Listening Booth: Was (Not Was), “Boo!”

Written by Listening Booth, Music

Don’t look now, but there appears to be something of a soul revival going on these days, and I’m not talking about that so-called “neosoul,” with its programmed beats, overly autotuned vocals, and lavish productions. I’m talking about the real deal. Soul with a capital S.

Let’s review the evidence: the past year has brought us albums from the likes of Ryan Shaw, Amy Winehouse, and Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings, with new ones on the way from Duffy and Jamie Lidell, all credible soul artists yet remarkably diverse. I can’t imagine a more welcome trend than a wave of joyous music cresting at a time when we need it most, when the gloom and the hushed tones have become a little too much.

Now come the Was brothers, Don and David, and their compatriots Sweet Pea Atkinson and Sir Harry Bowen, riding into town after a 16-year absence with their new album, Boo! (Rykodisc). Of course, they’ve been a bit busy over the years, particularly Don, who’s become one of the world’s most renowned producers, working with the Rolling Stones, Elton John, Bonnie Raitt, Brian Wilson, and many others. He also teamed up with David to produce Roy Orbison and Bob Dylan.

I’m pleased to report that Was (Not Was) are up to their old tricks, which is to say that they’ve taken the aforementioned artistic diversity, thrown it into a blender, added liberal doses of forefathers Wilson Pickett and Sly Stone, weird uncle Prince, and the Godfather of Soul himself, and topped it all off with lyrics that could have found a home in Warren Zevon’s cynical world. Naturally, they’ve added their own unique spin to all this and taken the music to places that their predecessors only dreamed about.

Staying true to a tradition that’s found them working with unlikely collaborators like Mel Torme, Kim Basinger, Ozzy Osbourne, and Frank Sinatra Jr., this time Was (Not Was) have invited Kris Kristofferson along for the ride. He appears on Boo!‘s closer, the psychedelic spoken-word track “Little Green Pills in the Dresser.”

To be fair, this isn’t an entirely new album: most of the songs are remixed versions of previously unreleased tracks that had been lying around “clogging the drain,” according to David Was. Three new tracks have been added, however, and when the music is as thrilling as “It’s a Miracle” or “Crazy Water,” a rewrite of Wilson Pickett’s “634-5789,” who cares?