Selecting the best songs from their preceding EP series and adding songs strong enough to stand shoulder to shoulder with such instant musical triumphs as “Gwan” and “Giver,” The Suffers have outdone themselves with a debut album of live, organic big band soul. With a racially and ethnically diverse 10-piece band fronted by flat-footed, alto belter Kam Franklin delivering some of the best Gulf Coast Soul in recent years, the band feels like something that has stepped out of a time warp but is also singular and fresh in its hybrid sounds of roots, soul, and rock music. Already boasting a winning combination of a talented, charismatic singer and a full-bodied band that knows how to ramp up the energy or slow drag a couple to the bedroom with ease, The Suffers jumps to the front of the line as a must-have purchase.
The band started by bassist Adam Castaneda and keyboardist Patrick Kelly set a high bar with their initial EPs, leading with “Gwan” from their 2014 Make Some Room EP. It’s tough to beat the highball energy of “Gwan” but the aching “Midtown” does so splendidly on one of the album’s jazzier and moodier cuts. Carrying you to a vacation paradise, the star bright “Good Day” transforms The Suffers into the kind of Caribbean reggae band that got every gray flannel suit in a Hawaiian shirt on their feet to embarrass themselves, but also create timeless memories. Lately, “Peanuts” has been getting the star treatment by being the band’s preferred nationally televised talk show performance piece, and it’s one of their safer and hookier tunes, though not necessarily one of their most creative. Along with the polished if slightly less memorable “Dutch” and the minimalist, but powerful “Better,” these songs serve as the nucleus of new songs for longtime fans who have already collected the award-winning Make Some Room and Slow it Down b/w Step Aside.
Out of the 10-song set, the distinction of most creative or at least most effective belongs to the four songs that first made serious impact by the Houston-based band whose unique blend of classic soul, rock, reggae, and Bayou party sounds serve as the root of nearly every track. It’s this southern fried tribal mix that propels the driving “Gwan” forward as a runaway train of percussive momentum, with its big horns, congos, and polyrhythmic drumming—a potpourri of Gulf Coast Music heritage exploding through the speakers. Led by a powerful horn section and a familiar hook, the reggae tinged “Stay” has always felt like one of the band’s signature cuts and one most radio-friendly of the set, lending itself to both AAA and UAC. Meanwhile, the cajoling invitation to “Make Some Room” has the ‘60s innocence of a Burt Bacharach or 5th Dimension song, with its rose-colored love and retro woman talk of domesticity, but the band’s intricacies behind Kam Franklin’s easy simplicity illustrate the impressive skills of Castaneda and Kelly along with guitarists Alex Zamora and Kevin Bernier, drummer Nick Zamora, and the brass of Cory Wilson, Jon Durbin, Michael Razo, and Jose Luna. For those in desperate need of a traditional, hip to hip slow jam to hold your sweetheart close to, the 7:11 tour de force of the album is “Giver.” On a lyric that’s Grade A torch song, a belting Franklin delivers her most generous, gut-bucket performance on a set that has no flaws in its vocals.
This winning, feel-good collection has everything going for it and is deserving of the kinds of accolades bestowed upon such peers as Alabama Shakes and Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings. That’s some mighty fine company for a band still making introductions around the room, but oh what a first impression! Highly Recommended.
By L. Michael Gipson