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Slow down as you approach the gate, and have your change ready....
Artist: Bryan Duncan and the Nehosoul Band
Label: Red Road Records
Length: 12 tracks / 53:11
Twenty four years ago, after recording six studio projects with Sweet Comfort Band, Bryan Duncan began a solo career that spawned no less than thirteen official releases by the year 2000. To the delight of Duncan fans everywhere (and there are a lot of them), not only is our Lunatic Friend back in action, but he’s brought his posse – Still Dancin’ is the first studio release of brand-new material by Bryan Duncan and the Nehosoul Band, a group of musicians that are dangerously funky and a perfect match for Bryan’s blue-eyed soul.
Without question, Duncan has always been one of the best male vocalists in or out of the Christian music scene. His impressive range, soulful delivery, vocal flexibility, and masterful phrasing never faltered through the years regardless of the variety of styles his repertoire wandered through. The man was and is, as they say, a stone singer. Whether it was soul, funk, pop, or ballad, Bryan wrote and performed songs that not only had musical integrity but were lyrically honest – sometimes to an uncomfortable degree – and the revelatory nature of his public appearances were often cathartic not only to Bryan, but to his audience. Like a couple of other ‘bad boys’ of CCM, Bryan didn’t hesitate to strip the veneer off the artificial ‘Super Christian’ image that so many other artists felt compelled to perpetuate. Through the on-stage antics – the humor, the sarcasm, the bravado – there was always a good dose of Truth and just a hint of pain and longing.
Today, Bryan is a man who has taken a good look at who he is and where God has taken him and shows us that, despite the realities of ‘working out your soul’s salvation,’ you can still dance if you want to. Duncan has had to learn the truth of the well-known ‘serenity prayer’ in recent years, and the result is what you hear on this project. Still Dancin’ is a celebration of life. This album is fun to listen to.
Bryan Duncan and the Nehosoul Band have created a funky testament to the likes of James Brown, Al Green, Gladys Knight & The Pips, Blood, Sweat & Tears, and Edgar Winter’s White Trash. These guys aren’t kids and they aren’t pretty-boys, and they mean business when they plug in their amps. The title track leads off the album with funky horn riffs (and a hot trombone solo by Tim Coleman), solid drums and percolating Bass under Duncan’s best soul-man vocals declaring, “still got to move with what’s movin’ me.” Some monster-funk follows in “Papa Ain’t Gonna Quit,” an appropriate homage to James Brown that even has Duncan shouting “I feel good!” at the end.
A funky, simmering Al Green / Memphis-groove permeates “Things You Bring,” with guitar, organ, electric keyboard and bass slow-cooking into a jazzy vamp that showcases some delicious vocal improvisation by Duncan and some very jazzy piano work by Phil Curry. We get a little more of this tasty mix as an unexpected bonus track at the end of the album. Although it starts like Blood, Sweat & Tears on steroids, “I Love You So” is one of the two most radio-friendly tracks on the CD (the other being the comforting “Only For Good,” with its overtly-Christian lyrics) – it has more of a signature Bryan Duncan sound: pop-funk with an edge. The sardonically wise “If You Wanna Be Lonely” starts off with some Steely Dan-like chords and quickly sets up a soulful groove for Duncan to sing his wry observations on the downside of “being right all the time.”
Two strong ballads, “Don’t Leave Me in the Dark” and “You Keep Me Comin’ Back” balance the funk with powerful lyrics and emotional playing. ‘Dark,’ in particular, recalls the power of Edgar Winter’s White Trash band and features an outro that really kicks up the jazz with amazing piano work and some stunning drums and bass work (kudos to Ricky B. Rogers for amazing bass playing throughout).
The funk returns full-strength on “If Only I,” with screaming horns, Stevie Wonder style keyboards and some strong back-up singing. “Second Chances” closes the track list with an appropriately moderate-tempo song that deals with exactly what the title implies and what, perhaps, this album is all about. Certainly, this new chapter in Duncan’s career is a second chance at creating a group persona – this time with the Nehosoul Band. Maybe this will give him more of the Sweet Comfort that he missed out on the first time.
It’s good to have Bryan back full-strength as he takes a step into the future by acknowledging his past. Not only does he immerse himself in the soul, R&B, jazz, rock and funk that was his foundation, but he reunites with writing partner Bob Carlisle on four songs, and features fellow CCM veteran Darrell Mansfield blowing a mean harmonica on the bluesy seventh track, “Chains.” Once again, Duncan offers lyrics that combine humor with hope and, as always, a measure of spiritual insight.
Bryan’s still dancin’ and still taking names. You don’t wanna’ mess with this band, but you sure don’t want to pass them by.