Power by SeratonesRelease date: August 23, 2019
Label: New West Records
It’s been quite a journey for Seratones since the release of their debut Get Gone in 2016. That album was met with strong reviews (I named it my debut of the year) and the Louisiana outfit, who are signed to New West Records, got to tour with many of their southern rock and soul peers, including St Paul & The Broken Bones and The Drive-By Truckers. It was touring with the dearly departed ‘Screaming Eagle of Soul’ Charles Bradley, however, that proved to be the most telling part of that journey.
Lead singer, songwriter and de facto ‘face’ of the band A.J. Haynes was moved by how Bradley’s impassioned soul music really connected with the crowd and decided to take The Seratones away from their alt-rock leanings and fully commit to the black musical influences already present in their sound. That move may have presaged the departure of guitarist Connor Davis, whose invigorating surf punk guitar runs and grunge riffs were a real highlight of Get Gone. The band has swelled to a five piece and his brother Adam remains on bass, with his contributions becoming more crucial as the band move into funk and R‘n’B territory on Power.
Outside of her musical career the redoubtable Haynes is a counsellor in an abortion clinic and so as a black woman living under the current political climate of the U.S. she unsurprisingly has a lot to say. On Power Haynes uses the bands new slick, more commercial style to tackle many political issues via passionate, personal songs. The title track is a female empowerment anthem with a tick-tock Motown backbeat and what sounds like sweeping synth strings. It is full of bluster and attitude, but like a lot of songs on this album I find the lyrics not quite up to the job of creating empathy or understanding of the issue addressed – although ‘Power’ is helped by a stirring music video that helps put it all in context.
I noted during that aforementioned video that the guys, Haynes aside, were dressed in regulation snappy soul band suits and I get the feeling the band have, at times, made a deliberate attempt to jump on the heritage soul bandwagon made popular by Daptone Records. Witness the big echoing drums on opening track ‘Fear’, a doowop number that inserts dread for the future – “fear is the weight of the world coming down” into an easy-listening package. ‘Lie to My Face’ repeats the trick but with a more personal lyric about romantic disappointment, with what is probably a wider comment on the quality of our current world leaders. It’s a simple tune, but it has a lovely gentle swing and is one of the more effective numbers for getting the message across so clearly. (Maybe I’m just dense).
Early standout is ‘Sad Boi’, a perky funk number that takes a side-swipe at toxic masculinity and moves the bands’ sound forward by a couple of decades with a more modern production and a sassy, tongue-in-cheek lyric.
There are a couple of tunes that hark back to the bands more rocking debut, with ‘Kiss Me’ – a slinky, electronic pop number, but with a garage rock exoskeleton, and the last single ‘Gotta Get To Know Ya’ which has fuzzy guitars and some absolutely sterling bass lines by Adam Davis.
Power then is a mixed bag and whilst I salute the bands outlook, skill as musicians and the colossal vocal *ahem* power of Haynes vocals I do miss the eccentricities of the band that brought us Get Gone. I do hope their new direction can bring them wider success as there can never be too much soul in the world and the Seratones have it in excelsis.