Catchy, Vibrant, Energetic and Polished
The Soul Rebels’ unique musical journey has mystified some, shocked others and delighted fans both in New Orleans and around the world. The band’s latest release, Poetry in Motion, continues its adventurous and very successful trek.
The first step of the Rebels adventure began when the members, including original snare drummer Lumar LeBlanc and bass drummer Derrick Moss, performed with the Young Olympia Brass Band under the direction of trumpeter Milton Batiste and the watchful eye of saxophonist Harold Dejean. Eager to get into the hot street scene created by the Dirty Dozen and Rebirth brass bands, the guys took a step away from the tradition and in 1991 formed the Soul Rebels Brass Band. The group hit hard with its anthem “Let Your Mind Be Free,” the title track from its 1995 release remains alive at second lines today. When the Soul Rebels dropped “Brass Band” from its name and in 1998 released the album No More Parades, it declared a new day.
The Soul Rebels put the spotlight on the natural brotherhood between next-generation brass band musicians and hip-hop artists in New Orleans, and has for years dug into the opportunities and possibilities that musical collaborations have to offer. These pairings with the likes of hip-hop artist Talib Kweli have become a Rebels’ signature.
That brings us to Poetry in Motion, an album that features special guests on every cut and from a wide variety of musical genres, while the Soul Rebels continue an established tradition of socially conscious messages. The album opens with that attitude on “Blow the Horns,” which celebrates the Rebels and the payoff the band enjoys for its hard work. Featuring trumpeter Julian “Passport P” Gosin and trombonist Corey Peyton on MC vocals, it stands out as one of the tunes that brings contemporary R&B, hip-hop and horns together, a blend that’s become so prevalent today.
The fun “Down For My City” is all about positive vibrations and the love for New Orleans that opens with the lyrics “Ain’t no city like my city,” with a whole array of guests, asking “What kind of city has…? with the blank filled in with such Crescent City specialties as the Saints, the culture, fried chicken and tomatoes, keeping the beat with a bottle and drum stick, and its 17 Wards. Those featured on this swaying pleasantry are equally iconic including Emeril Lagasse, Trombone Shorty, Kermit Ruffins, Mannie Fresh, the Citywide Youth Choir and more.
Sophistication also finds a home on Poetry in Motion on such tunes as “Slide Back,” that features keyboardist and vocalist PJ Morton with the Soul Rebels acting—as the band often does on the album—as a backup horn section. Even modern jazz man Branford Marsalis gets into the action by adding a sax solo to the instrumental “Rebellious Destroyer” that includes the soft keyboards of Brandee Younger.
Fans of reggae should dig “It’s Up to You” that rhythmically and lyrically encourages dancing and features Kes, Kayla Jasmine and Julian Gosin. Ditto for “Count Your Blessings,” another message song that advises: “Count your blessings, you can’t predict the ending.” Matisyahu sings while Gosin brings on the hip-hop.
Lots of horns and some fine hand-drumming by Weedie Brahmah and the piano of Kyle Roussel drive Gosin’s instrumental “Sabor Latino,” with Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews blowin’ a strong solo before leading the band out. Surprisingly perhaps, the album ends quietly with the breezy title cut featuring keyboardist Robert Glasper and vocalists Tarriona “Tank” Ball and Fabriq.
Poetry in Motion tracks the ongoing evolution of the Soul Rebels and deserves attention for its diverse, finely delivered “something for everyone” programming while welcoming others to occasionally try a different flavor.
The Soul Rebels have been warning us that an album like Poetry in Motion would someday arrive. With previous album titles like Rebelution, Let Your Mind Be Free and Unlock Your Mind, the band has been asking listeners to disassociate them from whatever we think a “brass band” should and could be doing. With its latest—the group’s best damn album yet—the eight-member band has proven, once again, they are special.
Poetry in Motion features an assemblage of high-profile featured guests including Grammy-winning singer and keyboardist PJ Morton, who lends his voice to the sexy, soulful “Slide Back.” The band has been performing a skeleton of the song during its live show for a while, but the recorded version (also featuring a verse from trumpeter/rapper Julian Gosin) makes it a perfect example of the Soul Rebels’ ability to combine the intensity of live horns with the refined qualities of studio recording.
Speaking of horns, they’re center stage on the album’s intro, “Blow the Horns.” On it, singer-songwriter Sean Carey makes his first of many appearances on the album, reminding us the Soul Rebels are here and have never left. “Everything we got, we workin’ hard for—you should be looking to the stars more,” sings Sean before trombonist/rapper Corey “Passport P” leans in with the album’s first rap verse. In fact, hip-hop informs the majority of the album, not an unfamiliar quality for anyone who’s been paying attention to the Soul Rebels’ discography. Over half the tracks feature rapping, either from guests like New Orleans rappers Dee-1 and Alfred Banks on “Greatness,” or from the members themselves.
For those wondering—yes, there are instrumental tracks on the album. “Rebellious Destroyer” features a saxophone solo from Branford Marsalis and the resplendent harp of Brandee Younger, with drummer Jamison Ross filling it out. On “Sabor Latino,” Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews joins the band as lead guest, but drumming from Weedie Bramah and Alvin Ford Jr. gives it an extra punch of Latin flavor.
The album’s title comes from a refrain in the closing song, which is really a pair of beautiful records spearheaded by Robert Glasper and Tarriona “Tank” Ball. Band member Erion Williams calls Glasper an “alien,” particularly because of the lusty voicemail from an admirer he used as a sample. “Blush Intro” and “Blush (Poetry in Motion)” are neo-soul and spoken word, definitely. But all of that is reductive to what is a truly breathtaking closer.
What The Soul Rebels have accomplished with Poetry in Motion is their magnum opus. It’s catchy and vibrant, energetic and polished. It’ll make you twerk and dance cheek-to-cheek. Genres melt into each other and the lyrics stick to your ribs. Just play the damn thing, already (and read more about it in this month’s cover story).
—Amanda “Bonita” Mester