Tuesday, March 31, 2015

The Get Ahead's Volcano on CD

Retro-soul, neo-soul and soul revival are the latest tags for new musical groups that sound like they're auditioning to replace the latest incarnation of the SNL house band--big, brassy horns, heart and iron, and a big debt owed to the '70s blues-rock scene in American cities such as Chicago and Detroit. With most retro movements, the trick is to fully saturate your sound with said genre and throw in what I like to call "winks" to the audience by offering subtle clues that this is a knowing homage and not another mere cover band. Some performers--Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings immediately comes to mind--take the higher, purer road and commit to the "lost classic" motif and sound like they teleported themselves to the present from a Motown studio circa 1966.

The Get Ahead, a five-piece outfit from Portland, is a no-nonsense example of the latter--this is music meant to be experienced live and sweaty and doused with stale PBR. There is no filter, no hidden layer, that acknowledges the years since Delanie and Bonnie player at Fairfield Halls. This is blues rock that is full speed ahead and unapologetic about it.

The true virtue of The Get Ahead, and the reason why they shouldn't be easily dismissed as a party band, lies in the vocal talents of Juliet Howard and Nathan Earle. Their voices, constantly trading off with each other, have the gruff tenderness this type of hallowed music needs, and the confidence to deliver it like they've been singing together since SNL's first season. The remaining members--drummer Danny Johnson, bassist Sean Farrell and saxophonist Steve Johnson--all have that raw yet professional delivery that marks the signatures of the best session musicians from 30 or 40 years ago. They're students, and they've been studying all night. They're not zeroing in on the secrets of the universe, unless that secret is dancing and having fun with a big, happy crowd of like-minded people.

Then again, what's wrong with a party band? You need something to play at the next party, something cool and assured and genuine yet unique enough to make your guests approach you and ask, "Who is this?" Recently we had some friends over and of course I was asked to fire up the magical CCI music machine. It's something I'm hesitant to do since someone always has a lame objection to my musical choices or, even worse, they make a completely ludicrous request based on today's Top 40. Put on something universally cool such as Volcano, as I did that night, and everyone eventually trussts you and stays out of your way.

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