Smoove & Turrell: Eccentric Audio
Jalapeno Records / JAL 112
Word By Andy DeVilbiss
If you're a regular visitor to this space (and we here at MM certainly hope you are), you might recall me mentioning an English act a few weeks back. If you didn't catch their name the first time, etch it into your dome now, funkateers... Smoove & Turrell. Smoove's the funky DJ and producer. John Turrell's the ridiculous singer. And their second full-length release, Eccentric Audio, should be on the year-end "Best of 2011" list of any funk/soul critic worth their salt. Whether I'm salty enough to sway your opinion is debatable, but it will be on mine.
It's rare that I have expectations for an album, but, after I marked out for 2009's Antique Soul, I had high expectations for Smoove & Turrell's follow-up. I don't know if the dreaded sophomore jinx applies in the UK generally, but it certainly doesn't apply to this here joint. Eccentric Audio exceeded my expectations, and it's better than their debut, which made me wonder how they tweaked their recipe to create this new and improved awesome sauce.
Through a little research (yes, we do research here from time to time), it turns out there was a huge difference in the two albums. Apparently, the beats on their first effort were, paraphrasing his own assessment, Smoove's leftovers, unfinished tracks, and what-have-you's that he felt were missing something. Turrell's voice turned out to be that missing something. Think of it like a baseball manager bringing in the ace closer from the bullpen. This time around, both guys were on the coaching staff, and that explains why Eccentric Audio has more focused and refined vibe than its predecessor. It was a collaboration between the two from the start, built from the ground up over two years while they worked and performed together, breaking in a solid backing band to help in the studio along the way.
Smoove brings a thoughtful flow and precise production throughout with a mix of styles that keep the journey fresh. He handles neo-soul ("Let Yourself Go"), disco-house ("In Deep"), jazz ("Slow Down"), cinematic funk ("Money") seamlessly while honing his hip-hop edges and shining his dancing shoes. Even moments that might initially seem a bit derivative, like channeling Michael Jackson in the opening riffs of "It's The Falling In Love," feel fresh and shiny (that track features some sterling bass work by Andy Champion). He creates ear-grabbing layers while never diluting the power and emotion of Turrell's voice.
Sweet jeebus... that voice. I hope England knows they need to just go ahead and put John Turrell on their list of great soul singers past or present along with Dusty Springfield, Tom Jones, Steve Winwood, Adele, Joss Stone, and whoever else (Personally I'd like to hear a duet with Turrell and Alice Russell). He has the distinct tone and stylistic mastery of a true great, capable of everything from subdued sadness ("Gabriel") to propulsive, get-yo-ass-on-tha-floor joy. He's also found greater emotional depth in his lyrics that pops up across introspective ballads ("Wasted Man"), traditional soul subjects like bitching about evil women ("Hard Times") and financial woes ("Broke"), or a raging party jam that's a scathing critique of socially-climbing posers ("Higher"). That lyrical depth is really just gravy. Like any soul singer, it always comes back to the voice, and Turrell's is a gift from the blue-eyed soul gods.
Perhaps you feel I'm being a bit too effusive with my praise, but Eccentric Audio has everything I want from a great funk/soul album - slick production, a talented, honest and moving singer, a great band, and just the right variety of style and pacing. I've listened to this album 10-12 times easily already and have yet to grow tired of it, which leads me to one conclusion. Smoove & Turrell have made a must-have, instant classic. At the very least, it's my favorite album of the year so far.
Don't rest on the laurels of these glowing paragraphs though, Mssrs. Smoove & Turrell. There is a downside to all of this, blokes. Putting out this monster of an album just means the bar of my expectations has been raised even higher for your next opus. Good luck.