If you’re like me, you appreciate it when musicians work to innovate, to come up with cool new sounds and things that we haven’t heard before. But there’s that old saying: “there is nothing new under the sun,” and that goes double for music. Even the best and most creative artists are really just synthesizing old influences in novel ways, right?
Sometimes we get movements that are heavy on the revivalist, though, and in the past few years we’ve seen a real doozy in all the various iterations of Neo-Soul. Honestly, some of the acts are ethically little more than Holiday Inn cover bands, but damn damn, damn, the best of these bands are just fantastic, even if you think you’ve heard it all before.
So today SVR would like to call your attention to the best of contemporary Neo-Soul, modern bands that got a little Motown, Stax, Northern Soul, James Brown, Philly and Dusty in their heads and liked it. Let’s start with the band that I can’t get out of my head this past week or two, LA’s Fitz & the Tantrums. Mercy, what a record. I know, they’re knocking off every single trick they ever heard, but this guy is one of the best pop songwriters I’ve tripped across in any genre in a long time, and that makes a huge difference.
If you haven’t heard of Adele yet, you will. This kid is tearing the world up right now, and it has a lot to do with the fact that she’s so completely real. Oh, and she can sing like nobody’s business – I mean, was even Aretha any better than this at 21?
The undisputed masters of hard ’60s Soul hail from Brooklyn: this is Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings.
Over on the Dusty Springfield/White Girl R&B end of the spectrum is one of my very favorites, England’s Lucky Soul.
While Lucky Soul manages to remain relatively unfamous, fellow Brit Duffy is having no such problems.
Then there’s She & Him, featuring one of the sexiest ingenue types in the world, Zooey Deschanel. Whoo – somebody get me some water.
There are some more pure revival acts that I know a lot less about, but they seem to have a following, so let’s have a listen to The Pipettes…
Nicole Atkins’ new album has sort of moved on from the retro R&B sound into areas that are a lot bluesier, but check this from her debut:
A really cool artist I seem to have lost track of is Little Jackie, whose ’70s funk-tinged pop comes with a side of hip-hip.
Let’s close it out with one of the singers who defined the Neo-Soul revival, Amy Winehouse, who in another day and age could have twin-billed with Sam Cooke. I just hope she lives long enough to give us another record.
You may have noticed that this list is pretty dominated by female artists. But not all the great Neo-Soul stuff is by women. I wish there were a video for something, anything, by Lewis Taylor, whose ’70s funk-influenced rock-pop is among the music world’s best -kept secrets, as well as the last CD from NC jangle pop/blue-eyed soul legend Don Dixon. Click those links and check them out when you get a chance.
Quick Update: Our friend Carole McNall saw this and suggested one more: Ryan Shaw. Damn.