Soulive has always been one of the go-to bands if you want to enjoy the stimulation of both your mind and your booty. Unsung heroes of the groove-funk-jazz band in the jam band scene, these master musicians have made a name for themselves all over the country as the best and the brightest stars in the Jimmy Smith-inspired instrumental soul funk trio subsections of jazz and rock. They bring class and wisdom to two-day hippie festivals and ass-shakin’ rhythms to tired jazz clubs. They were one of the main reasons I started to enjoy the “jam band” at all.
Their new album Break Out brings them to a different place from where they started on their debut, but not so different that it will gather dust in my vast CD collection. With a band like Soulive you can’t help but compare any studio offering with the live experience and while this album has plenty of soul, it just doesn’t hold up to what they can really do.
The disc starts off with the first of three instrumental interludes that immediately excited me with the impression that while this album may not be just the straight-ahead instrumental jazz-funk trio that I’ve been such a fan of for so many years now, but would also be highly flavored with a tasty brand of soulful R&B that harkens back even more towards the golden age of music otherwise known as the 70s than their sound already comes from (the guest appearance of Chaka Khan certainly indicates this goal). It would be wrong to say that the following 11 songs disappoint based on this impression, but unfortunately the album isn’t as “solid”, as they said back when, as any effort from these boys should be.
“Reverb” keeps the album rolling in high gear with the classic deep grooves and instrumental technique that Soulive has become known for, and the album cruises along in near-top form for a few tracks. “Got Soul” isn’t just a song title, it is in fact a statement. It sounds like what Bill Withers might sound like if he was still making music and felt the hip hop vibe as comeback performers so often do. "Cachaca” gives us one of the more interesting songs on the album with Eric Krasno providing lyrical Spanish guitar riffs that leave you eager to move your dancing feet and what almost reaches repetitiveness is broken in the best way you can break up anything – a quick fluttering Spanish piano burst. It could have stood for less repetition of verses and more from the rest of the band, but it's still a great tune.