Soul/Funk: Meet the 2014 RFT Music Award Nominees
The 2014 Riverfront Times Music Showcase will be held this year on June 7 in the Grove! Think of it as St. Louis music's own official holiday and consider this the season. Throughout May we at RFT Music will be making our cases for all 140 bands and artists nominated for an RFT Music Award this year, so that you will be able to make a fully informed decision with regards to your vote. Read on and get yourself acquainted, and we'll see you at the showcase!
See also: Vote Now For the 2014 RFT Music Awards
Collinsville, Illinois, native Al Holliday made quite the splash locally with his latest effort, 2013's Made It Through the Mill, Again -- so much so, in fact, that we named it one of the best releases of the year and dubbed Holliday one of the best singers in St. Louis. But superlatives aside, he and his crew, the East Side Rhythm Band, absolutely warrant your attention. Its members may only be in their twenties, but you wouldn't know it from the music, which has the depth and grit one might expect from seasoned veterans. Altogether, Al Holliday and Co. form one of the finest St. Louis revival bands this side of Pokey LaFarge -- and that's no small feat.
Being a funk band that specializes in original music isn't easy here or any town. There are gigs if you want to be the chumps who play Stevie Wonder, P-Funk and the rest of the wedding-party hits, and what's more, you won't have to worry about trivial matters like having an actual identity. Big Brother Thunder and the Master Blasters would rather take its chances with an eclectic, horn-rich mix of hard funk, barrio soul, Latin jazz and Afro-Caribbean roots, splashing some groovy psychedelic colors in along the way. That original approach (and a ton of hard work) is starting pay off: The band was recently announced as part of this year's LouFest lineup.
Though it's named after Hawthorne City in the Los Angeles basin, the Hawthorne Headhunters collective has its roots deep in St. Louis. Now led principally by Black Spade and Coultrain, the group's cinematic, textured sound has found a definitive representation on the 2012 release Myriad of Now. The album has the feeling of studio professionals wholly relaxed and stretching out in their creative space. Electronic to the core, it features cameos from St. Louis hip-hop stars Tef Poe and Rockwell Knuckles and shows flashes of jazz and R&B fire as it shifts in and out of head-nodding focus.
When Nikki Hill performs in St. Louis, she's most likely to be found playing for free at Blues City Deli or at a Mexican restaurant on Cherokee Street. It's not that she doesn't have a local following -- just try to squeeze into one of those joints when she takes the stage -- but she hasn't quite hit the way she has in Europe or on the West Coast, where she's become an R&B phenomenon. She and her band, led by husband and guitarist Matt Hill, ooze charisma and musicianship. With a classic soul belter's voice (a la early Irma Thomas or Barbara George, who's "I Know" she downright owns) and rock & roll instincts (ala hero Little Richard), Hill is sure to break in this town -- and soon.
Big Soul was an appropriate title for Ransom Note's fine second LP. The lineup of this group can swell to eight or nine members, and its latest batch of songs can be as smooth as 1,000-threadcount silk sheets or as vital and sizzling as any guitar-based rock band in town. Merv Schrock remains a commanding presence on the record, with a voice that can be expressively raspy or sweetly honeyed. "Russian Blue" floats like a lullaby, while "Are You Waiting" finds his bandmates locked in on a steely (Steely?) groove. The record is a good step forward for Ransom Note, but the live stage is where these songs take flight.