Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Soup - A Tour of Two Cities CD review

This, friends, is how you become a music journalist:  you DEVOUR the sounds and translate them through your fingers--which is what I did with an indie jam band called Soup.

A Tour of Two Cities
Soup (Phoenix Presents)

(Alas, Soup broke up due to the nemesis of all musicians:  a recording deal never manifested to truly bring this immensely talented group of men the fame I believe they deserve.  But I know every Soup fan cherishes their recordings and memories of their performances.  I caught them (and carried gear off-stage) at the Mercury Lounge in NYC one autumn evening. Erik, Andrew, Kevin, Bram, Lee: you guys will always be on top in our memories.  Look for Bram at for creative musical marketing ideas and rhythm), and check out for “Soup jam band.”

I have said it before and I am more convinced than ever: the musical Garden of Eden is alive and flourishing down South.  We have been privileged to witness a new generation of tremendously talented young men and women (The North Mississippi All-Stars immediately come to mind), and to the rest of the world, I proclaim: let there be Soup.  Captured at two gigs (The Cotton Club, Atlanta, and The Wetlands Preserve, NY), this set packs more muscle-building music than a creatine shake.
You can make all the creative puns you want, but the hottest band I have heard to date—the one that I will stake my reputation upon for anyone who wants to cover the odds—are the five guys from Atlanta who play on this double disc.  Soup is hot—no, try scalding—and I’m too serious to be joking.  As an audiophile and CD collector, I’m guarding this one with a passion.  Imagine, if you will, a musical burrito:  wrap it all around the combination of Little Feat and the Dave Mathews Band’s herky-jerky rhythms and vocal gyrations, add in the singing whirlpools of Phish and the Spin Doctors (as well as their instrumental nimbleness and enthusiasm), and add in some Cajun chortling and carousing on accordion.
 Can you believe it? An accordion as a major player (yes, he cooks), as well as doubling on a harmonica hornet’s nest that would make John Popper’s and the Blues Travelers’s eyes water with joy.  Spike this with guitar—an acoustic-lead player whose fingers pulsate wah-wah/chord and jazz ripples and doesn’t tear it up—he’s so good that you don’t notice it’s not done on pure electric.  Team him up with another guitarist with chords as thick as chocolate pudding, and drop in the funk—a slapping, bopping, and hopping bass, and a drummer who lashes his set like the Feat’s Richie Hayward with a new array of toys and tools, including some cartoon woodblocks.
 There’s also hip-hop, a capella gospel, pop, classic rock, and cool-whip jamming.  When was the last time that this much came from a band that is so fresh with material that they have more layers to explore than a geological site?
Work that volume control knob for the first tune, “Squirrels,” because it’s the only song that features Kevin Crow’s slide as it brays and sneers like a trombone with a wicked treble head cold.  Erik Rowen’s frantic and panicked vocals set up his pickup truck-sized chords and rhythm playing alongside Kevin, and Andrew Margolious skitters and careens over the squeeze box behind the 4th-of-July celebration of Bram Bessoff’s drum detonations and Lee Adkins’s dancing bass.  Margolious switches off mid-song to harmonica and scatters the four winds with a mad outburst, and Crow slices through the air again with a slide solo like a raging sword.  The boys play and sing together throughout this rave-up with bank vault tightness—as they do for the entire show.
Everything else that follows is a five-star banquet of sounds and styles:  “Salley’s Sister” is a tongue-in-cheek love song (that you’ll never see in a Hallmark card) that makes lust a joyful word with a pinch of respect.  Kevin’s solo sounds as if it was lifted from a jazz directory, and the singing is a magnificent percussive display of delightful vocal comedy.  Lace that capo on a 12 string and let the richness of the arrangement of  “Scratches on the Coffee Table” melt against Andrew’s romantic accordion (absolutely showing how effective it is as a rhythm instrument).  Listen again how Kevin modulates his acoustic-lead notes—this guy has enough ideas on technique and sound to make a video on his own. 
With Kevin’s wah-wah dancing like a hop-scotch game, it’s essential to catch his stuttering solo on “Cybil Rivalry,” and don’t you dare overlook Lee’s flashes on bass—or you’ll find yourself mesmerized by Erik’s carpet-thick strumming.  The boys have an agenda, and with a hip-hop statement that lays down the rules (with that outrageous guitar orchestrating the pattern), they take the covers off Neil Diamond, of all artists, with a hint of “America.”  Of course it works!  Someone lets out a birthday cheer, and it’s back to business:  “Get Me Back Groove” has enough lift to take to the air on its own like a glider riding thermals.  (Is that a reference to Steppenwolf’s “The Pusher” that I heard?  These guys must have been plowing through a music encyclopedia to find some of these cameos.) 
The next four songs have their own magic, but I have a special preference for the vocal textures and happiness of “Lucky’s Not a Beggar” (supported by special guest Walter Absher’s violin and cello), and the drum corps march of “Jefferson.”  As a compact unit, the band shows  the precision of a football half-time parade that just hits every cue and marker (Bram is determined to show off every tone and highlight on his drum kit throughout this entire package—he’s a Rock of Gibraltar, too, as a power surge), and Andrew doubles back and forth between vintage harmonica and accordion.  In fact, he’s so excited that he blows a clarion call on harp to announce “Get Me Some Action/Need a Little Bit,” and the boys sing of a very potent psychedelic substance.  Margolious honks again with glee and mischief, and no, that’s not a synthesizer, Kevin has found another trick to show on guitar.  The last song probably gives away the foundation of their musical repertoire: they close with the Beatles’s “Dear Prudence.” 
Wait, the show’s not over yet!!—drop on disc two and groove on the New Orleans-meets-Frank Zappa cavorting of “Marvin Wright.”  I swear Bram hits everything in sight that he can reach to check out its sound.  With an intro beat that eerily echoes of Fleetwood Mac’s “Tusk,” check out the reggae pulse on “Eweh,” and catch the texture on Kevin’s elastic solo from the stop-and-go “King of 18.” They’re not even warmed up yet—lock up the house on the stew-thick chords and the vocal choruses on “Charlie Don’t Know.”  Oh, and you need to have your future told by “Voodoo Lady” and that scamp on accordion during “Come Up for Air.”
Lee Adkins gets the spotlight on “Breakdown,” and he pushes the envelope to new unexplored heights with a daring, echoing bass wah-wah solo behind Bram’s percolating drives.  I sold the farm for the rights to “Leisure Suit,” and if you feel aches and pains, it’s because your muscles are trying to get in the mix via air guitar and that funky beat.  You’ll definitely need to take your shoes to be resoled if you catch up to Kevin’s hypnotic chant.  They go for the fences on “RainKing,” and their gorgeous vocals just raise your hands in praise for the brief gospel-like “Bid You Goodnight.”   Well, it’s time to pack up and say farewell, and “Papa Says It’s Alright” lets the audience share the lyrics—even if they just pretend.  Curtain call: Mr. Dylan’s “Tangled Up in Blue,” and when would you pass up a chance to salute the author when your band has so much skill? 
With so much to offer, why haven’t we heard more about these guys?  I lay that at the extinct offices of Phoenix (who are no longer in action; Bram Bessoff is still in contact with me, and I thank him for that).  Hey, there’s some studio CDs, and if you think they’re superb in concert, then you need to hear them in a different setting—just to compare.  I am rejoicing at the opportunity to start these guys with a tie for the #1 slot (with the previously reviewed Richard Thompson) at the end-of-year Best Group nominations for 2001.  So, drop me all the jokes, puns, and quips you can, but I’ll say it again:  brew me some more Soup—this is the tastiest music you’ll find. 

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