Lucas Kellison - TYRA (2013)

Lucas Kellison
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There will be some listeners who will listen to TYRA, the latest album from Nebraskan Lucas Kellison, and they will swear that they are listening to Justin Bieber. Then, they’ll play “Wonder of the World” and they’ll realize that this ain’t Biebs. There is no way that a major label would allow its biggest star to make a record that sounds like a love letter to Ernesto “Che” Guevara, and I have to admit surprise that the tune came from an artist hailing from one of the reddest states in America. But that just proves that political science can tell you only so much, as Kellison's ancestors came to the Cornhusker state via South America.

There will be some listeners who will listen to TYRA, the latest album from Nebraskan Lucas Kellison, and they will swear that they are listening to Justin Bieber. Then, they’ll play “Wonder of the World” and they’ll realize that this ain’t Biebs. There is no way that a major label would allow its biggest star to make a record that sounds like a love letter to Ernesto “Che” Guevara, and I have to admit surprise that the tune came from an artist hailing from one of the reddest states in America. But that just proves that political science can tell you only so much, as Kellison's ancestors came to the Cornhusker state via South America.

Besides, as musical storytelling, “Wonder of the World” is a pretty solid tribute to an iconic historical figure. Latin musicians have a history of penning ballads that honor historical figures, especially if those people are rebels. “Wonder of the World” is propelled by an infectious shuffling Latin melody  and lyrics that tell the story of how Guevara was transformed from a doctor to a Marxist revolutionary. Still, making a song like “Wonder of the World” is a risky proposition, especially in a political culture that is as balkanized as America is at this moment.

That propensity to take chances on both subject matter and his choices of collaborators also separates Kellison from artists who have more risk-averse, mainstream appeal. “Take It Make It (feat. George Clinton and Parliament/Funkadelic) and “Rent Party,” another P-Funk collaboration, swim in the kind of deep funky waters where few mainstream artists dare to venture. The latter is a party anthem featuring blaring horns and a head-nodding bass line that pay tribute to those funky fund-raisers that serve as a way to make sure that the rent gets paid on time.

The young Kellison is confident enough in his vocal chops to recruit the ultra-funky Leela James to partner with on the duet “Hottest Degree.” Kellison’s smooth soft tenor serves as the perfect compliment to James’ throaty and soulful vocals. The singer also proves to be a great story teller and clever word smith on “Man Enough (to be a Woman).” The track tells the story of a man who is attracted to a spiritual, independent and strong woman, and he wonders if he has the confidence and strength to display qualities, such as sensitivity, that are often associated with women.

Kellison displays an ability to converse in a wide variety of musical styles. He dabbles in Memphis style soul on the ballad “Breathe Again,” while “Pushin’ On” is an inspirational number that melds horns, rock-styled guitars and a bouncy bass line. Kellison opens the album with the up-beat dance number “Dance Floor Genius,” a cut that finds the artist invading and successfully occupying the kind of radio and club friendly banger space that turned artists like Bieber into pop sensations.

Kellison apparently spent three years crafting TYRA, so its clear that every step on this 17 track journey was well thought out. So yeah, he might catch some heat for some of TYRA’s political content. However, there is more than enough on TYRA to prompt some bi-partisan bootie shaking, head nodding and belly rubbing. Highly Recommended.

By Howard Dukes

 

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