His Name Is Alive: Last Night

Jason MacNeil

His Name Is Alive

Last Night

Label: 4AD
US Release Date: 2002-11-19
UK Release Date: 2002-09-23

His Name Is Alive is one of those bands who sound is "for the times" but who never dabble with the latest technology or gadgets to create such sounds. Hard to classify as pop rock or jazz, the fusion HNIA brings to each album is one of its trademarks. But with Last Night, they have upped the ante by producing some of their finest work to date. And that is saying quite a bit given previously acclaimed releases. From the opening notes of "Deep" to the conclusion of "Train", the listener is taken through an imaginative sonic journey.

Led by singer Lovetta Pippen, the group takes flight from the opening instrumental to the funky and soulful title track. "What would it take to keep me off you", Pippen asks in a style that resembles Lisa Stansfield on a cool yet even keel. Sounding "cool" seems to be an effortless task with the band, whether it's the bass line coming from either Crispy or Fred Thomas or Brett Lyman's lovable and '70s sounding electric piano. It's the type of song that should put one at ease if not to sleep, which isn't a knock at all. One slight problem is how it wilts slightly near the conclusion. "Crawlin'" continues on a similar line, taking the tone down as the rhythm section lays the foundation. Pippen's voice is perfect for this style and carries the tune with minimal arrangement.

Another asset the group possesses is the fine line between a tight jazz arrangement while still maintaining an audible loose quality to it. "Teardrops" is a gorgeous number beginning with acoustic guitar and evolves into this collage of Diana Ross-era Motown and 10,000 Maniacs. The string section, courtesy of the band Ida, also works some magic over the three minutes. On the other hand, "Devil's Night" doesn't live up to the previous song, coming off as rather aimless despite some cute harmonies. "I could burn this whole city down tonight", Pippen sings, but it's the only real emotion conveyed during the song. A cover of "I Been Good up till Now", originally done by the Eddy Grant group the Equals, is very strong and is the closest thing to a "soundtrack" composition on the album. The violin and piano parts slowly evolve before fading out again.

Kicking off the second half of the record is "I Have Special Powers", a quasi-funk and rock tracks that relies much more on electric guitars to transmit its message across. The arrangement resembles Pink Floyd circa "Animals", but also has a subtle trip-hop element to it. Warn Defever offers up a large amount of meaty guitar solos. The opening of "Do You Want to Come to my Party" resembles the conclusion of the Beatles' "A Day in the Life" but shifts quickly to a downbeat and somber tone before veering off into a deep '70s funk arrangement. Matt Bauder and Elliott Bergman are terrific here on tenor and baritone saxophone, respectively. It's perhaps the highlight of the album simply for its creativity and spontaneity and moves seamlessly into "Someday My Prince Will Come".

Hitting all the right notes on "I Can See Myself in Her", Pippen comes closest to sounding like Macy Gray during this track, but the rhythm section is stuck in the same jazz rut that ruins the tune early on. It picks up slightly yet not enough to make it worthwhile. "Maybe" is probably disappointing for the simple fact it sounds almost ethereal, but there should be more percussion. The group keeps the tension though, which is a credit to their musicianship. "Storm" has the band delivering another funk-riddled sound that Lenny Kravitz is still trying to find. But the capper has to be the lovely "Train", with an excellent format and sax solo. In a word, the band and the album are mellow. And that's a very good thing.




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