[17 May 2009]
At first listen, Love Lite, the sophomore effort from Spanish band the Sweet Vandals, seems like a perfectly enjoyable album of non-descript, classic R&B covers. All of the hallmarks of ‘60s-era American soul are here: the Memphis-style horn section, the generous use of Hammond B-3 organ, the gospel-influenced vocals, and the frequent use of the word “baby”. Unfortunately, there’s just one problem: Love Lite isn’t a covers record at all. In fact, it’s composed of entirely original music—written, performed, and produced by the Sweet Vandals’ band members themselves.
The Sweet Vandals are clearly a talented group. Vocalist Mayka Edjole, who sings exclusively in English, has an incredibly powerful and distinct voice, flecked with more grit than a backcountry road. Santi Vallejo’s organ would make Booker T. smile. And the group’s horn accompaniments bring to mind James Brown’s backing bands. However, in combination, all of these elements make the Sweet Vandals sound generic, like its band members have been forced to wear their influences on their collective sleeves.
The Sweet Vandals hail from Madrid, a mecca for Spanish pop and folk music over the years, but you wouldn’t know it from Love Lite. Only Edjole’s accent gives any hint that the band may not call Detroit or Chicago its home. That may be the band’s aim, but by burying any non-American influence, the group is essentially abandoning the one thing that could potentially make this music sound distinct and interesting. As much as anything, that seems to be the fault of lackluster production, which does little to accenuate the band’s strengths. At best, Love Lite shows just how much members of the Sweet Vandals love classic American soul music. At worst, it comes across a bit too much like a wedding band audition tape—thankfully, minus the “Macarena”.