Philosophical musings are nothing new in brass band music, and the debut album from the Soul Brass Band is no exception. What sets the record apart from many of its contemporaries and antecedents is the addition of numerous guest vocalists and rappers amid killer production from Galactic’s Ben Ellman, and co-producer and bandleader/drummer Derrick Freeman.
Ivan Neville sings lead on the first cut, “Open Your Eyes.” Written by saxophonist James R. Martin, Freeman and local singer/songwriter Jamie Bernstein, the tune has a jaunty, circus-like feeling with great lines such as, “Stand tall, respect your elders, ’cause it’s what you will become.” The tune goes on to name check the skeletons, those early Carnival morning harbingers of doom, and cautions, “you better check your head or you’ll be next.”
The Soul Brass Band has an interesting history. Initially created by Freeman as a fictitious brass band for a CeeLo Green video shoot, the group morphed into a real band, playing mostly cover songs. Levels is an all-original recording (save a great cover of “Ease on Down the Road,” featuring soul songstress Erica Falls, and an instrumental tune by local trumpeter Leroy Jones) that has depth, passion and yes, soul in abundance.
The group features some of the best musicians in the city, too many to name in a short review, but it is more than sufficient to say that the band’s new album features great ensemble work and strong soloing across the board. The Soul Brass Band has gelled into a solid unit with songs that will keep you coming back for another listen, and another, and another.