The Phantom Tollbooth

Artist: Filet of Soul
Label: Shank Records
Time:  40:34 / 12 tracks

Imagine what you'd find if you crossed the poppy alternative vibes of Seattle bands like Nirvana and Poor Old Lu with the lush production and acoustic-folk of Jars of Clay and the solid funkified soul music of bands like Adam Again and the Neville Brothers. The result is a curious gumbo called Filet of Soul, another Athens/Atlanta, Georgia-based band that proves there must be something shared in the local food supply that feeds creative geniuses and musical prodigies like REM and the Vigilantes of Love. (Speaking of which, neighbor Bill Mallonee produced three of these tracks.) Actually, Filet of Soul has called their sundry style alterna-folk-funk rock. If you like labels, that's the most fitting one for this synthesis of alternative rock, pop, funk, folk, jazz and even Seventies disco vibes. If you could cross Sly & the Family Stone with Toad the Wet Sprocket, you'd be pretty close to being true to the mark, but they've also been likened in the past to folkier and funkier versions of the Eagles and the Dave Matthews Band. Regardless, you don't need to call it anything to know at first listen that it is a creative, catchy, diverse, accessible, spicy plate full of fun.

Central to the mix are Adam Beadles fine lead vocals. Although he does not stand out as being particularly unusual in his vocal talents, his smooth and gentle style is always used to appropriately graceful effect. Adam Beadles also contributes skillful amounts of saxophone and harmonica parts for savory flavor. His brother, Greg Beadles, is the band's principal songwriter and guitar player, leaving tasty trails of excellent picking and rhythmic wah-wah in his wake. Bass player Randy Chester, the newest member of the band, plays a slippery bass that holds the songs together tightly. Most notably, Cornelius Freeman pounds out some of the best percussion these ears have heard in a while. Incommunicado is worth the purchase price alone to hear this talented young drummer. The Schab String Quartet, whoever they are, add wonderful texture to one stand-out track, and other notable session players offer up everything from an oboe to a clarinet and the trusty Hammond b-3 organ. Adding to the appeal, the band's luxuriant harmonies are mesmerizing, adding a rich quality to this tight mix. The combination of all this talent is a signature sound that defies easy categorization, yet sounds excitingly fresh and well-performed.

Nearly every song of the twelve on this album could be a radio single, but a few stand-out above the overall high caliber of the rest. "Lower Me" is a six-minute ballad that recalls Jars of Clay's gifted ability for lush string arrangements coupled with a melancholy melody and a memorable message that juxtaposes Jesus's healing of the paralytic who was lowered through the roof with contemporary disillusionment while hiding behind masks. This track in particular is beautiful, right down to the moody strains of the saxophone that waft in and around the compelling compound:

 I don't want to tell a lie
 Just to make you wonder why
 I don't want to hide the truth
 What do I have to do to prove to you...
 Lower me through the roof.
In contrast, the funked up ride on "Freight Train" takes listeners on a groovy trip to better places; the instrumental "Copperpot" throws down a disco-jazz cacophony sure to shake your booty; and the bass line of "Point of View" slaps its way through a soul-infused number that reminds us that God's loving perspective of us is vastly different than our dimly-lit veiled view.

The most overtly message-oriented of these tracks is "Broken Mirror," which paraphrases scripture in an encouragement to the faithful worth hearing:

 Here's my life, oh my God, make me in the image of your Son
 That I may be like you
 Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart
 Be acceptable to you.
 Directed lyrics like that contrast with the more playful advice given to a friend who lost his love in "Sebastian:"
 I know what you need
 Ten thousand dollars
 Go to Las Vegas
 See Rick James boogie down.
 Whether waxing worshipful or having fun, Filet of Soul has penned songs that concern themselves with hope and joy in the midst of modern day anxiety.

As a reviewer reviewing countless albums a year, it is the rare unknown band that impresses me to the point of offering my highest recommendation. This band is one of those.  Put them on your list of must-hear bands, and tell them I sent you. For more information about the availability of their album, visit their web site at

Steven Stuart Baldwin  (11/19/98)