Title - 'Tales of the Soul'
Artist - Devin B. Thompson
For those not in the know, soul music is a deep well, and the mercury-voiced Devin B. Thompson plumbs the form to its depths in Tales of the Soul, the Chicago-based singer-songwriter’s striking Severn Records bow, which arrives October 30th, 2020.
Co-produced by Thompson, Severn founder David Earl, and pianist-musical director Kevin Anker, the 11-track release was recorded at the label’s Annapolis, Maryland, studio.
The collection features the company’s ace house band: Anker, guitarist Johnny Moeller, organist Benjie Porecki, bassist Steve Gomes, and drummer Robb Stupka.
The group’s earthy yet silken sound is augmented by a four-piece horn section, a hip-pocket chorus of background vocalists, and storied guitarist Robben Ford, who guests on two tracks.
1. 'Love To See You Smile'
2. 'I'm Gonna Cry A River'
3. 'Something You Can Do Today'
4. 'Back Together'
5. 'I Ain't No Good'
6. 'Get Home Tonight'
7. 'Can't Get Over You'
9. 'Read Your Mind'
10. 'Time After Time'
11. 'Tell Me'
Opening with the euphoric Gospel sounds of 'Love To See You Smile' that's backed by the mid-tempo, horn and organ-imbued flow of 'I'm Gonna Cry A River,' the gentle, Choir -like hipsway of 'Something You Can Do Today,' and then both the soulful R&B of 'Back Together' and the funky 'I Ain't No Good.'
Next up is the harmonious, one-two soul rhythm of 'Get Home Tonight,' which is followed by the slow roll of 'Can't Get Over You,' the lush 'Deeper,' the guitar-led pop funk of 'Read Your Mind,' rounding out on the Gospel-inspired 'Time After Time,' closing on the uptown, upbeat, foot-tappin' melodies of 'Tell Me.'
Tales of the Soul is the culmination of a musical career that began in Thompson’s early teens in the city of Joliet, just southwest of the Windy City.
He was the product of a musical family, and, like many a soul great, he has a church background: His father was a choir singer whose voice attracted the attention of the famed producer Thom Bell, and his sister also led a choir.
"I was playing trumpet and singing background in my older brother’s band,” Thompson recalls. “We started getting paid to play in variety shows when I was 14 or 15 years old, in Joliet. We’d play at places like the Ebony Terrace, the Sheraton Hotel, lounges.”
He increasingly segued into singing as the group played shows around the Midwest. “Because I was a horn player,” he says, “at first I didn’t really look to vocalists as any kind of inspiration."
"I was looking at instrumentalists — Miles Davis, Jimi Hendrix, Johnny Guitar Watson. Those were the people I gravitated towards. Later on it was Marvin Gaye, Sam Cooke, the Staples, Donny Hathaway."
"Then I was introduced to the music of Joe Williams, the jazz singer, Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett. I didn’t become interested in songwriting until I heard Prince, who became my favorite artist.”
Ultimately, the performer who would have the greatest impact on Thompson’s style and career was someone he knew personally.
“Willie Newsome was a huge influence,” he says. “I knew this man all my life. It’s a funny thing. I had a record player in my room, and I would go through all my dad’s old 45s."
"I threw one on and went, ‘Man, this is great. Who is this, Dad?’ The label said Frankie Newsome, and I didn’t know anybody named Frankie Newsome. He said, ‘Man, that’s Willie!’"
"He had a lot of records under different monikers — Little Willie Parker, Willie Parker, and Frankie Newsome.”
Thompson and Newsome eventually worked together in a Chicago-based society band, the Georgia Francis Orchestra. In 2015, some of Newsome’s highly prized singles for small Windy City labels attracted the attention of an English promoter, who featured him on a major Northern Soul festival in Manchester.
In closing, and although it was created half a continent away from his Midwestern stomping grounds, Devin B. Thompson’s Severn debut Tales of the Soul proved to be a surprising, and yet highly rewarding experience for the musician; as it will for listeners too.
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