THURSDAY, APRIL 28—CONGO SQUARE STAGE, 4:10 P.M.
The Suffers, a formidable ten-piece soul gang from Houston, Texas, are having a hell of a year. Their self-titled February full-length debut album yielded showers of critical praise, invitations to perform on the prestige late-night talk-show circuit and NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert series, and inclusion on a long list of lists from the music press: most anticipated releases, new bands to watch, must-sees at festivals, and so on. The buzz is well deserved, and also a long time coming for the group; call them “emerging” on the national scale, but lead vocalist Kam Franklin and her comrades have been putting in work here on the Gulf Coast for years.
“I feel like we’re still at the very bottom of the success-level chain,” Franklin said during a recent phone call from the road. “It’s been a pretty quick ride the past year, since we left our day jobs in January 2015. We’ve been on the road nonstop and we’ve done just a little bit over 170 shows. Every time we’ve been able to do something cool, like late-night TV or NPR, that’s like a cherry on top. But at the same time, we realize that we constantly have to keep working.”
Franklin, like a lot of soul singers, got her start in front of an audience by singing in the church. Over the years, she and her Suffers bandmates—separately and sometimes together—honed their chops on a variety of styles: punk, ska, country, hip-hop, dubstep, soul and more, becoming local and regional favorites.
“A lot of people outside of Houston don’t really think of music outside of hip-hop and Beyoncé, when they think of us, but there’s a lot going on right now and it’s really nice to be a part of that,” she said.
The ten tracks on The Suffers display that simmering soul stew of influences, from taut, snappy Texas rhythm and blues to New Orleans grease and grit. The sly and saucy “Make Some Room” (“You want a michelada? I’ll mix one for you”) has a definite whiff of Meters or Gaturs on it, with its low-down bass and funky, syncopated percussion. Other songs, like the smooth “Midtown,” are glossed with a sophisticated wash of horns or bloom, like “Good Day,” with a sunny, springy reggae bounce. A sax solo on “Dutch” belies the team’s jazz chops; the wild percussive clatter and nasty guitar on the scorching “Gwan” promise that the Suffers can fire up a room. And they can: Working ensemble, the full team delivers an onstage show as dynamic as what their high-energy, sultry sound inspires on the dance floor. Check ’em out.