Shakespeare’s Polonius advised “neither a borrower nor a lender be”; it’s not commonly known, but he also suggested that we should never trust a person who doesn’t like soul music. Polonius was of course referring to classic soul, but the maxim is equally applicable to modern soul.
On debut solo album Introducing…, Aaron Frazer (co-lead drummer and vocalist with the tremendous Durand Jones & The Indications) provides his own take on soul, commenting that he “didn’t want Introducing…to be an exact recreation of an era or a style. We have this opportunity to be inspired by and take direction from our musical forerunners, and also what’s happening now — from contemporary hip hop, from pop music”. Dan Auerbach (Black Keys guitarist, and producer, guitarist, vocalist and a co-writer of the album) fortunately had the same view, saying that he “really didn’t want to make a retro record with Aaron; I wanted it to be its own thing, have its own sound”.
Introducing…has achieved this aim; its’ twelve tracks are fresh and exciting, with no missteps (which could be easy to make given the nature of the project). Auerbach’s influence is significant; as well as producing the record, all the songs were co-written by him and Frazer, three as a duo, and the remainder by the two of them and various other writing partners – L. Russell Brown, David R. Ferguson, Patrick James McLaughlin, Paul Overstreet, Bobby Wood, Joe Allen, and Roger Cook. Auerbach also contributes guitar and/or backing vocals to all but one of the tracks.
The songs were recorded in six days at Auerbach’s antique and ephemera-laden studio in Nashville, working with a crew of distinguished session players, including members of the Memphis Boys (who played on Dusty Springfield’s “Son of A Preacher Man” and Aretha Franklin’s “You Make Me Feel Like A Natural Woman”), symphony percussionist Sam Bacco, and individuals from the Daptone-Big Crown Records universe.
According to Frazer, a lot of the songs were inspired by a healthy relationship with his (personal) partner and feeling gratitude for bandmates, family and friends. A case in point is one of the four pre-released tracks, “If I Got It (Your Love Brought It)”, which is an acknowledgment of who or whatever brings you happiness. It features a striking piano line and a great brass arrangement, with a catchy chorus inspired by a teamsters slogan from the 1950s (‘IF YOU GOT IT, A TRUCK BROUGHT IT”), which Frazer spotted on a trip to the DMV.
The music on Introducing…is rooted in soul, but with some stylistic variations and modernisation which ensures the album has its’ own original sound. It is mostly focussed on tales of love, and the album is bookended by romance. Opener “You Don’t Want To Be My Baby”, is definitively a lover’s tune. Written with veteran L. Russell Brown, who wrote hits for Frankie Valli, the track is souped-up classic soul with a striking falsetto vocal, Mellotron and strings, and an added hip-hop beat ensuring a modern sound. Closer “Leanin’ on Your Everlasting Love” is a paired-down gospel with a great guitar break care of Tom Bukovac.
Matters of the heart are a natural fit for soul, and Introducing…runs with this successfully; “Love Is” wisely suggests love is what you make it; “Girl on the Phone”, enhanced by a subtle brass arrangement and great backing vocals by Ashley Wilcoxson, laments being single and lonely. “Have Mercy” frets about taking things too fast, with an impressive falsetto vocal. The sweet and catchy “Lover Girl” adopts a doo-wop flavour to great effect.
But as the man said, some things hurt much more than cars and girls, and Introducing…has a wider vision than just matters of the heart; Frazer believes music can be used to call attention to issues of inequity and injustice, and he has in the past highlighted the work of organizations like the Poor People’s Campaign. Here, the gentle funk of “Ride with Me” is a call-out to the impoverished that there may be hope in the future. “Done Lyin” smoothly mixes R&B and Chicago steppers to reflect on friends’ battles with addiction; “Bad News” combines soul and jazz to reflect on the troubled state of the world.
The album excels when at high energy (and it’s of note that Frazer’s drumming is as commendable as his singing on the album); single “Over You”, inspired by the legendary northern soul 45’s that electrified dance floors across the UK in the 1960s, is a shake-your-ass moment, and “Can’t Leave it Alone”, melding mid-2000s hip-hop with marching band style, is a spirited on-again-off-again anthem.
The musical innovation and obvious enthusiasm in performance ensures Introducing…is a charming and engaging listen, and it’s an album that’s hard not to like, but easy to love.
Label: Dead Oceans/Easy Eye Sound
Release Date: 8 JAN 2021