Sy Kopps,
Berkeley Soul
(Bullseye, 2000)

Sy Kopps has put together a lively and pleasant CD. Its ten songs are solid covers of some excellent songs in the blues/soul tradition, and his arrangements give them a jazzy edge.

Most of the songs are about relationships -- not a political theme among them! There's not a lot of new ground here, but that's fine; one generally doesn't listen to blues for novelty of theme. The bases are well covered -- a few songs by the wandering man leaving the women who love him, a few about the woman leaving the man who loves her, even a couple of happier ones! In addition, there's the requisite song about singing the blues. All the songs, even the sadder ones, are upbeat in sound -- this is not a blues album for depressed times and moods.

I particularly liked "The Rock" with its plays on words and concepts -- a rock is stable and reliable, but also heavy and sometimes a burden. The singer's efforts to be a rock in a positive way have led his love to feel he's "some old rock, weighing [her] down." Nothing's resolved, but the juxtapositions are though-provoking and moving, and Kopps has done a nice job of arranging and presenting it.

"Talk to Me" is a lovely and melodic love song, as is "Walk Slow." Both of these structurally tie blues and some early rock styles together; it's interesting to hear an example of their similar and separate evolutions. That's an aspect of this CD I found fascinating; these are not the only two tracks that display these similarities. It's an interesting subtext in the album as a whole, and emphasized by the use of the background singers.

The background vocals are nicely done. Still, they're the part of this album I like the least. I find their ubiquity distracting, yanking my attention away from the song, the wonderful horns, the subtle rhythm section, and even the lead vocals. Somewhat less of them would have benefitted the music more. Musically, they are in the early-rock tradition of repeating phrases, often, almost as if everyone were afraid that the listeners' attention would lag if there were moments during which no one sang. This is something of an exaggeration, but I really found them all too pervasive.

I particularly dislike having my attention distracted from the absolutely marvelous horns. These have style and grace and verve, and are so much more exciting than the vocals that overwhelmed them. There was some interesting rhythm work being done, too, and I would have liked to hear more of it.

In general, I prefer blues rather more spare than they are here. If you like a richer orchestration, you'll like this album a lot. It's got great energy and pacing, and the song selections are well chosen. I like this album despite my complaints about the background singing, and I would love to hear them live! It sounds like a really great show.

[ by Amanda Fisher ]

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