As any Beatles fan knows, the Fab Four were raised on R&B. Chuck Berry, Arthur Alexander, the Isley Brothers, Larry Williams, Little Richard, Fats Domino, and countless other performers heavily influenced The Beatles’ sound, and the four never failed to credit these legends in interviews. Not surprisingly, R&B acts have recorded their own covers of Beatles songs, often with memorable results (e.g. Stevie Wonder’s ebullient “We Can Work It Out” or Earth, Wind, and Fire’s soul-infused rendition of “Got to Get You into My Life”). The newest entry in this category, Soulive’s Rubber Soulive, combines jazz and old-fashioned soul to breathe new life into familiar songs.
Now in their eleventh year, Soulive has built a reputation for being stewards of Hammond B-3 organ soul, impressing audiences with their enthusiastic live performances and ability to incorporate jazz, blues, and rock elements into their vintage sound. Listening to the core trio—Eric Krasno (guitar), Alan Evans (drums), and his brother Neal Evans (organ)—is like the sonic equivalent of comfort food, a trip back to good-time, Booker T and the MG’s-brand R&B.
From Rubber Soulive’s first track, “Drive My Car,” the group attacks the Beatles catalog with aggression and vigor. Alan Evans’s shuffling beat sets the tone as Neal Evans punctuates the rhythm with organ riffs. Krasno shows off his heavily jazz-leaning guitar solos, adding dimension to the already uptempo song. The trio turns up the funk on “Taxman,” with Neal’s tasty organ recalling old Stax records. “Eleanor Rigby,” which has already undergone successful jazz makeovers (see guitarist Stanley Jordan’s magnificent version), also benefits from Soulive’s reinterpretation. Here Krasno’s guitar remains in the foreground, alternating between quiet jazz riffs and louder rock. Soulive speeds up the tempo, emphasizing the song’s exquisite melody.
Want a taste of the blues? Look no further than the group’s gritty, stripped-down version of “I Want You (She’s So Heavy).” A fairly faithful cover, the organ and furious guitar underscore the song’s sheer passion and longing, with the organ retaining the 1960s classic-rock element. Similarly, “Come Together” also benefits from their jazz/blues/rock treatment, its famous guitar line fused with jazz. Alan’s drumming is a standout, with his thundering rhythm adding punch to the refrain. Krasno also lets loose with a wicked, dizzying solo that echoes the original lyrics’ urgency.
Although Soulive particularly excels on the uptempo numbers, they can still deliver delicate ballads like “Something,” the underlying organ recalling the song’s 1960s origins. Krasno does not replicate George Harrison’s original solos, but adds his own touches. They also reinterpret “In My Life,” although it is not the strongest cut on Rubber Soulive.
Other highlights include “Day Tripper,” which the trio injects with a healthy dose of the blues. The memorable bassline is mixed up front, so the organ, guitar, and drums can effectively play off its funky rhythm. “Help!” undergoes a more radical makeover, with the tempo sped up even more than on the original recording. As with “Day Tripper,” Soulive heavily emphasizes the rapid bass riffs, with the organ accompanying the beat with jazz-kissed solos. Again, Krasno lends a George Benson-esque quality to the song with his jazzy playing. While they capture the track’s melody, they do not simply replicate it, but take it in a very different direction. There lies the essence of an effective Beatles cover: pay homage to the original words and melody, but do not try too hard to precisely reproduce the original version.
Those who purchase the Rubber Soulive CD receive access to live versions of four tracks, including an incredibly intense version of “Eleanor Rigby” that combines “I Want You” to form an extended jam.
While countless Beatles cover albums will continue to appear, few stand out for transforming the music rather than copying it. Soulive successfully demonstrates the Beatles’s close R&B link, and injects well-known material with renewed energy. Those looking for a fresh approach to the band’s extensive catalog will enjoy Rubber Soulive, another impressive effort by a musically gifted trio. With each album, Soulive proves that they are a force to be reckoned with, and that they continue to hold the torch for classic soul.