There will always be people out there creating soulless soul music. I’m not saying the soul being portrayed isn’t for everybody; I’m saying that in the midst of pulling “inspiration” from every guitar lick and bluesy rhythm that the many Chess and Stax forefathers easily constructed, these musicians are leaving out the most important element — the soul.
On their fifth album, the members of the BellRays have proven that there is a place for bands that are too good for the Southern California wedding circuit but not good enough for the national-tour syndicate. The band does little new on Have a Little Faith: the big, bellowing vocals of Lisa Kekaula are constantly conflicting with the standard R&B/rock grooves created by Robert Vennum, Tony Fate and Craig Waters. They may have planned on sounding like Exile on Main Street-era Stones, but the members constantly slip up and come off sounding like the side-project-gone-wrong of one of the Grateful Dead’s back-up singers. This is the kind of music you always find onstage in the stereotypical Hollywood movie scene.
With their slam on the current Detroit blues/rock scene on “Detroit Breakdown” (target: bands such as the White Stripes, Soledad Brothers and the Dirtbombs) the Los Angeles band’s four members have clearly soaked up too much sun to really understand how to play from the heart, or maybe they honestly think they’re doing it better: “Motown shmotown, ain’t nothin’ left/ No more Iggy or the MC5/ Wayne’s been doing it in L.A. now/ So you’re just livin’ a lie.” They try to slow it down and let the blues take over as the album moves along, but tracks such as “Lost Disciples” and “Have a Little Faith in Me” feature subpar guitar work and prepackaged rhythms.
The soul/rock combo isn’t easy to pull off, especially when the sound of trying too hard rings louder than the music. The members of the BellRays have the clothes and swagger, but they’re so focused on their attitude that they neglect the music.
Cheap Lullaby Web site (streaming audio)
The BellRays Web site (streaming audio)