Chairmen of the Board - Soul Tapestry (2009)

Chairmen of the Board
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Nearly forty years after crashing onto the pop and soul charts with the hit "Give Me Just A Little More Time," the Chairmen of the Board continue to defy gravity, regularly playing to sellout crowds and recording while many of their early 70s R&B peers have long since left the music industry.  Two decades ago they became the face of Carolina Beach Music, a rollicking brand of music that mirrors the feel-good R&B of the 60s and early 70s (wonderfully captured in the group's 2008 documentary Under the Radar) and they've ridden the wave they created to continued success.

Nearly forty years after crashing onto the pop and soul charts with the hit "Give Me Just A Little More Time," the Chairmen of the Board continue to defy gravity, regularly playing to sellout crowds and recording while many of their early 70s R&B peers have long since left the music industry.  Two decades ago they became the face of Carolina Beach Music, a rollicking brand of music that mirrors the feel-good R&B of the 60s and early 70s (wonderfully captured in the group's 2008 documentary Under the Radar) and they've ridden the wave they created to continued success.

It has been four years since the group's last regular studio album, All In The Family, and fans could have legitimately thought that the act's recording days were over.  But General Johnson was positively enthused late last year when he talked to us about the songs he was writing for the group's brand new release, Soul Tapestry.  During a spell in the early 70s, Johnson was one of popular music's most celebrated songwriters, providing hits for several of the acts on the Invictus record label.  But he still had the fire, and he believed, the tunes to share, even as he and his bandmates enter their sixties.

The good news is that Soul Tapestry demonstrates that both General Johnson the songwriter and The Chairmen as a group are solid as we exit the first decade of the 21st Century.  Johnson's historic success has largely been due to his talent as a storyteller, from the now legendary child-turned-man song "Patches" to the sly 8th Day hit "You Gotta Crawl Before You Walk" (which is covered again by the Chairmen on Tapestry).  And these stories are central to group's concerts, where their multi-culti, multi-generational audience sings along with every word.  Soul Tapestry adds a few new tales to the collection, most notably "That's My Story (and I'm Stickin' To It"), the private confession of a philandering man who won't admit to an affair despite all the evidence against him.  But just as infectious are "I Go Crazy," a bouncy cut that sounds like the successor to "Dangling On A String," and the sing-songy "Beatin' the Bushes."

A bigger surprise on Tapestry is Johnson's more serious take on family and social issues.  "What's Up" is a pre-Obama rant of an exasperated man tryin to make sense of inequality, homelessness and an ill-conceived war, and "All In The Family" relies on family as tie-that-binds in a world of personal and societal failings.  Best of all is "Chances Are," a rumination of an older man who looks back at his financial and business failings, but finds comfort -- even redemption -- in the romantic love he found during his life.

Like many recent independent albums issued by classic soul artists, Soul Tapestry lacks the rich orchestration that the Chairmen would have had in their Invictus days, but programmer Mark Stallings does a nice job without a major label budget, particularly the wall of sound he establishes on "Chances Are."

It is uncertain how many people outside the Carolinas will be able to find Soul Tapestry in their local stores, but it is worth seeking out.  It is a fine disc that features the fun, entertaining sounds for which the Chairmen have largely established their legacy but also provides a deeper, more mature set of songs that make the album a sweet, enjoyable addition to an already solid group discography.  Recommended.

By Chris Rizik

 

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