Rock n roll may never die, but there’s a time and a place for the more extreme varieties. Not every wedding party dance floor, to take one example, would find itself filled were a DJ to “drop” Slayer’s “Angel of Death” in between the more traditional fare of Abba’s “Dancing Queen” and S Club 7’s all time classic “Reach For The Stars”.
It’s also hard on a chap nursing a sore head on a Sunday morning to have one’s attention distracted by a Gibson Les Paul through a Marshall Stack, no matter how well played, especially when one’s full concentration is turned to keeping down the contents of the previous evening’s festivities. It is at times like these that the ERTAS turntable eschews such common noise, and craves more healing sounds.
There’s something about the laid back groove of a good soul record that hits the spot on these occasions. I don’t mean the eighties gloss of Shalamar or the soul pop of Witney Houston. Not for me either is the blood curdling, toe curling, stomach turning melisma of nineties Mariah Carey (in case it wasn’t clear from that sentence). And as preferable as the laptop soul of Sam Smith might be to the Ibiza anthems and novelty records that normally clutter up the charts, it still ain’t my bag. The Celtic Soul of early Van Morrison is a good stand-by, but if we’re listening to the Muscle Shoals house band, some Aretha or Otis, then that’s when the ERTAS ears prick up, the early morning coffee is breathed in with a more contented air, and thoughts start turning to whether a slice of dry toast might not get the morning moving with a little more gusto.
But this is a series about the best records of 2015. The Muscle Shoals house band are no longer. So it is fortunate indeed that we have the next best thing. Matthew E White’s Spacebomb Musical Collective.
Whilst the SMC might sound like they were named by some hippies after one too many LSD “adventures”, they play beautiful music and beautiful arrangements – all horns and strings, giving the song room to breathe. It’s the closest thing I have heard to those classic early seventies soul records. The Collective enhanced Matthew E White’s last album, and his latest single, the splendid “Rock & Roll Is Cold”.
Even better, the collective has found Natalie Prass. Prass is a school friend of White’s from Virginia Beach, and she lives in Nashville. Her eponymous debut LP was recorded three years ago, but has just been released this year.
Prass has a terrific voice, very simple and soft in delivery and all the better for it. Her songs are great, too, from the gorgeous “Never Over You” and “Your Fool”, to the sublime “Why Don’t You Believe In Me?” with its verse that is reminiscent of Wings hit “Let ‘Em In” but with a laid back and chilled vibe, that is, until Prass sings the stinging chorus with a hurt tone…”Why don’t you believe in me? / what did I do? / And now that you’re leaving / Because you need something new / I wish I was with you”. Ouch.
That’s enough of record reviews – just take a listen. Especially if you are nursing a morning head…