Friday, April 12, 2024

Archive Review: Temple of Soul’s Brothers In Arms (2008)

Temple of Soul's Brothers In Arms
In the world of rock music, Clarence “The Big Man” Clemons is pretty much a known quantity. Almost 40 years blowin’ the sax behind Bruce Springsteen as a member of the E Street Band kind of makes one a household name (in my house, at least). Although not as famous, perhaps, Narada Michael Walden is nevertheless pretty well-known in R&B circles as a noted songwriter, producer and musician.

On the other hand, T.M. Stevens is a question mark for even the most hardcore rock aficionado. Chances are, however, that you’ve heard Stevens pop his bass strings more the once over the past 30 years, the in-demand session player lending his talents to hits by folks like James Brown, Billy Joel, Cyndi Lauper, and Tina Turner, among many others. Stevens was an official member of the Pretenders for a while, toured as part of Little Steven’s Disciples of Soul band, and was an integral piece of Steve Vai’s early ‘90s band (you know, the one that made the great Sex & Religion album).

Stevens has also released better than half-a-dozen wickedly adventurous solo albums, the artist blending African rhythms and hard-rocking guitar with a Bootsy Collins strut that he calls “heavy metal funk.” Japan and much of Europe have already fallen prey to Stevens’ musical charms, and America is in his sights. In other words, Stevens has mad chops – and more than enough experience to brag about said skills.

Temple of Soul’s Brothers In Arms

The Big Man, Clarence Clemons
Clarence Clemons
So, what happens when you throw saxman Clemons, drummer Walden, and bassist Stevens into a recording studio together? Well, add the talents of veteran guitarist Vernon “Ice” Black (who has played with Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder, and Herbie Hancock, among others) and you have Brothers In Arms, the lively and engaging debut from the looseknit company of friends hereby known as Temple of Soul. An electrifying and edifying mix of swaggering soul, raucous R&B, and get-up-off-your-ass funk, Brothers In Arms is an album elegantly out of time.

Too often, any assembly of superstar talent strives for the mediocre and still fall short of the mark. There’s just no chemistry among the players, and too often such bands are put together by marketing committee rather than by invention. Not so in the case of Temple of Soul…these guys are all seasoned professionals, hardcore musicians and true believers that have survived for decades on brains and skill in an industry that delights in the destruction of its brightest talents. All four of these guys have circled the other’s individual universes for years and, in some cases (like Stevens and Walden, or Walden and Clemons), they have worked with each other previously.

Thus, there is an innate chemistry that is, perhaps, the most delightful aspect of Brothers In Arms. These guys are all performing like it’s their first dance, and the sheer magic that jumps out of these grooves is a refreshing change from the cynical music-making that passes for commerce these days. Throughout the ten songs here, each band member’s individual strengths are on display, meshing together into the seamless creation of joyous noise. Brothers In Arms offers an inspired mix of rhythmic genres. The album-opening groove of “Anna” dances perilously close to disco territory, to be pulled back from the brink at the last moment by some fine saxwork and deep baritone vocal harmonies. “Seeking Further” hits a Sly-stoned beat behind leathery, soulful vocals and a hard rock foundation.

Jazzy Outtake, an interstellar Sun Ra workout

T.M. Stevens
T.M. Stevens
At the center of Brothers In Arms are two shining instrumental tracks that frame the band’s talents perfectly. “Temple of Soul” begins with a high groove and the chanted line “brothers in the temple, brothers in the temple of soul” before kicking into a fluid rhythm that is accented by Black’s taut, emotive fretwork and Clemons’ old-school, King Curtis-styled sax blasting. “Ode To China” gets a little exotic, with delicate Asian instrumentation layered boldly behind one of The Big Man’s most emotional sax performances, along with the one-two knockout punch of rhythm kings Stevens and Walden.

A fiery cover of Jimi Hendrix’s “Purple Haze” seems like it might have been Stevens’ idea in the studio, the classic rock chestnut re-imagined here as a P-Funk romp-n-stomper with some passionate six-string bending courtesy of Black and an imaginative bass line almost hidden in the mix beneath the gang vocals. “Love Me Tonight” sounds like vintage ‘70s soul, all sweetness and light with a slick soundtrack and G.Q. sheen, Barry White style vocals, and a turn-down-the-lights vibe.

Brothers In Arms closes with “Jazzy Outtake,” a breathless, nearly 13-minute instrumental jam by the Temple of Soul guys, each musician adding notes in orbital proximity like some sort of interstellar Sun Ra workout. This song might not be for everybody – free-form improvised jazz seldom is – but in this framework, given the varied experience and abilities of the four contributors, the song illuminates rather than irritates, running the gamut of moods and shades of blue. There are elements of soul, reggae, rock, and blues thrown in, cemented with an anarchic jazz spirit.

The Reverend’s Bottom Line

Suffice it to say, Brothers In Arms is a heady brew indeed, the sort of creative collaboration between equally talented artists that seldom plays in the commercial marketplace of hype and illusion, but shows longevity nevertheless, running the distance and proving inspirational fuel for generations to follow. Temple of Soul is the kind of band, once rediscovered, that critics and musicians will be effusively praising a decade from now … beat the rush and jump on the TOS bandwagon today! (Slam Alley Productions, released 2008)

Review originally published by Trademark of Quality (TMQ) blog…

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