The London Souls debuted their self titled album this week, available digitally here. The Wall Street Journal quotes, “ The London Souls’ self-titled debut album builds on roaring chords and flashy solos on guitar, insistent drumming and straight-ahead vocals.” See the full article after the jump.
New Power Trio Muscles Through
The power trio is a rock tradition: the Jimi Hendrix Experience and Cream in the late 1960s, Rush and Motörhead in the ’70s, and Nirvana, Green Day and Gov’t Mule in the ’90s, among others. Include quartets with a power-trio lineup of guitar, drum and bass at the core, and Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin and the Who join the list. The latest addition is the London Souls, a group based here. The trio’s self-titled debut disc, on the Soul on 10 label, arrived this week.
The London Souls play with authority and intuition, and the new album reveals how well the group understands the power-trio format. Chris St. Hilaire is busy but never overbearing—to keep things moving while his drums rumble, he lets the ride cymbal sizzle and adds taut figures on the hi-hat. Bassist Kiyoshi Matsuyama fulfills his responsibilities at the bottom, emerging now and then with a run to the instrument’s midrange. On guitar, Tash Neal is a fluid and aggressive soloist who knows when to underplay. Nine of the 13 tracks were cut live at Abbey Road Studios in London, made famous in rock circles by the Beatles, and they give a sense of how well the band communicates—Mr. Neal called it “telepathy.”
The trio emerged from a series of larger bands that played here in 2005, with the current lineup coming together three years later. The name the London Souls, by the way, is a tribute to the power groups like Cream, the Hendrix band, the Who and Zeppelin that were based in the British capital, as well as a nod toward Mr. St. Hilaire’s father, who was in a band with the same name in the mid-’60s. Residencies at small clubs in Brooklyn and on Manhattan’s Lower East Side gave the trio a chance to develop its arrangements. Above all else, the London Souls discovered that a successful power trio relies on a savvy sense of dynamics.
“We were always considered a loud New York band,” Mr. Neal added, “but we were evolving as songwriters.” The members share songwriting credits regardless of who brings in an idea.
When I met with Messrs. St. Hilaire and Neal last week in Tribeca—Mr. Matsuyama, who at 26 is a year older than his band mates, was out of town—they said that since all three members sing, they had a natural appreciation for melody. “We have a balance between being an intense improvisational trio and a band with songwriting and harmonies,” Mr. St. Hilaire said.
As the music developed, the London Souls cut a five-song EP to distribute to producers and music publishers. Ethan Johns, who worked with Ryan Adams, the Boxer Rebellion, Kings of Leon and others, invited the group to Peter Gabriel’s studio in Box Wiltshire, England, where Mr. Johns was working on Tom Jones’s “Praise & Blame.” Mr. Johns “sat right in front of us,” Mr. St. Hilaire said. “We played a set like we always do at a show. We were kind of nervous. But confident too.”
Mr. Johns agreed to produce their debut album and encouraged the trio to record live. “He was pushing us,” Mr. St. Hilaire told me. “He said: ‘This is your first album. Let’s capture what you have even if it’s a little raw.’”
The album is a classic power-rock album built on roaring chords and flashy solos on guitar, insistent drumming and straight-ahead vocals. But the London Souls are more than a one-sound band: “Someday” flirts with reggae—though not quite as adroitly as another notable trio, the Police—and “Six Feet” alludes to back-country folk. The Beatles’ influence turns up in “Dizzy,” where a riff on Mellotron brings to mind “Strawberry Fields Forever”; for “Easier Said Than Done,” Mr. St. Hilaire played a piano part on the same white upright used in “A Day in the Life.”
The London Souls are doing a few dates this summer and an autumn tour is planned—keep an eye on www.thelondonsouls.com for details. As the fan videos available on YouTube reveal, the debut album presents a power trio with regard for the muscle-up tradition and the skill to take it in other directions.