Artist: Nicole Willis And The Soul Investigators
Album: Keep Reachin’ Up
Label: Light In The Attic
Quality: FLAC (tracks+.cue)
Feeling Free [3:37]
If This Ain’t Love (Don’t Know What Is) [3:29]
Keep Reachin’ Up [3:24]
Blues Downtown [5:13]
My Four Leaf Clover [2:53]
A Perfect Kind Of Love [4:01]
Invisible Man [3:00]
Holdin’ On [3:37]
No One’s Gonne Love You [6:06]
Soul Investigators Theme [2:43]
Third solo album for a singer who spent much of the 90s dropping guest vocals for The The, Deee-lite, Leftfield and other acts, and it’s soul music with decidedly classic-sounding arrangements and production, mature compositions, and ingenius string orchestration.
My knee-jerk reaction to the music on Keep Reachin’ Up is to call it retro soul, and to a degree, that’s quite accurate. It’s soul music with classic-sounding arrangements and production, but the maturity of the compositions and the ingenuity of the string orchestrations that adorn several of the songs make the retro tag feel unnecessary. Really, this is just plain good soul music that touches signposts from New Orleans to Memphis to Philly to Detroit.
This is solo joint #3 for Willis, who spent much of the 90s dropping guest vocals for The The, Deee-lite, Leftfield and other acts. She has a classic soul voice, sweet and cool but capable of rising up for a good wail when the song needs it. Where, for me, her first two records suffered a bit from their sound, this move to raw, funky immediacy and old-school economy works beautifully and lets her voice fulfill its potential. The Soul Investigators, who are largely responsible for the shift, hail from the soul Mecca of Finland, as does the Pekka Kuusisto String Orchestra, which injects a flash of silver into some of the records’ darkest corners.
The Soul Investigators must live and breathe old soul and funk 45s, because they’ve internalized all of the tropes and elements of the music to the point where they’re able to invent new things with them. Drummer Jukka Sarapää holds a steady groove the whole way through, and the guitar, bass, and organ leave lots of room for Willis and the horn section, which includes Willis’ husband, Jimi Tenor, on several songs. The record’s opening salvo, the exuberant “Feeling Free”, is sublime, building a driving beat around a repeated pizzicato string figure. “I’m lovin’ this music/ I’m feelin’ free,” sings Willis on the swirling chorus-it’s a well-traveled “weekend is for parties” theme, but Willis, who writes all her own lyrics, puts a nice spin on it.
by Joe Tangari