Organic grooves, punchy horns, captivating choruses and soulful vocals are what you get in every Incognito record, and that most certainly includes the next record up, Amplified Soul.
“Groove” is an adjective that gets used a lot in describing Incognito, and there’s so much of that going on within Amplified Soul (out May 13, 2014 Shanachie Entertainment). But none of these grooves came with the help of drum machines, sampling, Auto-Tune or other modern tricks that tend to make the music sound less than authentic. It’s how Incognito rolls, ever since that was the only way to make music back when Jean-Paul “Bluey” Maunick co-founded the group back in 1979.
As the producer, guitarist, main composer and guiding force, Bluey has led a rotating cast of players through remarkable consistency in output, and Amplified Soul is another sweet slice of old-school soul. It’s a record that could have been made when Incognito started out, but isn’t so slavishly 70’s that it sounds like some musical museum piece; the music is fresh and alive. Bolstering that fresh feeling is another hallmark of the band, timeless uplifting themes mostly about love.
The ones delivering those themes — the rotating cast of vocalists — are a secret weapon of Incognito’s, because Maunick finds the right voice to fit each song. Katie Leone’s sassy vocal brings a gospel fervor to “Hands Up If You Wanna Be Loved,” Chiara Hunter delivers a sultry jazzy murmur for the slow burner “Deeper Still” and Leone returns to sing a smoky vocal over the taut, lean groove of “Day of Night.” Tony Momrelle serves as the primary male vocalist, and he puts in a flawless performance for that catchy, dance-happy song “Hats (Makes Me Wanna Holler)” and duets with Vanessa Haynes for “Never Known A Love Like This,” a tasteful disco tune without all that frilly, cheesy stuff.
Bluey handles the lead mic himself for the quality Quiet Storm closing track “Stop Running Away,” singing falsetto in the style of Ronald Isley.
Bluey’s arrangements and production are where he shines brightest, though. “Rapture,” sung by Imaani, has a good guitar rhythm, breezy, sharp horn charts, smooth backing harmonies and an alto sax solo by Nigel Hitchcock that’s a dead ringer for David Sanborn. The uplifting “I Couldn’t Love You More” is so funky, but the melody moves the soul as much as the beat moves the feet, just like the best Earth, Wind & Fire songs. “I See the Sun,” sung by Deborah Bond, likewise has a tight, syncopated groove that serves the song, not an end onto itself.
That only covers about half the songs; this album has the quantity to go with the quality. Suffice to say, Amplified Soul is Incognito’s usual great stuff, which qualifies as well above average classic-style soul.