There are only seven songs on the new Brandi and the Alexanders EP, REFLECTION, but it seems more substantial than that. It’s not because the songs are long. The tracks are short: the longest one is less than five minutes and the shortest cut a mere 34-second snippet of conversation. In addition, there’s a one-minute-plus opening non-musical introduction. The whole record only takes about 22 minutes to hear.
Brandi Thompson’s big voice and the four-piece rhythm and blues combo that backs her up offer a solid and very filling groove. The EP has a strong spiritual and emotional depth that suggests more is going on than meets the ear. Whether the songs concern racism, family matters, or dancing, one feels the music as well as hears it.
Thompson sings with authority. She raises her volume and pitch as needed to make her points and understands the art of staying controlled to create intimacy. Thompson shows her vulnerability in the gospel-inflected “Amen” by quietly delivering such lines as “I’m not a believer / But sometimes I pray.” The song builds to a climax through the way the vocals change in intensity. Her search for love mirrors a congregation’s seeking of god’s grace. While the interchanges between secular and church music go back to the origins of rock (think of Sam Cooke and Ray Charles), Brandi and the Alexanders harken back to this tradition and make the music sound as fresh today as it was then.
“Where You Belong” and the beat-heavy “Watch You Dance” have a much funkier presence. Thompson gulps her vocals to add rhythm and then echoes herself as necessary to create a smooth vibe. She gets excited and isn’t afraid to let you know before the passion fizzles out (and it does on “Belong”). The instrumentalists frequently take the lead to propel the action further, especially in “Dance”. This is music to move to, not sit quietly and listen. A person listening while driving a car would be tempted to exceed the speed limit to keep pace.
Thompson addresses the historical circumstances and current events on “Fire”, which burns with a fevered intensity. In a recent interview, she noted that “the lyrics came to me while watching the marches right after George Floyd’s death. Singing “Fire” evokes that pride. I feel it oozing out every time I sing it, so I know the audience senses it. It’s a song that instills confidence and informs listeners of the bravery and perseverance of African-Americans past and present, and reminds listeners, despite what some might think, that Black people are better than they know.” One can tell that she and the band are performing with a purpose. The song expresses confidence, even a bit of arrogance, about one’s presence in the world.
The title REFLECTION suggests looking backward. The music on the album does reach back to classic styles from the past for inspiration. Brandi and the Alexanders take these influences into the present. The songs may cause one to remember something or someone that was once important. But they don’t stop there.