Woodstock, N.Y.-launched band Soulive has consistently had R&B roots within its organ-trio veneer since debuting around the turn of the century. Guitarist Eric Krasno’s latest solo effort, Always, indicates that he’s been the prime driver in that direction amid the work of fellow founding members and brothers Neal (keyboards) and Alan Evans (drums).
Always, essentially a duo album with multi-instrumentalist Otis McDonald (guitar, keyboards, bass, drums, percussion, backing vocals), isn’t quite akin to fellow jazz guitarist George Benson’s 1980 U-turn into crooning dance music with Give Me the Night. But it’s close. Previous solo efforts mixed Soulive’s funk/jazz hybrid with Ben Harper’s gritty mix of blues and jam-band elements. Here, Krasno goes full-on love-song practitioner on nine originals depicting tales of husbandry, fatherhood, and the inherent lessons therein, plus a Bob Dylan cover (a rhythmic take on “The Man in Me”).
The originals qualifying as production numbers work best. The loping “So Cold” features Nigel Hall’s backing vocals; Krasno playing bass as well as guitars and singing lead and harmony vocals; and McDonald adding Mellotron and electric harpsichord, bearing resemblance to some of George Martin’s latter-era Beatles productions. “Lost Myself” ups the energy level via the Hammond organ work of Wil Blades and the horn section of saxophonist Daniel Casares and trumpeter Mike Olmos, as does the strutting “Good Thing.” Krasno unearths his wah-wah pedal for vintage 1970s effect; McDonald plays clavinet, synthesizers, electric piano, and organ; and the horn section of Casares, trombonist/trumpeter Adam Theis, and trumpeter Max Miller-Loran punctuates the proceedings.
Despite some innocuous late ballads (the sparse “Hold Tight” and overblown “Always with You”), Always largely presents Krasno as a maturing songwriter and artist. Even if it means he’s no longer doing the Soulive straddle between R&B and jazz.