Vocalist Ben Hernandez appreciates the potency of soul. In fact, his prior band, Malachi Henry & The Lights, recorded with the same Los Angeles musicians who played for Mavis Staples. This time around, he teams up with Kevin Spencer (guitars/vocals), Scot Smart (guitars/bass), Aaron Hook (bass), Shea Thompson (keys/vocals) and Cheyne Dolly (drums). Known collectively as Bright West, when their groove locks, they positively cook.
Blending classic gospel with modern shades of alt-rock and electronica, the band’s debut EP Breakers crashes out of the gate with "Shake Dance." The opening track delivers enough “love, peace and soul” to rouse the spirit of Don Cornelius, amplifying every nook of secular testification. Hernandez weaves his voice through a heavily drummed rhythm section before a call-and-response chorus keeps the tail feathers quaking. This all happens quickly (within 36 seconds, in fact), but the urgency itself is what propels the locomotive forward. Just as smartly, the Nile Rodgers-tinged guitar lick knows when to accompany and when to step aside. “The Holy Ghost power keeps the lights on / It’s the fury and the sound / Lightning coming down,” sings Hernandez, offering the perfect rationalization for the lack of empty seats along the wall of the proverbial dance floor. Even the slack-jawed Mosaic Man on the album’s cover can’t help but process the vibes.
What is surprising, then, is how Breakers fails to preserve its momentum. After towel drying from the opener, the remaining tracks don’t seem designed to keep the follicles dripping. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that – why pigeonhole oneself? – but since we’re having such a blast, seeing the punch bowl wheeled off in favor of a crudité platter can be, well, disheartening. Fortunately, “Milk and Honey” offers enough of a plodding shimmy to help the shoulders moving. Echoing shades of Zac Browne and The Allman Brothers Band, the tune feels primed to become an outdoor concert staple. Or, at very least, an enjoyable dancehall comedown.
“Upon The Shoals” and the title track “Breakers,” delve a bit more into the adult contemporary landscape. It’s responsible music for folks who demur that third can of Genessee Cream Ale. The former rides an already established chilled groove while the latter sounds like an updated Bruce Hornsby. And just as suddenly, the rough and tumble “shake kids” of those back alley bars are all grown up, eating caviar off crackers on some docked yacht. Yes, in just four tracks and 15 minutes, we’ve experienced a partial life cycle.
Given Hernandez’ prowess in navigating the world of music production, it’s clear that Breakers is no amateur project. Undoubtedly, Bright West can hold their own in the soul circle-of-trust, boasting the chops that fellow white boys like The Afghan Whigs flaunted decades earlier. Let’s hope they keep tapping that vein. Thrombosis is a bitch.
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