12 songs – 49 minutes
Laura Rain And The Caesars went old-school to record this album, their third release, which seamlessly blends vintage blues, soul, R&B and funk for the New Age while guaranteeing to keep you on the dance floor. Based in Detroit, they headed to nearby Pontiac, Mich., to lay down all of the originals you’ll hear here on a 16-track analog tape recorder.
Rain, who possesses a powerful voice with exceptional range, and band leader/producer/songwriting partner George Friend, a veteran of Janiva Magness’, rockabilly legend Robert Gordon’s and the Soul Messengers bands, tied the knot since the release of their previous album, the well-reviewed Closer.
They’re aided here by several of the best musicians in the Motor City as they bring this album chock full of retro soul to fruition. Joining in on the fun are Duncan McMillan (keyboards), Johnny Evans (tenor sax), Mark Kieme (baritone sax), John Douglas (trumpet) Darryl Pierce, Scott Veenstra, Leonard King and Rich Beamon (drums and percussion), and James Simonson and Gwenyth Hayes (bass).
While they’re based in the Motor City, their music is more of a throwback to what was termed Northern soul. It was a musical style that originated in the discotheques of Northern England, based primarily out of Manchester’s Twisted Wheel Club, and was popular from about 1963 through the early ’70s. It delivered a style of R&B that included artists that delivered music with a harder edge that the smoother, stylized offerings of Detroit. The sounds came from bands in Chicago, Memphis and Atlanta as well as local bands as depicted in the movie, “The Commitments.”
A catchy rhythmic hook kicks off “Work So Hard.” As it percolates and quickly gains intensity, it offers a glimmer of hope for folks who have to toil in a job for an uncaring boss: “You work so hard, hard, hard every day/There’s a better way…They can’t see the shine in your eyes/They don’t know how hard you will try.” The message carries over with a Latin feel as it focuses on the plight of musicians in “Hard Times.” Despite the struggle, Laura vows to continue to “break all the rules” as she sings the blues.
The rhythm section drives “You Can’t Stop,” a dark, terse complaint about a lover who repeats the same mistakes while the vocalist searches for a way to make her escape. The sensual “Pay To Play” is a medium-tempo grinder with a heavy bottom that details dealing with another problem child of a man whose terse words cut to the bone despite the vocalist’s labor to make the relationship work.
The mood brightens for the horn-propelled “Gold.” Laura sings praise for an easy-going lover’s strength as he steadfastly deals with adversity. The relationship theme continues with “Guilty Me,” a slow shuffle about one’s struggle to maintain sanity while dealing with the choice of having fallen for someone else while still in a union with another man. Friend’s guitar play is at its bluesy best throughout.
Next up, “Raise Your Hand” isn’t the Eddie Floyd classic song from the ‘60s, but a funky statement that you’ve got to labor on when “your foundation cracks and you lose your ground.” The blues ballad “Lonely Girl” deals with lies from two-timing lover, while “Cherry Pickin’” echos ‘60s Detroit soul as it delivers a message with heavy sexual overtones. The singer feels the heat when a certain man is near, but knows he doesn’t deserve her. She warns him: “Don’t pick my cherries!”
“Ring On The Table” follows and is head-and-shoulders my favorite song in the set. It’s an instant-classic break-up ballad set up by a spoken-word introduction. “You don’t have to yell any more to make your case,” Rain insists. “My tears are dry and I’m not looking to save face…My heart has bled, and my soul has cried.” She simply leaves the ring behind and walks away.
Two more originals conclude the set. “Better Than Me” is a realization that an ex is better off with his new woman, while “Ready To Love” brings things to a positive end despite all the woes described earlier on the disc. Finally, the singer’s learned her lessons and is eager to start over again.
Available through all of the major retailers, Gold glistens from the jump. It’s bluesy R&B with a modern message and familiar feel.