LeRoy Bell and His Only Friends "Rock 'n Soul"
Martez Music

Where did you spend New Year's Eve, 2013? Maria and I spent it with friends...well, with LeRoy Bell and His Only Friends! Kirkland, WA, rocked the night away and we had front row seats to a crazy-fun night.

The activities were kicked off by a group that was new to me, Red Jacket Mine, but they won me over very quickly. Quirky, entertaining, and perhaps a jaded view or two about the world around them -- but I digress, I'll review their CD, "Someone Else's Cake" very soon...

LeRoy Bell and His Only Friends (do I have to type that out each time? LeRoy & Co?)
took the stage after a brief intermission that featured a couple "fire dancers" (that used LED lights instead of fire because of fire codes).....? Anyway, as odd as that was, when the band took over for the next 2--ish hours, the night was bliss. Songs new & old were brought out to bring in the new year, and what a joyous night it was, capped by fan-favorites "A Change Is Coming" and "Everybody" ("Change" involved audience participation, for which I was singled out a second time to aid in the chorus; the first was when the band played Redmond, WA, in 2012...okok, on to the band & CD, not my personal limelight highlights). 

Because we have seen the band perform so many times since first watching them perform at the Everett Marina in Summer 2010, even newer songs soon become familiar to us and we forget if we have them on CDs at home or not. (Yes, X-Factor era fans, LeRoy has a nice collection of discs before this one!) It was no surprise that I recognized most of these songs as soon as they began their rotation in my car...

[Ok, I know the date says 2012, and this is now 2014, but this is the most recent from the band and, well...it's my blog, so ;) yep, I make the rules. (Keep this in mind for future reference, as I will occasionally feature local artists that may not have an incredibly super-duper new disc!) It's new to me, as I didn't have the $$ for it last summer so I got it at the NYE show instead. So............ On with the review!]

...there were only a couple tracks on "Rock 'n Soul" that I wasn't familiar with (more likely because they haven't been performed live for some reason).
With this CD, LeRoy & Co blends in a couple older tracks in with all-new material, allowing new listeners to sample of what came before, and (hopefully) check out the prior albums. Also on this CD, LeRoy added another Only Friend, keyboardist Daniel Walker (who also performed with Red Jacket Mine in the opening act, as well as on their CD ~ to be reviewed later, yada yada). Before the four became four, LeRoy's Only Friends were a power-trio of skill, fun, and energy that consisted of (and still do consists of) bassist Terry Morgan and drummer Davis Martin.

This ten-song CD is just what the title says: rock and soul. There are moments when LeRoy cranks his Les Paul up to 11, only to be brought to a hush, drawing attention to they lyrics and LeRoy's smooth, soulful voice. The styles on here are what X-Factor SHOULD HAVE let LeRoy
focus on, like maybe they should have given him a Lenny Kravitz rocker or something...okok. I don't care for the show, he was the only reason I paid attention. Next!

One thing LeRoy has always been able to do is bring heart-felt lyrics and merge them in an urgency within the music to where they sink in even as you're be-bopping around, dancing in front of the stage... He's always had a way to bring the listener in with a phrase that catches you and you're drawn in for the rest. Pain, bitterness, moving on, redemption, becoming someone better than you were before. Within these ten songs, you are brought to very real circumstances and you can't help but connect. Whether the lyric is about joining together or splitting apart, finding middle ground, or continuing forward, I think he touches where we've all been at some point or another.

"I'm Coming Home" starts off the disc, a making-a-living-on-the-road-while-loved-ones-are-at-home song, has a catchy riff and anthemic
chorus, declaring he's coming home, that he misses the one he's singing to, that he's going crazy without them.  Whether you're on the road for work, in a band, or just spend too much time away at the office, I think we can all relate to desiring to be with loved ones and away from the grind.

Fun love-song types (not in the mushy sense, by any means!), like the upbeat soul-tinged "Wouldn't It Be Heaven"
(do I hear a smidgen of Sam Cooke here?) and the playful "Wind Me Up" (a new version of an older classic) are woven in between songs that deal with deeper issues of the heart, songs of loss and pain, hurt... "Where Were You" is a pointed track, asking, "Where were you when you could have made a difference in my life?" sounds like it's aimed at an ex-wife or lover, but could easily be directed at others that have caused pain. The heartfelt "I Still C U" and "One More Chance" are moving both musically and lyrically; a sense of sadness, longing and desire fill the lines, even over pop-ish hooks, and let the lyrics sink in. "Feels Like You're Dreamin'" brings things back up to a more blissful side of love, and loving life.

Being that many of LeRoy's "newer" fans are those who learned about him on the X-Factor, it seems only right to include a song he performed on the show -- one that means something to him, other than just another cover-tune. On "Rock 'n Soul" LeRoy brings his tender version of Bob Dylan's "Make You Feel My Love," a song Adele
had made popular prior to LeRoy being on the show. I think I prefer his version better. ;)

"New Shoes" is probably LeRoy at his most vulnerable on the CD, dealing with a loved-one moving on without him and trying to move on himself. The song is vocal driven,
fragile and cautious about what comes next. He asks, "If I were you, what would I do" to move on, showing others that he's ready to reclaim his life?

The CD closes with a remix version of LeRoy's classic, "A Change Is Coming," one that is...may I be honest?...it's taking me some time to get accustomed to this version. Remixed by DJ Sbu from South Africa
, drum loops have been layered over the foundation of "Change," and a live performance w/ audience participation. I can see how this version is fun in a live context, but coming straight off the intimate "New Shoes," it almost seems out of place; I miss its gentle intro, how the song builds into the anthem... The drum loops seem to take away from that, for me. Please don't let this be a deterrent, check it out for yourself. I'm sure it will grow on me, I'm just being stubborn -- which is funny, because the song is about change!

For fans new and old. as well as those that enjoy really well written rock and soul, do yourself a favor and get this (and their previous releases) and see them in concert! Lovvvve their shows.


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    TSSutherland is a lover of music that thumps, bumps, rocks & wails! An avid believer in supporting local arts, this page will feature reviews of NW Blues, Rock & Funk.


    January 2014