has a familiarity about it but the sheer variety of the r’n’b/soul styles covered means that it is always engaging. You’ll be singing it in the shower, whether it is the silky Circles, the feelgood Find My Way Home or the heartbreaking doo-wop of the closing True Love
This month’s bonus material is a CD with demos of Circles and Don’t You Know (coupled with an instrumental version) plus an instrumental version of Walk Away. None of them is what you would describe as essential but when comparing the instrumental versions with vocal tracks, the lushness of the strings, brass and woodwind sections come to the fore and demonstrate the skill in Aaron Fraser and J.B. Flatt’s arrangements. Walk Away, in particular, takes on very much an Isaac Hayes/Stax vibe that lies below the surface of the album track.
The band told me when I caught them at Rough Trade in January that they were planning on returning to the UK in the summer with a fuller backing set up, horns and possibly even strings. Make sure you don’t miss out. I’m sure it will be something special.