Kings Go Forth, The Outsiders Are Back

The soul revival isn’t reviving any careers– it’s creating them. Older musicians like Sharon Jones, Lee Fields, and Charles Walker were never exactly household names, not even among record collectors, but now they find themselves with more professional potential in front of them than behind them. Since there is little context for these artists, they aren’t obliged to sleepwalk through old hits or old routines. Despite the reliance on old sounds, it’s all new. It’s an exciting moment for soul music, as albums by Jones, Fields, Walker’s the Dynamites, and now Kings Go Forth indicate these older musicians are taking nothing for granted, which lends their music an urgency that transcends mere revivalism.

The musician known as Black Wolf wasn’t well known outside the world of cratediggers and soul enthusiasts when he struck up a conversation with Andy Noble, owner of Lotus Records in Milwaukee. During the 1970s, Black Wolf had been a member of the Essentials, a regional soul act whose claim to fame was recording in Curtis Mayfield’s studio. He and Noble started a new band and named it Kings Go Forth, after a 1958 Frank Sinatra-Tony Curtis movie. Since then, the 10-member, intergenerational outfit has released a series of 7″ singles and gradually but determinedly built a reputation as a dynamic live act, settling easily into complex grooves that highlight Black Wolf’s high-flying vocals. Along the way, the band has picked up some notable admirers: Famed disco DJ Tom Moulton, who really did invent the remix, mixed their “Don’t Take My Shadow”, and D.C. folk artist Mingering Mike, famous for painting covers for imaginary albums, created the artwork for the first Kings Go Forth full-length, The Outsiders Are Back.

This record gathers singles dating back to 2007 yet proves cohesive and consistent. Rather than a collection of mismatched parts, Outsiders sounds like a unified work, even if it does showcase the range of their sound and chops. Kings Go Forth run through soul-revue rave-ups as well as midtempo vocal-group numbers, and they even dabble in reggae on the snaky “1000 Songs”. Drummer Jeremy Kuzniar’s casually complex beats propel the songs forcefully. From that sturdy foundation, Kings Go Forth build songs full of punchy horns and swelling strings, topping off everything with insistent vocals from Black Wolf, Dan Fernandez, and Matt Norberg. None of the singers has the presence and personality of, say, Sharon Jones, but they compensate by trading off lead and back-up frequently, recalling groups like the Temptations and the Pips one minute and solo soul stirrers like Otis Redding or Lou Rawls the next.

Of course it sounds great: Adherence to period-appropriate production techniques is a bedrock tenet of the soul revival, so the album could be mistaken for a decades-old artifact. That’s not an end in itself, but a means of bolstering the band’s sound and ratcheting up the tension of their grooves. The horn breakdown on the sped-up “I Don’t Love You No More” sounds like all of Michael Masser & Mandrill squaring off against Ali, and “You’re the One” bursts out in Technicolor vocals that stretch from Philly all the way to Motown. Outsiders, however, never comes across like a pastiche of old styles and steps. Instead, the urgency of these songs reveals a band anchored strongly in the present but with their eyes toward the future.

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