When a jazz trio noses into pop territory, there's always a chance that purists will curse up a storm. Soulive has always loved hearing the f-word, anyway: fusion. Brothers Alan and Neal Evans (drums and keyboards) and Eric Krasno (guitar) have blurred funky genres since Soulive's 1999 inception, meaning that their biggest fans are neo-hippies eager to strap on a pair of dancing Birks.
"Break Out" is the New York-based band's best album, shifting away from jam band repetition and kicking down the mainstream door. Rather than focusing on sinewy soul-jazz instrumentals -- though there are some great moments here, notably the horn-driven title track -- Soulive recruited a horde of gifted guest singers. Consequently, these slinky cuts are transformed into widely appealing, four- and five-minute songs.
Ivan Neville unleashes the album's battle cry with the anthem "Got Soul" -- one of two tunes he empowers. Corey Glover of Living Colour dives into "Freedom." Reggie Watts of Maktub pumps an Al Green-ish falsetto into "She's Hooked" and "What Can You Do." And Chaka Khan lets it all hang out with a rich, multi-tracked diva delivery on the lip-pursing "Back Again."
As terrific as the singing is, you don't miss it when Soulive goes instrumental. "Reverb" is a slow-burning, '70s-tinged riff that oozes cool like Shaft cruising a dark alley. And as soon as guest Robert Randolph's sacred-steel starts trading punches with Krasno's rockin' guitar on a slamming cover of "Crosstown Traffic," you'll be providing your own joyful vocals, anyway.
-- Michael Deeds
Soulive will perform Saturday at 9:30 club.
THE BEST KEPT SECRET
After racking up nine Grammy Awards and appearing on more than 1,500 recordings, Dobro player Jerry Douglas still throws a mean curve. In addition to the sparkling acoustic textures and fluid virtuosity that fans have come to expect from the string band veteran, "The Best Kept Secret" boasts some interesting surprises and pairings.
For starters, there's a strong emphasis on lap steel guitar. The album's opening cut, "She Makes Me Want to Sing," a newly penned but classic-sounding Southern rock instrumental, features Douglas and slide guitar phenom Derek Trucks creating a weave of blues-soaked tones. Douglas's lap steel guitar spills over into the back-to-back performances of "Ya Ya etc." and "U R My Flower," original tunes that celebrate contemporary funk and neo-psychedelic grooves.
The lineup and cover tunes also produce some unexpected delights. Alison Krauss's cameo isn't unusual; Douglas has been playing with her band, Union Station, since 1998. But to hear Krauss and Douglas rearrange -- and thoroughly refresh -- L.T.D.'s disco hit "Back in Love Again" is a treat just the same.
Douglas sticks closer to his roots when he teams up with singer John Fogerty. Reviving the Bob Wills tune "Swing Blues No. 1," Douglas uses his resophonic guitar to frame Fogerty's unmistakably raspy voice with slashing accents and percussive riffs. Another inspired collaboration finds Douglas on Dobro again, collaborating with jazz guitarist Bill Frisell on the now shimmering, now spiky shuffle "Lil' Roro."
Banjoist Bela Fleck and mandolinist Sam Bush, two of Douglas's longtime friends and tour mates, also turn up here, swiftly propelling "Who's Your Uncle?" into a string band romp. But there's nothing hurried about the way the Douglas band caps the album with "Sir Aly B." Dedicated to Celtic fiddler Aly Bain and showcasing violinist Gabe Witcher's lyrical touch, it's a lovely and haunting coda.
-- Mike Joyce
Jerry Douglas is scheduled to appear with Alison Krauss and Union Station on Nov. 20 at the Patriot Center.