Never cared much for the term “blue-eyed soul.” Not all white people have blue eyes and, for that matter, blue eyes ain’t exclusive to white folk. Besides which, the term makes it sound like the artist described is copying black music. Hall & Oates, for example, did no such thing. They simply took R&B, added some rock and just ran with it, coming up with their own blend, moving in their own direction.
In the Twin Cities, we had our very own rock’n’soul powerhouse for a few years, The New Congress, who were tight as the crack of dawn and so richly melodic at times it was uncanny. They were in that same bag as Hall & Oates, only different. Like, say, Luther Allison was in the same Chicago blues bag as Muddy Waters, only he had his own, distinct sound. Well, we ain’t got TNC no more, but Suburban Serenade Vol. 1 by singer-songwriter-guitarist-producer Jon Herchert recording as Dark Pony has come along, thankfully sustaining the special niche.
To say Herchert is brilliant is sort of an understatement. He wrote the entire album, just about each song an “A” cut, and never rehashes a melody from one to the next. “Ludicrous” leads, an airplay-ready anthem-like number that immediately catches your ear and keeps your attention. It fairly struts: bass pumping, drums chugging behind a plaintive vocal he wrings for soul-stirring emotion. As sweetening, there’s an intermittent guitar that never quite comes out front but is enough of a presence to add a sexy edge. You get, as underpinning, a organ insinuating tasty figures. The best of the genre, from the Rascals to Todd Rundgren to Hall, Oates, and anybody else, is cleverly recorded in layers that fit so well together you feel them all in a splendid tapestry.
That’s exactly what goes on with the backup—except Herchert has also an incredible ace up his sleeve. Doing what Helen Terry once did for Culture Club’s “Church of the Poison Mind,” gospel luminary Toni Hughes makes a guest appearance and just tears up hell with a fascinating, fiery vocal. Herchert knows his music, of that there can be no doubt.
When Herchert downshifts from moving and shaking to ballads like “Shadow” and “It’s Over,” he doesn’t lose a thing. And the hysterically humorous “Dog” is an upbeat sparkler you’ll find yourself nodding along with even as you laugh yourself sick to lines like “She left me out there all day long/ Guess it’s where I belong I’m a bad boy/ I don’t deserve her love or a bone/ With the leash I’m on I’m a sad boy/ I’m a dog, I’m a dog/ And I can’t behave left alone all day/ I’m a dog, I’m a dog/ And I need her touch but there’s no such luck/ And I love her I love her.”
The rest of the personnel is Matt Novachis on drums, Jim Anton on bass, Jared Rush on keys, and Joe Savage on pedal steel guitar. Everybody is tight.
Photo courtesy Dark Pony