It would be an understatement to say that Soul Music and House Music have not always peacefully coexisted. To many Soul purists, House (like Disco before it) was like a musical one-night stand. It often tried to capture specific pleasurable elements of Soul but ended up gutting much of the emotional element that Soul brings -- you could dance to it, but you didn't feel it inside. And it didn't help that much of House was overtly mechanical and lyrically vacuous, removing the human and spiritual elements that were at the heart of Soul.
So it was with intrigue that I popped Introducing Tortured Soul into my CD player. I was intrigued because I was familiar with lead singer Christian Urich, one of the driving forces behind my favorite new Soul/Dance group, Cooly's Hot Box, and also because of the premise of TS: Live House Music. With Urich on drums and vocals, Ethan White on keyboards Jason Kriveloff on bass, Tortured Soul's goal was to bring additional Jazz and Soul elements to House (hence, the appropriate group name), and to move the genre beyond the mechanistic and into a more interesting and listenable blend.
Make no mistake, Introducing Tortured Soul is directly aimed at the dance floor, and that's okay. More importantly, though, TS has pulled off the impressive feet of making a disc that's engaging outside of the club. First of all, the band sounds great throughout and its jazzy touches provide a nice contrast to the overly programmed, impersonal sound of much of modern dance music. More importantly, the disc is chock full of great tunes, and Urich's soulful vocals (similar in many ways to Stevie Wonder) add a warmth rarely seen in House music.
Clubs were immediately attracted to the opening cut, "I Might Do Something Wrong," but I found the next trio of cuts, "How's Your Life," "Why" and "Fall In Love," equally danceable but much more soulful and appealing. Perhaps best of all is "Don't Hold Me Down," a duet with labelmate Monet that starts like Wonder's "All I Do" and transitions into a terrific jazzy dance tune.
Fact is, much as many dance music enthusiasts may not want to admit it, Introducing Tortured Soul is a dance disc with a soulful heart, and that makes for great listening. It is also further demonstration that Christian Urich is a first rate songwriter and vocalist and, like his Cooly's partner Angela Johnson, a important young artist worth watching.
By Chris Rizik