There’s a definite rise in the number of soul music groups, and not just in the back-in-the-day-revival, televised for a PBS fundraiser special bands. You know: The Drifters, The Miracles, The Bar-Kays. It’s hard to turn on pop radio today without catching a Mayer Hawthorne or Fitz and the Tantrums song. But the real contemporary soul artists — the Sharon Joneses, the Lee Fields, the Charles Bradleys — those with street cred and back stories and sometimes decades-long careers that only just right now are taking off: Those musicians can be found on independent labels like Daptone Records in Brooklyn and, more recently, G.E.D. Soul Records in Nashville.
“Since the early 2000s, there’s been a large interest and resurgence in soul bands everywhere,” says G.E.D. cofounder Nick DeVan. “I wouldn’t say it’s because of us so much.”
DeVan and Dave Singleton launched the label in ‘07 to represent bands who record in their Poor Man Studios. According to the label’s website, they started out specializing in 45s but have expanded to include LPs, CDs and MP3s. The project was, originally, a labor of love. DeVan drummed for DeRobert and the Half-Truths and Singleton played bass. Singleton drummed for Sky Hi, the only band in the G.E.D. stable that existed prior to the label.
“Dave and I played a lot of the instruments, other than the horns and vocals, on the first couple of records,” says DeVan. “Sometimes we’d do recordings with just Dave and me and horns, and we’d call it DeRobert and the Half-Truths or Magic in Threes.” When those bands played live, DeVan and Singleton would bring in various Nashville musicians to flesh out the lineup. That’s one bonus to living in music city.
It’s also the reason why G.E.D.’s roster is a Venn diagram of overlapping artists. Sky Hi’s bassist Tim Hawkins also plays with AJ & The Jiggawats; the Jiggawats’ vocalist AJ Easton does double duty in The Coolin’ System. The Coolin’ System’s bassist, David Guy also takes the stage with DeRobert. The latter collective is the house band for G.E.D. They’re also All Go West alums and will headline this week’s installment of the RiverMusic series as part of a G.E.D. soul showcase with labelmates the Jiggawats.
But, while a soul music label just one state away is welcome, is Nashville really a likely base for that heady mix of gospel, R&B, funk and divinely-infused secular grit? There was soul in Detroit, Memphis and New Orleans. There was soul in Chicago, Philly and even the U.K. But in the epicenter of country music?
DeVan says yes. Sort of. “Since Nashville had so many studios, and so many acts came through Nashville, anybody who was anybody would have recorded here or stopped off for shows,” he says. And there’s the city’s Jefferson Street area which, from the ‘40s to the early ‘60s was “one of America’s best-known districts of jazz, blues and rhythm and blues,” according to the historic district’s website. Little Richard, Ray Charles and even Jimi Hendrix played Jefferson Street’s many clubs up until an interstate bisected the neighborhood. (The happy ending to this story is that Jefferson Street is being revitalized and hosts an annual jazz and blues festival.)
While G.E.D. Records is not located in that North Nashville community, it does share an appreciation for the aesthetics of another era. “We have done some releases that were strictly tape,” says DeVan, referencing the analog equipment that gave vintage soul bands their warm sound. But the studio owner, who went to school for engineering, doesn’t shy away from modern technology. “We often record to tape and then dump it to ProTools,” he says. “We go back and forth. Tape is really expensive to do. If you want to do a whole project on tape, your tape machine needs to be in really good shape.”
Right now, his machine is in fine form. And the other advantage G.E.D. has is the use of its own studio, which means time constraints due to studio fees aren’t a hindrance. “We can take our time on projects, and do them however we want,” says DeVan.
And, he adds, while there isn’t an historic Music City soul sound, the new class of bands honing their horn solos and emotive vocals might just make that a thing. “We do try to put our own Nashville spin on it,” says DeVan.
— Alli Marshall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
what: G.E.D. Soul Records Showcase featuring DeRobert & The Half-Truths and AJ & The Jiggawatts. Brass band interludes by Empire Strikes Brass.
where: RiverMusic at the RiverLink Sculpture and Performance Plaza.
when: Friday, July 12 (5 p.m., free. http://avl.mx/tz)