It was nearly 35 years ago that Becker and Fagen lamented the “hard times befallen the soul survivors,” and things haven’t really gotten a lot easier since then. You can have neo-soul and you can have self-consciously retro soul, but it’s damn near impossible to find modern examples of the stuff that simply sound like people making music in a room. It’s like the whole genre has an inferiority complex.
There’s no needless gussying up to be heard anywhere within The Cost of Living — just one talented-ass band (guitarist/vocalist Wes Mingus, bassist Ben Zwerin, and drummer/vocalist Gintas Janusonis, fronted by new singer Rell Gaddis) coming together with a stack of solid songs and doing each of them nothing but justice.
It doesn’t hurt that they recorded at Royal Studios in Memphis, availing themselves of the Royal Horns and local session legends Charles Hodges, Bobby Manuel, and Lester Snell, or that they had the good taste to cover the Isley Brothers’ “Why When Love Is Gone” and the Goffin/Goldberg classic “I’ve Got to Use My Imagination.” But all those outside ingredients will only take you so far; what truly counts with a record like this is truth in songwriting, delivered with matter-of-fact attitude, and The Cost of Living has it in spades.
Longtime fans will no doubt notice that this record marks a significant change for the band once billed as the Revelations featuring Tre Williams; he’s obviously gone now, but as the record’s press kit hastens to point out, Rell Gaddis has been around since the band’s beginning, and he’s clearly no slouch in the talent department, with an impressively varied list of session credits and co-writes that makes him out to be a sort of 21st century Paul Carrack.
Carrack might be a good reference point in general, actually — not that any of these songs sound like “Tempted,” “How Long,” or “The Living Years,” but he’s always been one of those guys whose incredible gifts are belied by a lunchpail attitude; he shows up and does the work with a minimum of flash and trusts the music to do the rest. The Revelations are like that too, and with each of The Cost of Living‘s cuts, that trust is well-founded.
Bottom line: If you’ve got an itch that can only be scratched with songs that strut, shake, and shout with well-seasoned abandon, the Revelations’ The Cost of Living is the cure for what ails you. This band really does represent new, true soul music — emphasis on the true.