The Sully Band – Let’s Straighten It Out!
Belly Up Records/Blue Elan Records
A good, slick Soul band is gold. Being able to interpret, not just cover, classic material can make a night and keep a venue rocking. You need a great singer, not just a copycat of one of the masters, you need a great rhythm section – bass and drums working in perfect funky unity – and if you can put together a horn section: fire. The Sully Band is this type of unit. On their debut record Let’s Straighten It Out! they show the goods. Recorded mostly live over 5 days in the studio, this loose concept record detailing the many sides of love through various 60’s and 70’s cover songs is a smooth, at times surprising, romp.
Bob “Sully” Sullivan is a long time music lover who 35 years after trying to make it in the mean streets of 80’s LA has fully embodied his musical muse. A clean and clear singer, Sully has a dirty “blue-eyed soul” quality to his voice expressing the miles he’s tread and the joy and passion at the heart of Soul music. Bassist James East anchors the band with energetic low end. The band sports a hot horn section featuring Tipp Sprague on sax, flute and harp and Steve Dillard on trumpet and flugelhorn. The secret weapon is singer Rebecca Jade who sings backgrounds and a thrilling duet on the Dr. John written Bonnie & Delany and Aretha Franklin covered “When the Battle Is Over.”
Grammy Award winning producer Chris Goldsmith helps Sully and Co. to fashion a sound that is referential to the source material but also unique and of its own. Well-worn chestnuts and deep cuts are equally given the Sully Band stamp. With clean placement of the instruments – guitar in the left ear, organ/piano in the right, drums and bass down the center – the band is allowed to show off their party skills. The Shuggie Otis hidden gem “Ice Cold Daydream” is given it’s crunchy guitar rock due. Billy Preston’s “Nothing from Nothing” has a modern Funk to it with a surprising banjo groove during the outro. The Albert Collins plea “If You Love Me Like You Say” is given a 2nd line NOLA thump and the aforementioned opener “When the Battle Is Over” has a very hip chanting vocal line that thunders.
The Sully Band really surprises when it reinvents. The album title track is a Latimore nugget, all 70’s spoken word cool. Here Sully forgoes the spoken rap and soul shouts over the layered horns, modern R&B movement of bassist East and the smooth electric piano. Similarly unique but on the other side of the musical spectrum is their album closing interpretation of Jackie Wilson’s “Higher and Higher.” Taken at a slower pace with big strumming guitar and tambourine laden percussion, Sully takes this work horse through a John and Yoko “Happy Xmas (War is Over)” filter. Rephrasing the lyrics and never overreaching for those high notes, Sully shows he knows how to accentuate his talents.
The Sully Band seem to be making a splash in the San Diego/Southern California music scene. For good reason. This is a tight crew with a soulful and unique front man and some high end talent. Let’s Straighten It Out! is a killer set that shows what this band can do without showing off. This is heartfelt homage and thoughtful interpretation and as such it is at times a thrilling new approach to Soul.