Tag Archives: Soul music

Bringing Soul Back – David Lee

21 Dec
David Lee with his mentor, Willie Mitchell

David Lee with his mentor, Willie Mitchell
Photo by Antoine Sanfuentes

Willie Mitchell knows soul music. In 1969, a little known R&B singer named Al Green came into contact with Mitchell after struggling with his first release. After hearing Green’s voice, Mitchell quickly scooped him up as a vocalist. His instrumental piece of advice? Find your own voice. Be unique.

David Lee is unique. Born in South Korea in 1986, Lee and his family moved to Virginia when he was eight. After voraciously diving into new music, Lee borrowed an acoustic guitar from a friend and played it until his fingertips were frayed and the guitar was worn. He devoted his time to writing and recording several songs, but, like Al Green, he had difficulty defining a sound after years in the studio. Enter Willie Mitchell, who almost 40 years after discovering Al Green, was inspired by Lee’s smooth voice and perspicacious sense of melody. Mitchell took Lee under his wing as one of his last projects before his death in 2010.

Without Any Guard, the culmination of five years of labor (three with Mitchell), will be released in February 2013.

David Lee’s endearing voice carries his tunes. In “Stay Away From You,” the last song on his 11-track debut, his sweet John Mayer-like croon washes over a tranquil blues rhythm. There is a coffee-shop quiescence to the track; a touching sentimentality best suited for a quiet venue. It’s an impressive song despite seeming so effortless. This is one of Lee’s best attributes. He makes good music seem so easy. And as any wise musician will tell you, this is not an effortless task.

“Happy Birthday” begins with a picked riff – comparable to a bit of a Pachelbel’s canon/Always on My Mind mixture – proceeding into the main rhythm, a toe-tapping beat. The vocals are laid-back, but they remain subtly powerful and delicate. Lee balances power and control. His singing is skillful. In the CD version of this song, Lee is joined by a chorus that echoes “don’t let your heart down” and adds even more power to the piece without ever seeming overdone.

Lee’s music is engaging, melodic, and bluesy. He is a soul singer with his roots now fully embedded into a soul culture that Willie Mitchell first thrived in more than 40 years ago. Lee is an exciting new artist, and I fully endorse his new album. Don’t miss out!

Pre-order Lee’s debut album at: www.davidleetunes.com. Follow him on Facebook or Twitter.

Top 10 of 2011 – #10: “Summer Song” by Matt Duncan

20 Dec
And it begins! The top 10 of 2011 begins with, well, number 10. The owner of this home is Matt Duncan and his infectious throwback “Summer Song.” Matt Duncan is a “sporadically ambitious nobody, reluctant bandleader, and eremitic songwriter/producer. From Lexington, Kentucky.”
Hey, don’t look at me, you see the quotes. This is the description that Duncan gives on his website. He has been in bunch of bands in Lexington over the years.  Duncan released an album/EP entitled Beacon in 2010 on the Lexington label Hip Hop. It can be purchased here for $4. He, in August of 2011, released single entitled “Summer Song.” It is free…for now. It can be listened to below and purchased, or rather, acquired here. It is catchy as hell so be warned.
Matt Duncan, while currently an enigmatic figure to me, will soon be well known. I obviously have no control over this but I do have this handy blog format to describe to you why “Summer Song” is an exceptional song that most definitely deserves to be in our top 10 countdown and on most people’s iPods or whatever music listening device. By now I will presume you have listened to the hit. Let’s talk about it, shall we.
With the rising popularity of bands like Fitz and the Tantrums, indie/soul is on the up. I personally love the Motown/soul sound and these retro performers and songs evoke doo-wop, coordinated dance moves, and names like the Four Tops and the Temptations. Music that can/will make you smile. Music that will also latch on and never let go. Seriously, you can mention “My Girl” or “I Can’t Help Myself” and the songs will get stuck in my head. Damn! “Summer Song” evokes a similar feeling. It is a fun-loving, uplifting song equipped with deep harmonies, moving horns, and even an end-of-song funk breakdown.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the band behind Duncan on this song.
Ryan Moore- Euphonium, Trombone, Evan Belt- Trumpet, Andrew English- Lead Guitar, Larry DeVivo- Mastering
I love when the impact of all can be clearly deciphered in a song. The arrangement of this song is masterful. The song begins with rhythmic snapping and some talented baritones providing this insanely catchy bass-like riff similar to the “My Girl” opening bass line. This neatly glides into the first part of the vocal. Matt Duncan’s smooth, Paul Simon-like vocal is balanced out initially by some doo-wop like back-up singers, and then by lively horns. Let me say that the bass in this song is wonderfully done. In a lively song with soul elements, an excellent bass is essential. And that bass was provided by Duncan – so were the rhythm guitar, piano, saxophone, backing vocals, and drums.
I absolutely love the beginning, and the verses, in my opinion, are stronger than the chorus. The verses transport me back to an ideal soulful late 60s scene. The chorus is well done, but the verse progression is magical. The second verse premieres what sounds like a muffled euphonium, but, it can also be the trombone. This washes over Duncan’s vocal like a warm wave or a cool beach breeze.
After the second chorus, the baritone brigade is welcomed back to the recording and it introduces my favorite part of the song. A melodious vocal harmony replaces the baritones- a cappella – jam-packed with snapping, humming and a bit of delayed overlay. Then the drums come back in and Duncan jumps into a falsetto that he holds over a funky, Jackson 5-like guitar riff that remains in the background of a horn version of the chorus and a neat guitar solo. The song ends on a perfect little twist on the lyric “Summer Song” and, just like that, summer ends.
In a way this song is a microcosm of a summer day at the beach. You ride in on the low groan of a car’s engine, are welcomed by the bright sun and sea breeze, play in the steamy orange sand and salty seawater, and then, just like that, it’s gone. But boy, it was one hell of a day – and song.
By the way, Duncan hopes to tour once he finishes his full-length so keep an eye out.
There you have it. “Summer Song” is #10. Tune in tomorrow for #9 as the countdown continues!

“Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In” by The 5th Dimension – Psychedelic Soul

12 Apr

Psychedelic soul is one of the most thought-provoking spawns of the psychedelic music movement. It initially seems like an impossible breed. Soul and Psychedelic are two different animals, right? Actually, no. Let’s break both genres down. Soul music is based in gospel and rhythm and blues. At the time of the psychedelic revolution, soul’s rhythms were morphing into the nascent phase of funk. Psychedelic music is characterized by eccentric instrumentation, keyboard and odd melody. These two genres can mesh. Rhythm and blues combined with psychedelic instrumentation form a brand of music that is fresh and different.

After Jimi Hendrix, who combined R&B and rock, added psychedelic to the mix, he proved that the two genres fit together like puzzle pieces. Other bands were inspired to take the leap into this style of music. The 5th Dimension, with strong foundations in melodic soul and pop, released “Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In” in 1969, recording a medley of the two songs that had appeared in the musical “Hair.” What came of this combination was tremendous success.

What makes this song psychedelic? The lyric fits the parameter. It is based in astrological belief and zany extraterrestrial writing is perfect for psychedelic music. Though, the lyric is not the tell-tale sign of psychedelic soul. The strong musical base beneath the heavenly harmonies fulfills the qualifications. The song is also two full parts (the first medley to ever hold the #1 spot on the Billboard Hot 100 chart), and both parts are certifiable psychedelic soul (in their own ways). Let’s discuss part one first.

Listen up to 2:18. The whistle and percussion that comes before the opening lyric provides a mystical sound that gets listeners in the mood to hear something different. The first verse is psychedelic, no doubt. It has a keyboard backing and is airy. The chorus then comes and starts moving like a R&B/Soul/Pop song. The horns and harmonies keep us in the psychedelic realm. The second verse features even stronger keyboard and whispered backing vocals that demonstrate creative vocal interplay. The song is playing with both psychedelic and soul music in the first portion. The strong soul and R&B is not really there in the first part, despite the chorus which tinkers with these elements. Then, press play at 2:18, and woah!

The bass guitar and horns drive the song into soul music. Wow. Listen to that bass guitar. What is this? This is psychedelic soul. Hear the keyboard backing turn to more traditional piano? The transition into this soul exploration is awesome. The backing harmony and horns are still psychedelic, but that psychedelic feel has been replaced with R&B and Soul and this is genius. The songs feature different strengths. The first part is more psychedelic, while the second part is more based in soul.

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