Laura Rain and the Caesars – Electrified
10 songs – 47 minutes
The photograph of Laura Rain on the cover of Electrified captures her with her eyes tightly shut, one hand on her head, the other holding a microphone into which she is clearly letting rip. It’s a great photo, which captures an artist lost in the moment and, as visual metaphors go, it’s a pretty accurate summation of this album. Rain is blessed with a powerful, soulful beast of a voice, and she and her band, the Caesars, bring it to the forefront on the 10 retro-modern soul pieces on Electrified. The end result is a very impressive studio debut (they also released a live four track demo in 2012).
The band comes out swinging on the first song, “Sunset”, with Rain giving her soul-soaked voice free rein at the chorus. It’s a great way to start a thoroughly enjoyable album, and by the end of the second song, the slightly more restrained “My Love”, which has the funk edge of Chic (although with the disco element diluted), the listener is in no doubt that this is a serious affair.
A wide range of influences are clearly identifiable on this release, from the Howlin’ Wolf-esque stomp of the closer “No More” to the minor key blues of “No Good Love” and the Family Stone-esque “I Don’t Wanna Play”. The blues are clearly an essential element of the band’s music, but any blues sensibilities are cleverly and seamlessly merged with equally important soul and R&B influences.
All 10 songs were co-written by Rain and guitarist George Friend, whose resume includes rockabilly legend Robert Gordon and blues goddess Janiva Magness. His playing on this album is an object lesson in how to back up a singer properly. Detroit’s answer to Austin’s Derek O’Brien or LA’s Rick Holmstrom, perhaps. The remaining Caesars are no make-weights, either, with Phil Hale on keyboards and bass and Ron Pangborn on drums. Also featured on the album are Rick Beamon on drums/percussion, James O’Donnell on trumpet, John Paxton on trombone and Johnny Evans on sax.
Apparently, Rain is a classically trained soprano, but there is little evidence of the restrictions and limitations of classical music in her voice, which soars and swoops with ludicrous ease over each melody, often bordering on the very edge of control, for example at the raucous closing of “Four Long Years” . As a result, it is not surprising that the focus of the songs is often on Rain’s powerful, expressive voice, rather than solos for the musicians, but Friend in particular is able to shine on songs such as “No Good Love”, “Lonely” and the title track, all of which feature understated yet supremely melodic guitar solos.
Some critics have compared Rain’s voice to Aretha Franklin. A closer comparison might be Amy Winehouse who, despite having more of a contralto range, had a similarly appealing catholic approach to her music. But where Winehouse mixed R&B, soul, jazz and reggae, Rain mixes R&B, soul, funk and blues.
As a result, this is not a flat-out blues album, but is well worth a listen to any blues fan, but particularly if you are partial to the funk-influenced blues of Johnny “Guitar” Watson or the funky soul of Prince.
Laura Rain and the Caesars say they are reclaiming the storied Detroit soul music legacy from the ravages of time, neglect, and electronic dance music. On the evidence of Electrified, they are doing a pretty damn good job of it. Highly recommended.