Brothers In Arms

Temple Of Soul

Slam Alley, 2008

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


The liner notes for Temple Of Soul’s debut disc read like the lineup card for an all-star game.  Clarence Clemons on sax.  Narada Michael Walden on drums.  T.M. Stevens on bass.  Vernon “Ice” Black on guitars. 

Black has been tapped to play with artists as diverse as Herbie Hancock, Santana and Willie Nelson.  Ditto for Stevens with the likes of James Brown, Joe Cocker and the Pretenders.  Walden has three Grammys, an Emmy and a spot on the list of the top ten most successful record producers of all time with 56 (yeah you read that right) #1 songs under his belt.  And the Big Man, he’s got that little side gig with a guy named Bruce. 

Can you say “supergroup”?

You’d best give it a try, because Temple Of Soul is a genuine soul supergroup.  That said, this is not your father’s soul album -- this is a mish-mash of soul, dance, jazz, pop and fusion, with even a hip-hop feint or two thrown in.  What it might lack in coherence, though, it makes up for with pure exuberance.

Lead off “Anna” is a straight dance track that feels like it would have fit right into the first Seal album, all pulsing bass and throbbing club beat, with sweet sax breaks.  The lead vocals trade off between Walden’s rather generic r&b voice and Clemons’s rich basso profundo.  The Big Man also adds some snappy sax accents to a cut that makes for an attention-grabbing kickoff mostly for its lack of any real soul elements.  (Temple Of… Dance?)

From there the music takes an immediate left turn, diving into the Black-Walden collaboration “Seeking Further,” which alternates between heavy funk verses (Black) and airy choruses (Walden).  “Diamond Girl” is where the band cuts loose with a track co-composed by all four members that’s all Sly Stone groove and brotherly smack-talk, featuring all four members on lead vocals and even dipping into hip-hop for an emcee’d bridge.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

And then things take another left turn…

The next two cuts are both instrumentals.  The title track is a Clemons/Walden composition with a gently pulsing smooth jazz rhythm track underpinning Clemons and Black, who attack the same melody with intertwining guitar and sax lines, Black doing his best Carlos Santana with tons of sustain and “crying” notes.  The production feels a little slick at times, but it’s still a pretty sweet number.

“Ode To China” is a standout, an epic instrumental with stupendous sax work from Clemons over tasteful guitar accents from Black, all counterpointed by evocative, almost eerie Eastern melodies courtesy of guest Jeibing Chen on the erhu.  Put this on and just try not to get caught up in its melodies and changes – you can’t.

As for the “soul” element, it returns full force with the ebullient “Sunshine In Your Smile,” upbeat electric soul at its very finest, with a groove Sly would love and truckloads of winking, sunny attitude courtesy of Clemons’ virtual Barry White homage on lead vocals.  “Anna” might get them dancing, but this one could really chart -- what a great summer radio song.

And then we get really funky.

“Salty” is Black’s showcase, giddy electric funk with Stevens driving the low end and Clemons dressing the edges with honking sax while the “Ice”man screams and wails like Hendrix himself.  Speaking of Jimi, smooth jazz maestro Walden’s turn at the mike for the opening verse of “Purple Haze” -- even as Stevens and Black bring the psychedelic funk underneath -- is a fairly surreal moment.  The second verse goes to Black, and he sounds a lot more at home – as he should, having fronted the original Experience (Noel Redding and Mitch Mitchell) at Seattle’s Jimi Hendrix Festival a few years back.

“Love Me Tonight” is Clemons again doing his best Barry White, albeit with Walden’s slick production sanding all the earthy edges off, turning it into ultra-smooth soul-pop.  The album closes on an odd note, with the honestly-titled “Jazzy Outtake” consuming 12:55 without delivering much more than impressive chops from the four players.  It’s an interesting artifact, but what it’s doing in the “Temple Of Soul,” I couldn’t tell you.

This is a loose party-and-brotherhood album, and as such, it’s full of diversions and unexpected developments.  The guys were obviously having a blast in the studio going wherever the music and their moods took them.  There’s a little dance, a little funk, a little jazz and even some straight-up soul here.  And while an album this slight isn’t going to change your world, there’s so much pure joy in these grooves, it’d be a crime not to shake your body to them…

Rating: B

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© 2008 Jason Warburg and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Slam Alley, and is used for informational purposes only.