Hybrid Soul, “Live at the Empty Glass”
Is there a better young singer in West Virginia than Shayla Leftridge? She can do it all — soar like Alicia Keys, purr like Ashanti, and funk it up like Chaka Khan, three of whose songs (including the classic ballad “Sweet Thing” and the evergreen ’80s tune “Ain’t Nobody”) made their way to this all-covers set recorded live at Charleston’s Empty Glass. It’s the rest of Hybrid Soul, though, that seals the deal. Forget synthetic R&B: This is a band that’s more interested in the in-the-moment thrill of live performance than the gloss of drum machines or other artificial elements. The chemistry is incredible, the rhythmic drive immense thanks to Jaysen Lapsley and Tajae Mosley, and the song selection plays like a jukebox spin through the various ages of soul music, from mid-’60s Aretha (“Chain of Fools”) through Soul II Soul’s 1989 hit “Back to Life” and leading up to the millennial neo-soul of Jill Scott, Erykah Badu and others. The six-piece group captures the tricky rhythms of Snarky Puppy’s “Deep” without missing a beat as Sara Reneé takes over the vocal duties. And the guys in the band are no slouches when it’s their turn at the mic, either, as on Maxwell’s slow, sexy “Bad Habits” or Musiq’s “Just Friends,” where they seem to be channeling Prince in his early, synth-dominated days.
The Spanglers, “Restless”
If it’s American roots music you’re looking for, this Lewisburg-based family band fits the bill nicely. Their folkier material (“Last Chance,” “I’ll See You Again”) is built on sturdy songwriting and thoughtful arrangements, while bluesy songs like “Who Loves You, Baby” and “Brother Cain” have surprisingly deep grooves. “Visions of You” is the clear highlight, a country waltz combining a hymnlike melody with an arrangement that carries emotional heft by alternating between sections of driving rock and old-timey, back-porch a cappella harmonizing. Thematically, the Spanglers might benefit from more self-awareness; their Facebook pledge that their music will “make you use your head for something other than a hat rack” doesn’t jibe with the magical thinking in songs like “Circles” or the otherwise catchy “No Such Thing,” whose rhythm captures the whimsical bounce of Beatles hits like “Penny Lane” or “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer.” But when this father, two sons, a daughter and friends skillfully turn a blues cliché on its head in the Otis Redding-style “Washington Street” — the protagonist’s idea of romantic braggadocio is “Gonna talk a little/Gonna listen a lot/You’ll enjoy my company” — the cleverness can’t be denied.
Jordan Andrew Jefferson, “The Only Way Out Is In”
Barboursville native Jordan Andrew Jefferson could have ended up singing the protest songs of his dad’s hero, Bob Dylan. Instead, he gravitated to a different ’60s archetype: the nostalgic, earnest, Southern California pop of acts like The Beach Boys. Jefferson’s music evokes not only the sun-drenched atmosphere of that group, but its form, too, all sweetly dreamy piano lines, wistful strumming and intricate vocal harmonies that glide into a Brian Wilson falsetto at just the right moments. “Ghost By The Water” and “Borderline” are well-crafted, radio-friendly pop/rock with choruses that beg to sung along to, while the claves that echo beneath the understated melody of “Beyond Words” and the bossa nova backing vocals (performed by Jefferson’s wife) decorating “It Is What It Is” flaunt the influence of Burt Bacharach without a hint of irony. Radio-friendly without being overtly commercial, “The Only Way Out Is In” is as warm as a summer day, and just as mood-enhancing.