Artist: The Bo-Keys
Album: Heartaches By The Number
Release Date: 4/29/2016
Unless you’ve been living in a cave somewhere, you know that there’s a soul revival going on. Witness the success of Alabama Shakes, St. Paul & the Broken Bones and even Adele, to name just a few. And, readers of these pages can probably reference plenty of soul-based bands and artists in our reviews. (I know I gravitate toward them). Now you can add the Memphis based Bo-Keys to the list of contemporary soul bands that leverage those hallowed traditions and offer innovation as well. As the Ray Price penned title suggests, this is a full-fledged soul band playing country songs from Merle Haggard, Bob Dylan, Hank Williams, Charlie Rich and Freddy Fender. In one sense, this is not completely new. Artists like Solomon Burke, Bettye LaVette, Swamp Dogg and Candi Staton have mined this territory too. Nonetheless, I’m pretty sure we haven’t heard a ten piece soul band with a full horn section cover this ground. It helps when the lead vocalist is a sure-fire soul singer as gifted as Percy Wiggins. These may be the best vocals he’s ever put down.
Heartaches by the Number captures the classic country-meets-soul feeling spawned in that musical triangle of Memphis/Nashville/Muscle Shoals in yesteryear but continually revived by many of today’s artists. The Bo-Keys are today’s link to the iconic Booker T. & the M.G.s and the Bar-Kays. Band members have done their stints at Hi Records with Al Green and many others. The band is joined by some guests as well. Acclaimed Hi Records artist Don Bryant sings on the title track. The lady soul duo, the Masqueraders (Reba Russell and Susan Marshall) join on “Don’t Take Her (She’s All I Got )” and John Paul Keith adds his acoustic guitar to “Set Me Free.” The main attraction though is Percy Wiggins turning Hank’s “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” and Dylan’s “I Threw It All Away” into soul hymns. The band turns the Swamp-Dogg aforementioned country covered hit “Don’t Take Her (She’s All I Got)” into a funk exercise. They propel Merle Haggard’s “The Longer You Wait” into a horn-drenched, soaring organ tune we associate with the Memphis sound.
The Bo-Keys mix some familiar tunes with some that are more obscure, interpret them uniquely and find the right balance between listenable and danceable music. My only quibble is that there’s only 40 minutes of music. They’ve left us wanting more.
– Jim Hynes