Saun & Starr - Look Closer (2015)

Saun & Starr
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Although the names Saun & Starr may be new in the modern world of R&B, the talents behind them are two experienced, longstanding performers with a special understanding of soul singing that comes across immediately—and with exceptional effect—on their debut CD, Look Closer.

The ladies bring impressive resumes covering the bases of gospel, Broadway, funk, and even club music to the table; but their clear mission on Look Closer is to preserve and magnify the pure and intense musical virtues of unfiltered, authentic rhythm and blues.

Opening with the punchy, richly accentuated title track, Look Closer is driven by an ever-tight rhythm section and fully engaged vocals from start to finish. The first tune’s assertive stance brings about a savory combination of Stax-inspired soul and southern-fried funk, with Saun & Starr’s lucid solos and harmonies fitting the sassy arrangement to a “t.”

Although the names Saun & Starr may be new in the modern world of R&B, the talents behind them are two experienced, longstanding performers with a special understanding of soul singing that comes across immediately—and with exceptional effect—on their debut CD, Look Closer.

The ladies bring impressive resumes covering the bases of gospel, Broadway, funk, and even club music to the table; but their clear mission on Look Closer is to preserve and magnify the pure and intense musical virtues of unfiltered, authentic rhythm and blues.

Opening with the punchy, richly accentuated title track, Look Closer is driven by an ever-tight rhythm section and fully engaged vocals from start to finish. The first tune’s assertive stance brings about a savory combination of Stax-inspired soul and southern-fried funk, with Saun & Starr’s lucid solos and harmonies fitting the sassy arrangement to a “t.”

Seamlessly driving into the sassy “Hot Shot,” the ladies’ conviction is sparked with a compelling storyline. “You put a line in the sand/Said I’m a big man, yes I am, cross it if you can/But all it took was a little bit of tenderness, a feminine caress/You get up, got up, and ran.” The spiffy horn stabs interspersed in the verses and the tasty percussion elements solidly enhance the fiery passages.

Showcasing their versatility, Saun & Starr slow things down with grace and poise on the lilting, Caribbean-spiced “Gonna Make Time,” and then proceed to strut their stuff on the soft-toned, reggae-tinged jam, “Sunshine (You’re Blowin’ My Cool).” Both of these selections exemplify the duo’s ability to balance vulnerabiity and strength with a down-to-earth delivery that is stylistically distinctive yet smartly attuned to the instrumentalists. Perhaps the most striking moment of proof comes via the hauntingly affecting “If Only.” The creeping rhythms, bluesy guitar strains, and declarative horn riffs all finely compliment Saun & Starr’s meditative, yet unmistakably affirmative, longing to rekindle an ended relationship.

Back on the uptempo side, the snazzy “Big Wheel” harkens back to the New Orleans stylings of Wardell Quezerge with a clever lyric about a troublemaking love hustler set against a vibrant, driving rhythm structure. “Your Face Before My Eyes,” which grooves brightly with an array of percussive touches and dynamically traveling horns, is merely two minutes long—but that’s plenty of time for the grabbing refrain and saucy, punctuated vocals to make a bold impression. As Look Closer draws to a close, Saun & Starr run out of no steam, conveying alluring passion on the pensive “In the Night” and wrapping up in a playfully refined fashion on the rollicking “Blah Blah Blah Blah Blah Blah Blah.”

Look Closer is an unaffectedly entertaining and naturally educational listening session. Producer and chief songwriter Bosco Mann has assembled a marvelously rich ensemble of musicians who are on point and thriving at all times—allowing Saun & Starr to flex their vocal muscles without the boundaries imposed by much of the programming-centered recordings that now dominate the marketplace. The thick textures of each instrument come shining through, evoking strong influences of seminal ‘50s and ‘60s R&B players while working in tandem with the duo to create a decidedly fresh energy that makes the listener feel as if he’s right there in the studio, jamming along. Highly recommended.

by Justin Kantor

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