22nd October | Thekla
Durand Jones & The Indications return to Bristol with a sold-out show that crowns the American performer as the brightest talent of nu-soul.
You may wonder if Coalmine Records has somehow fallen onto the BBC radar and its pupil, Durand Jones, is consistently aired every morning at 6am on BBC South West breakfast show alongside Motown classics, George Michael and Wings. You may legitimately wonder so, considering the unusual number of pensioners in the room. Honestly, I stumbled into a similar demographic when six months ago I went to a northern soul night in the same venue.
Facts that make me think that either Thekla has convenient conventions for over-50s or that soul music is irremediably a matter for mature spirits. Not that I can blame them: they lived through Motown heydays, Otis Redding, Sam Cooke, Aretha Franklin. And it is pure joy to see them enjoying themselves, more than anybody else, to the exquisite Southern soul melodies Durand and his Indications pull out.
The Indications are a groove machine and their sound is authentically vintage, to the point you wonder whether their songs are originals or obscure mid-60s B-sides. Durand Jones is an outstanding and empathic performer, maybe not as athletic as Mr Dynamite, but surely as magnetic as Otis Redding. The band’s latest studio effort, sophomore album American Love Call, is a strong, punchy work filled with social commentary about these uncertain times that inevitably draws parallels with Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On and Curtis Mayfield’s Curtis. It’s The Impressions’ member who, no wonder, is cited by Jones as a fundamental inspiration, without whom the album wouldn’t have happened.
After a sparkly cover of ‘Apache’ à la Incredible Bongo Band – with added cowbells adding a Latin flavour to the original – Jones and bandmates challenge themselves with a cover of Mayfield’s ‘If There’s a Hell Below (We’re All Gonna Go)’. Tight, very tight, probably too tight and funky to give justice to the subtle psychedelic soul of the original track. Jones, after all, isn’t a funkster; he’s a smooth, soulful voice. When he goes mid-tempo, in fact, he’s gigantic.
The Indications fire in a non-stop sequence: ‘Don’t You Know’, ‘Cruising Through the Park’ and ‘Morning in America’ delivering in less than 20 minutes some of the finest nu-soul tracks written in the last decade. Echoes of Curtis Mayfield blend throughout the whole set with the Spanish Harlem soul drumming of Aaron Frazer, who blesses a few tracks with his soft vocals, reminiscent of obscure Chicano soul 45s.
The Mayfield matrix is surely evident in Jones’ social engagement and his dedication to make a change with his music. He loves being an entertainer and he’s pretty good at it. Sometimes slightly too staged, as if you were watching a Sammy Davis Jr set at Caesar’s Palace or Sam & Dave performing in some Chicago nightclub. After all, that’s the genre and he’s a master in soul philology.
During a sermon throughout the end of gospel-flavoured ‘Long Way Home’, Jones affirms that, despite the effort of being away from home, touring life is worth it because the world needs what he’s doing – singing about love and brotherhood. Don’t get me wrong here, they’re lovely words, there’s outstanding social commentary, but the rebellious, counter-cultural impact on society – there’s none. Let’s be clear, it’s no Stormzy with a Banksy stab-proof vest on Glastonbury Pyramid Stage.
He’s talking, mostly, to a public of nostalgics. Then, I walk home, I look at my soul record collection and I realise that at the fairly young age of 23, I am a bit of a nostalgic myself and that Durand Jones & The Indications have performed my favourite gig of the year, for the second time.
See the video for ‘Cruisin’ To The Park’ here: