Drawing from strong and varied influences, this urban collective delivers chillful soul from the funky underground, and the result is so much more than a chillout album.
When you hear the opening notes of The Bluefoot Project's album Brave, your first reaction will be to keep this musical treasure to yourself. True, this is music as at home in your headphones as coming from your speakers, but there are some things that just demand to be heard by as many people as possible. The Bluefoot Project is one of those things, despite having only produced an EP (Observations), this full-length release, and some compilation contributions. Unfortunately, as a result of their scant output, they have languished in the public consciousness.
Sometimes bubbling close to the surface and sometimes requiring multiple listens to be revealed, Brave contains hints of reggae, hip-hop, blues, and gospel. Songs like "Little Miss Selfish" serve as a platform for strong, soulful lead singer Rachel Modest to deliver her lyrics of the urban everyday with emotional intensity. Modest's vocals blend perfectly with Jim Reiss' subtle scratching, Chris Stephenson's drum work, and Ilana Bendel's harmonies, elevating "Little Miss Selfish" from solid soul to a layered, jazz-inflected rhythm. This tune gets a deserved second look on the disc with an exceptional remix treatment from awayTEAM, coupled with the hidden gem "Growing Up" that should have secured a proper track on the album.
The work of Oova, The Bluefoot Project's resident MC, Matt Bradley's programming, and Ian Hawkins' bass give a number of tracks an ominous trip-hop undercurrent. Where songs like "Concrete," a superb album opener, and "Does He Love U?" synthesize all the elements of The Bluefoot Project into four- or five-minute servings of beauty and emotion, deeper album tracks like "Try" pull the listener into a gritty, dense soundscape of beats and soul in a Songs in the Key of Life-era Stevie Wonder-meets-Massive Attack kind of way. Modest's harmonies under Oova's delivery provide a vocal layering that complements the musical efforts of the rest of the band. The languid flow of "Soma" is a gorgeous come-down. Like running under water, it has the feeling of everything moving in slow-motion, with short observational challenges delivered by Oova: "It's a brave new world if you're hip enough to swing in it / But if you're not then you're gonna get buried".
It's not until the last few tracks that the music starts to slip. While a technically solid song, the dark and spacey reggae undertones of "In a Light Place" feel somehow out of place here. And we're left to wonder how much more powerful the proper album closer, "Hold You," would have sounded had Modest not turned the lead vocals over to Bendel. Though she does not have a weak voice, Bendel suffers from having to not only deliver Modest's words, but also having to follow Modest's ten outstanding vocal tracks.
Understandably, The Bluefoot Project took some time off immediately following the initial UK release of Brave in 2003 due to Modest's pregnancy. Here's hoping their frequency of output picks up now that some time has passed since that event and that the pending release of Brave in the United States later this year will help raise their profile. Although their sparse output is partially to blame, up to this point The Bluefoot Project has been criminally relegated to the underground. It would be a shame if they were not to resurface, because this is a band with an interesting way of saying interesting things, but if a follow-up doesn't materialize, we should be thankful for what we've been given.