"Elmeaux" (CL Seamus) - Thunder Row
Kira Small and Bryan Beller - Live at the White House
I received this album as a Christmas present, and it turns out to be an instant favourite.
Truth be told - and this is really to my discredit - I don't usually scope out recordings by female artists. Not because they aren't good, but because (based on my tastes) most of my fave lady singers went out with Dinah Shore, Margaret Whiting, and Vera Lynn. My music collection is stuffed to the gills with those ladies and others of their era, so I worry that their like does not easily surface in today's music.
But boy, oh boy, am I glad I got this new one. Taught me a lesson about the evils of not looking harder for the sounds I like! They are actually out there...I mean, if I'm willing to admit I'm just getting too old and cranky, and maybe need to take off the blinders once in a while. Hmmm...
Kira Small is every bit as sassy and smart in her vocals as any of those monstrous talents from the golden days, and she brings to the party a modern, smoky soul that makes me want to start taking a look at her previous albums...like, right now!
The songs on this solid R&B album have everything I want. Mood, subtlety, soul, groove, infectious keyboard licks, and tremendous basslines. The entire album just makes me want to light up a cig and curl my lip in a sneer...and I don't even smoke!
The live recording is pleasantly simple - just Madame at the keyboard and husband Bryan Beller on the bass. Any more instruments would ruin this tender collaboration and take away from the one-on-one interaction they share with each other.
The tunes are chosen from Small's three studio albums - one is from Beller's solo album, View. For this outing, all were performed at The Timucua White House in Orlando Florida.
Small and Beller chat with the audience between songs, and these little snippets are enjoyable to listen to - they set the mood for this intimate venue.
Let's take a look at the songs:
I Ain't Never: The opener starts with a funky bass and then fires up into a sassy tune, with a huge bass fill in the middle. Small's lively keyboard bounces along on the high side, with as much attitude as Beller's bass on the bottom. Impressive chemistry.
Make Up Your Mind: A smoky little number. I like the way Small controls the song with her vocals - the bass drops neatly into line, the footmen on her carriage. So exactly paced.
Miss You Bad Tonight: Based on Small's spoken intro, we learn this is a very personal song. I like that about this album - everything comes from different rooms of the heart. Her voice in the spoken intro quivers with such honesty that you know she's telling you a story of deep feeling. Beller's bass rumbles gently beside her: the purring lion to soothe her as she exposes her truths.
You Gonna Regret Losing Me: This one starts out with a Carole King "I Feel The Earth Move" sense to it, but takes enough bluesy turns to drift into more of a Motown feel. The whole thing sounds all right by me; very slick and stylish. Snake-smooth bass solo in the middle. Beller's on, that's for sure.
I Will Raise My Voice: Another one from the deepest part of Small's heart. Her spoken intro tells how - despite her gregarious exterior - she is often very shy when it comes to summoning the courage to speak. The song is about finding that voice, overcoming fears and stumbling blocks to allow the words to come out. Spiritual song, almost gospel. Finding her place.
Hootchie Mama: Small relinquishes her keyboard to Beller for this one, while she plays the tambourine. The tune is about road musicians and groupies...and the women who keep them at bay! It's a big finger-snappin', Aretha Franklin type warning to all the Hootchie Mamas out there! Stand back, girlfriend! She's a 24-7, 365 Ho Patrol. Mmm, hmmm.
Wanderin' Star: I like this one very much. A very old fashioned, jazzy tune with a crazy good walking bassline. Small fits this genre like a comfortable glove, and vice versa. If she made an entire album of this type of tuneage, I'd be there.
Shouldn't We Be In Love: What a gorgeous ballad! Torchy and so heartfelt. And there's Beller, the throaty, purring lion again, laying at her feet and generating a vibration of deep resonance to remind her of his support. Their teamwork on these songs is a lock of synchronised emotion.
Hurtin': A funky Rhythm & Blues toe-tapper. I hear a little Roger Hodgson in her keyboarding for this one - the clipped staccato taps on the keys. Maybe in the vein of "The Logical Song". And the bass drops in so deeply that you might have to dip under a low-slung limbo bar just to hear it! Ha!
Digging In The Dirt: A great cover of Peter Gabriel's song, done with a bass looper. So good. When I hear a looper pedal at work, I get a brand new shiver down my back about the power of the bass guitar. Small's sharp vocals and keyboard add the perfect upper register contrast. A tasty take on a pop tune. Less 90s, more grit, more soul. Yow.
Sugar Man: What else? It's a song about "cooking" (insert snicker here). Hey, if you can't stand the heat...
A raunchy R&B "come hither" number. Gal on the prowl. The bass knows what she's talking about and answers back in her language. If Small and Beller hadn't been together when they recorded this, they surely would have been when it was done.
Backwoods: Bryan Beller's electric version of the John Patitucci acoustic bass song (from the album "Sketchbook"). Very musical solo, rich and fully realised in depth and range. The electric bass at its finest, raw and true. Deep thunder, scorching twangs, and snappy pops. This is the one that (as mentioned before) appears on Beller's album, "View".
Ain't No Sunshine: You know this Bill Withers song, but Small and Beller take it where it's never been before. The bass nips at the heels of the vocals for control of the mood. Small works hard to keep that control, but because we are bassists...well, we might just have to side with Beller. Ah, why compete? The two of them together form a searing combo for this song, and one just wouldn't do without the other.
I Can't Stand The Rain: The closer is a tangy tune and once again I feel that lip's gonna start to curl into an attitude-rich sneer. In the "reminds me of" department, this one sort of brushes up against a Ray Charles kind of sound. Not bad, Lady. You're all over it! Incredible bass riffing in the middle.
There isn't a song on this entire album that could be considered a weak link. It's all A-List material, well played and sincere. From start to finish, Small's voice rules with rock steady tone and power. She's the lightning to Beller's thunder, and together they cook up a seriously delicious storm.