Because of how this album came about, I expected it to be good. Three rapidly rising young stars from the world of blues music found themselves jamming together after a festival gig, and a whole lot more than just "a good time had by all" happened. Damon Fowler (lap steel guitar), Victor Wainwright (keyboards) and J.P. Soars (lead guitar) felt like there was an immediate chemistry between the trio; soon enough, they recruited bassist Chuck Riley from Fowler's band and drummer Chris Peet of Soar's Red Hots and began playing. When there's that much talent and excitement from such pedigreed musicians (and when you enjoy blues as much as I do), the expectations are bound to run high.
Not only were those expectations exceeded in my ears, Southern Hospitality (SoHo, as they refer to themselves... a very nice gift to us poor journalists always looking to save keystrokes!) delivered a debut album that was not just a straightforward blues record, but something that crossed a lot of genres and boundaries and showcased a lot of influences... all traits that made the "early days" of classic rock such a joy for the fans! Remember the first time you heard, say, The Allman Brothers? Before they were Rock and Roll Hall of Famers, they blew us all away, seemingly from nowhere... and I'm sure I'm not the only one who had long discussions with friends and other fans, trying to figure out if they were rock? Blues? Country? All of the above, none of the above?
Being unafraid to combine influences was one of the things that made classic rock such a joy, and I believe it's the trait that has made the music so durable and so able to withstand the test of time. Using the Allmans example again, I can't imagine a time when I'll ever hear myself saying, "Okay, I've heard the Live At the Fillmore album enough times. I can put it away forever now." I got the same feelings from so many artists of the era; the Doors melded theatre and blues and poetry; Mott The Hoople would move easily between crashing hard rock and glam and showmanship; The Grateful Dead took psychedelia and bluegrass and turned it into an eternal mix.
So yeah, enter SoHo. The album is released on Blind Pig Records, one of the premier labels in the blues music industry, but you know what? This isn't a strictly blues album. Like the best of the early classic rock world, it has a seriously solid foundation in the blues... filtered through R&B, influenced by country and Americana, reaching deep into rock and roll... and not even afraid to take a couple of decent stabs at a little bit of jazz and a little bit of reggae. On top of it all, every time I hear the album, I can't help but to wish I had been in the recording studio to see some of this being created, because it flat out sounds like the guys had a blast doing this one. There are three very different and all very excellent vocalists in the band; Wainwright is the most classic-soulful vocalist, often echoing Ray Charles for his depth of emotion. Soars is an earthy growler and lends a lot of urgency, and Fowler has a sincere and heartfelt tone and feel to his vocal contributions. Every member of the band is an elite musician, and the material they wrote (and in one instance chose to cover) is as good as the band.
Here's a couple more teasers to entice anybody with a love of classic rock to check this one out. Whaddaya get when you mix, say, boogie blues, country swing and decide to have a lot of fun with it? The track "Mile After Mile" is a couple of minutes of pure joy; think Commander Cody meets New Riders and adds a few Spike Jones type production flourishes. Do you enjoy a silky-smooth-yet-oh-so-soulful guitarist? I can't help but to recommend the only cover on the album, "Fried Neck Bones And Home Fries," made famous in the early days of Santana. I said it before and I'll say it again (even after a myriad of listens) - I have supreme respect for Santana as a guitarist, and I'll hold this version to Carlos' classic any day of the week. If you find yourself enjoying the aching side of a good, soulful deep blues tune, you'll never get enough of "Certified Lover." Wainwright's vocal on this gem is vintage Ray Charles with a huge slice of black gospel tossed in, truly one of the most moving and haunting vocal performances I've heard in some time. I've never actually wondered what it would sound like if a producer with a solid Cajun background (Tab Benoit, by the way... excellent job!) took a bunch of guys who know the blues and recorded them performing a reggae track, but if I had, I would have longed for "Don't Feel Like Going There Today." It could have been a jumbled hodge-podge with all that going on, but it works well, reminding me of the times when, say, The Rolling Stones would occasionally experiment with a little reggae.
There's blues, boogie-woogie, tracks that have a "far away longing" type of country influence to them, and a general feeling of camaraderie and good times throughout this entire album... exactly what delighted me and so many others back in the day. Recently, I went ahead and gave it the acid test, so to speak. I have a couple of folders in my iTunes playlist that I always keep for times when I don't feel like thinking too much about the day's playlist, and my Classic Rock folder gets tapped pretty often. It's filled with Bowie and Doors and Savoy Brown and Sly & The Family Stone and Cat Stevens and Ten Years After and Grateful Dead and Cream and It's A Beautiful Day and you get the idea. I went ahead and put SoHo's album in the folder, hit "random play," and pretty much forgot about it while I went about my day. During the course of eight or nine hours of listening, three of the SoHo tracks came up, and they merged seamlessly with everything else I was hearing.
Good is good, timeless is better, and this is truly a timeless album. Hardcore blues fans already know these guys well, but I have no fear whatsoever in recommending Southern Hospitality's Easy Livin' to classic rock fans looking for a fix of something real good. Give it a try. I'm betting you'll thank me for it!