The Soul of John Black
January 30, 2009
Meet John "JB" Bigham, AKA The Soul of John Black. And hold the Marvin Gaye
and Otis Redding comparisons.
The latest crop of retro soul singers -- Anthony Hamilton, Amy Winehouse,
Ricky Fante, Adele, Raphael Saadiq, James Morrison, Jamie Lidell, Sharon
Jones -- invariably mine the sounds and mannerisms of Motown and Stax/Volt.
It's understandable; that's the mother lode of soul music. But it's
refreshing to encounter in Bigham a soul singer and songwriter who dials the
Wayback machine to radically different eras. Like 1969 San Francisco and the
proto-funk of Sly and the Family Stone. Like 1971 James Brown and the
blaxploitation soundtracks of Curtis Mayfield and Isaac Hayes. Like 1983
Prince. Like the swamp boogie of 1968 Creedence Clearwater Revival. Like,
God forbid, the country blues of 1927 Son House and Charley Patton.
To say that Bigham is heir to multiple traditions is a major understatement.
A former member of Miles Davis' band, a cornerstone of the great funk-ska
band Fishbone, and session man for everyone from Dr. Dre to Bruce Hornsby,
Bigham has used his diverse musical background as a springboard for an
exploration of the intersection of blues, rock, soul, and funk. He
seamlessly merges influences and eras, and the results can be heard on his
fine new album Black John, out February 17th on Electro Groove Records. The
groove is, indeed, the thing. It's relentless, and it's enough to get this
sedentary, couch-potato white guy off his backside and spasming in suburbia.
Look, I try. The lyrics are inconsequential; what matters is the soul and
funk, and Bigham brings it on every track. He's a fine singer, too, throwing
in Godfather of Soul grunts and gospel melismas and pleading,
sexually-charged asides that are worthy of Al Green.