There's nothing like a good soul band. Listeners get a deep appreciation for an outfit like Soul Talk because the self-contained band has gone the way of the dinosaur on modern R&B radio. More than one person has said that modern R&B/Soul fans don't want to hear bands. They just want singers, the argument goes. Since I'm not an A&R man, I'm probably not in a position to argue. However, argue I must. As Gary Poole, Toby Baker and Ernie McKone show on Soul Talk's self titled debut record, bands can create a recognizable and distinct sound that it's kind of hard for a singer to replicate - even if that vocalist has the most talented writers, arrangers and producers.
The fact is that Soul Talk comes from a specific place on the musical spectrum. That place is the place where southern soul intersects with funk. Listeners of a certain demographic know that sound. The groups that know how to make that sound feel familiar yet unique are the ones we remember. Soul Talk manages to do that in the only way that it can be done - good musicianship played behind songs with strong lyrical content performed by a front man who has a distinct voice. Poole provides those vocals. His raspy tenor fuses the moans and high notes of Al Green with the conversational delivery of Bobby Womack. Yet, those descriptions primarily let the listener know the tradition from which Poole comes because he's not a copycat. He comes from that place where the gospel quartet meets the Saturday night juke joint.
Equally as important is the material that Poole has to work with on Soul Talk. The group works James Taylor's classic "Fire & Rain" over by giving the song a country-rock funk sound. The feel good anthem "Really Don't Mind" has an Earth, Wind & Fire" feel propelled as it is by a funky bass line and those flourishes of brass. The high point comes - appropriately - at the mid point of the album with the mid-tempo bedroom jam "I Want It." This funky number shows that it's still possible to be sensual while leaving something to the imagination. On the other hand, the song "Free" shows that a socially conscious joint can also be fun. This is a song about breaking free from the troubles of the world when the bad news (like earthquakes, revolution and political infighting) seems to be on an endless loop. Look, sometimes we all have to break free from the mess, and that doesn't mean that we are any less committed to helping our fellow man or fighting for justice. And if you want to break free, Soul Talk wouldn't be a bad record to have when you tune out the world and turn on the CD player.
By Howard Dukes