[9 September 2009]
PopMatters Contributing Editor
They spent a while on the sidelines, but among Alice Russell, Amy Winehouse, Kinny, and Sharon Jones, soul singers and their related retro-funk bands have had a serious presence in the new millennium. Streetwise gals with gusto and gumption are in. On her second full-length, Made of Stone, Tru Thoughts chanteuse Kylie Auldist maintains the resurgent genre’s momentum with the help of fellow Australian and noted bandleader Lance Ferguson. His day gig with the Bamboos has taken off in its own right, as the band acts as the Quantic Soul Orchestra when Will “Quantic” Holland tours Down Under. The Bamboos have also produced several righteous funk albums under its own name that sit on par with any by the QSO, so it is safe to say the band knows its shit. What’s more, the Bamboos performed all of the music for Kylie’s debut, so it has a history that is built on with Made of Stone—an album that is the sound of a courageous woman coming into her own while continually getting more comfortable with her band in the studio.
The organic approach to both of Kylie’s records, pitting the vibrant singer with a live band, is a clear winner. The Tru Thoughts albums of Alice Russell and Kinny, as well as the tracks from Winehouse’s Back To Black that nobody remembers, placed their smoky Stax voices in front of a patchwork of anachronistically incongruent button-pushing producers. That lazy habit ends up highlighting the inadequacies of the digital recording age rather than complementing the abilities of the singer. Both of Auldist’s records could pass for Motown releases, and undoubtedly Russell and Kinny’s albums would have been far stronger if they were given the same treatment. That said, Made of Stone does sound a little on the safe side. There is a lot of variety, letting the occasional disco and reggae influence shine trough among others, but it is still fairly indistinguishable from her debut and other Tru Thoughts efforts. However, since Tru Thoughts is a label of consistently superlative quality, that is hardly a deficit.