“There’s a place that started underground. I know you’d like to go. Only requirement to enter is a little bit of soul.” — Soulive (from the song ‘Comfort’)
Soul music can make a Sunday morning magical, a hug from grandma infinite, and a spiritual bond between lovers everlasting. Whether it’s Booker T & The MGs’ layered rhythms, Otis Redding’s gritty vocals, or Issac Hayes’ bass driven harmonies, this invigorating form of self-expression has continually provided a global audience with timeless sounds that elicit revolution in every sense of the word.
“I understand why, but it creates boundaries. There’s such a large pallet of sounds, why not paint with all the colors?”
Despite its early beginnings in the mid 1800s, soul music didn’t peak in popularity until forward-thinking music labels such as Detroit’s Motown Records and Memphis’ Stax Records shared these so called “race records” with the masses. Unfortunately, while entrepreneur Barry Gordy and Motown Records stood the test of time, Stax Records, founded by Jim Stewart and Estelle Axton in 1957 (the name came from the first two letters of both founder’s last names), went through a series of financial hardships before its eventual demise in 1976. After being purchased by Fantasy Records in 1977, Stax became dormant while its catalogue of classic hits survived through various compilations and reissues.
It seemed as though Stax’s legendary Memphis sound was down for the count, until Concord Records merged with Fantasy in 2004 and announced the re-launch of Stax in December of 2006. With a platform to re-establish its once innovative prominence, Stax began the second chapter of its acclaimed legacy by signing a band of sonic diamonds in the rough known as Soulive. Consisting of brothers Alan (drums) and Neal (bass, keys) Evans, Eric Krasno (guitar), and newcomer Toussaint (lead vocals), Soulive is a smorgasbord of jazz, roots, hip hop, rock, and soul fused together to form an emotionally charged hybrid of musical ingenuity.
While on tour as The Dave Matthews Band’s opening act, Dave Matthews, himself, would introduce Soulive as “the greatest band in the world,” and in mid 2007, they made history as the first group to release a full album of new material under the revamped Stax moniker with No Place Like Soul; a collection of up-tempo tunes which combines elements of danceable jazz and funky rock intertwined with old-school R&B. “Human beings inherently feel the need to label stuff so that they can make sense of it,” explains Neal Evans in response to claims that Soulive and The Dave Matthews Band are too dissimilar to tour alongside each other. “I understand why, but it creates boundaries. There’s such a large pallet of sounds, why not paint with all the colors?”
For No Place Like Soul, Soulive not only changed record companies, but the band’s approach to creating music went under complete renovation. While previous releases have included guest vocals such as Dave Matthews, Chaka Khan, Talib Kweli, Black Thought (of The Roots), Amel Larrieux, and Meshell N’degeocello, Soulive has been a trio since the band’s inception eight years ago in Woodstock, NY. No Place Like Soul is their first album recorded with a full time vocalist, officially transforming Soulive into a quartet. “We’ve evolved over time,” describes guitarist Eric Krasno. “Having a vocalist for this record made us think more about the song form and less about improv. In a live show one has more freedom. Making this record was really cool.” Before joining the band, Toussaint, a gifted singer from Boston, spent several years touring the East Coast with his reggae group, The China Band. “This isn’t the tree of us featuring a guest singer,” says Alan on the band’s website, soulive.com. “It feels like a new band. All of us wanted to go in a different direction.”