The whole rap / hip-hop / jungle thing pretty much leaves me cold. Though I like musicians like Goldy, I'm dumbfounded Prince is so highly regarded when his material is hideously cliche and thin…despite its overproduction. Yet even Miles loved his stuff, so who am I to bitch? I guess. Nonetheless, most of these slide-rule music ventures are as wooden and shallow as ten board-feet of cheap planking (getting an idea where this review is heading?). Having grown up with Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, the Temps, and then the side-genres of funk and all the rest, I don't see the old and modern forms being brought together very well nowadays. Obviously, I'm in the minority here, as the stuff sells like mad but so did Liz Phair and look at how bad she was…and is.
Laura Reed wavers between two worlds, and that's not the best thing for an audience—or several audiences. The first two cuts are thin as hell, but Praise You, for instance, has distinctive soul bases and works as a mellowly reflective piece. Gotta Pay the Man manages to somewhat rescue its own simplistic ostinato but falls prey to the insufficiency of the device to act as a backbone for the cut. What's actually working there is the great organ thrown in by Ryan Burns, and that's the real story to this disc: some of the components are great but they don't really fall together nearly as consistently as they should.
The pasted-together approach seems to be attractive to younger chartbound ears but it leaves me a trifle mystified. Is full coherency a detriment now? On the other hand, the jazz elements in cuts like Well succeed very nicely, almost fusiony, and with definite reach-out, Reed working her voice in tandem with the band, integrating deftly. Part of the problem, thus, may be the live aspect and an inability to studio-finesse things, might even be that the ensemble was too impromptu to groove fully. Hard to say with certitude, though I suspect it's a combination of everything all at once.
The DVD, however, starts well into the CD's menu, when the ensemble has established an infectious Earth, Wind, & Fire vibe. On the other hand, it also explicitly reveals that Reed's guitar playing is confined to one extremely simple barre chord sliding up and down the neck. Hm. Then there are her didactic interludes and pontificating intros to songs such as Forces at Play, another jazzy cut, this time with great slide from guest Silas Derocher (and if Reed's the band's regular guitarist, as the credits seem to indicate, the band's in big trouble). Unfortunately, Why Have a Frown sidles up and breaks the ambiance. Especially here, Reed's stage moves seem forced and pretentious. The girl has a very good voice but the attitude doesn't gel at all. A generational thing? Perhaps. There's a lot of bullshit attitude in Gen X musics, so it may be appropos for all I know, but that would only bind it to a smaller demographic, which I suspect is not the ensemble's intent.
In other production hands, this could be a very tight presentation, and Reed might be belting it out with all the soul in her voice, but the present game plan hamstrings her. The market and competition—not to mention critics—are too unforgiving of such things. In sum: too much TV and MTV BS, not enough real soul. Better luck next time. Meanwhile, if it's soul music you truly want, stuff that will make you remember when the genuine article was around, now funked up and with a righteous stank on it, listen to The Soul of John Black (here).
Track List: CD
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2009, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
This review may be reprinted with prior permission and attribution.
Website design by David N. Pyles