Arguably this album of music does not fit the first half of its title, or perhaps even any of it. Would you dare to call hip-hop “soul”? Though perhaps in this case the label would be justified. The collection is sweetly favoured. There are echoes of Bob Marley & The Wailers’ sound and Amy Winehouse’s Back to Black album, and a draws similarity in places to both classic Wu-Tang Clan beats and the jazzy covers of some of the latter by El Michels Affair. Much of the guitar work found here is similar to the sound of the guitar on Dr. Dre’s 2001 and some of the material on Arctic Monkeys’ 2013 effort AM.
Its sweetness and soul influences do not mean it does not have harder edges, though. At one point the guitar sounds like a recording of a revving motorcycle being run through an effect pedal, thus generating a noise that reminds one of elements of dub reggae and the rock band Queens of the Stone Age’s unsettling composition ‘A Song for the Deaf’. In other places, the album also has a dark feel to it, lyrically and musically, although it does not descend to the depressing depths of The Roots’ album …And Then You Shoot Your Cousin.
Like that band’s sticksman, the drummer on Sour Soul uses live drums instead of drum machines. He is not afraid to at times indulge in complexity something which, it could be argued, is generally lacking in the guitarist’s performance. His contribution is undoubtedly good, at least in some ways, but would be greatly elevated by more soloing that would make the instrument stand out and not be just another layer.
Adorning the songs’ instrumental textures with raps is Ghostface Killah, a member of Wu-Tang Clan, titans of New York City’s Staten Island. While, like the sound of the drums on this collection, his rhymes should generally hit harder, Ghostface still exhibits some skill here. This is shown mainly through his use of clever internal rhymes – that is, the rhyming of an earlier part of a line with the end of the same line – as well as a fairly good flow overall featuring such devices as assonance and alliteration combined with some songs that have a lot of substance: tracks like ‘Food’ and the title composition. Those two and possibly ‘Nuggets of Wisdom’ are, lyrically if not overall, better than the other joints on the album, but ‘Nuggets…’ lacks style, whereas songs like the excessively slow ‘Tone’s Rap’ lack substance and are arguably almost pointless, and an excellent verse by Elzhi on ‘Gunshowers’ would be improved further if it contained the meaningfulness of ‘Food’ or ‘Nuggets…’.
There is disappointment elsewhere too. Also, one gets the sense that this album might have been so much better, something one could say about most if not all albums. This record could have been enhanced by several relatively simple things, such as the greater use of horns, the employment of a good singer, a more diverse stylistic palette and, a broadening of lyrical themes, in addition to the other things suggested above. However, as it is, the album is decent, if not completely befitting the artists’ respective statures.
Sour Soul is available from amazon & iTunes.