The tag “vintage soul” often inspires thoughts of dusty, archaic music that’s either on the brink of extinction or a budding revival. But while soul music that’s reminiscent of the ‘60s and ‘70s isn’t predominant in today’s popular music culture, it isn’t too difficult to find either. Interestingly, soul/funk/neo-soul advocate Stones Throw Records’ new signee, Myron & E—a duo consisting of musicians Myron Glasper and Eric “E da Boss” Cooke—is described as a rarity with the release of their debut Broadway, which pays homage to the oldies. But the band is joining a crusade that has already taken off with fiery steam. Lady, Alabama Shakes, Sharon Jones And The Dap-Kings and Mayer Hawthorne are among the present day artists whose music dishes out retro-soul as its main ingredient. And all of these acts have done so with distinctive flair. So where do Myron & E fit in?
With production credits from Helsinki producer Didier Selin of The Soul Investigators, Broadway doesn’t fall short of evoking that throwback soul and R&B feel that hauls the listeners back to that amorous era. The album’s slow-churning opener, “Turn Back,” recalls Marvin Gaye’s classic “What’s Going On” with its weary lyrics and its judicious use of space. Though not as convincing as the political, social-conscious tear-wringer, “Turn Back” respectably pleads for the return of better days amid a world full of destruction. “See we’re living in a world where there’s so much misery/And oh, we’re living in a world where there’s so much pain/ And you know that misery loves company and it hurts me to see all the destruction,” Myron sings coolly.
The evenly introspective “Going In Circles” travels down a parallel lane, but is marked by a glorious (and unexpected) “Ohh!,” which Myron delivers midway into the song to disrupt the banal preaching. Such improvisational touches are either skimpy or noticeably calculated throughout the album as with “If I Gave You My Love,” a lustrous, trombone-crazed track about a deceitful lover with too many tricks up her sleeves—and the sly “Back N Forth,” whose sleekness is matched with plain precision. Both songs are reflective of the album’s own rigid blueprint.
Like a puzzle, every hook, verse and asserted adlib on Broadway fits into its designated place. There are no alternative roads to veer off and get lost, which is a good or bad thing depending on the type of traveler you are. But sometimes all you want is for the duo to blow the lid off whatever vessel they’re enclosed in as with “Everyday Love,” a slushy ode to unadulterated love. The same could be said of the swishy Motown-inspired ballad, “I Can’t Let You Get Away,” which becomes more compelling when Myron breaks away from the song’s formulaic path and croons passionately, “I press on the breaks and car won’t stop/Hit the light switch and the lights don’t come on/Running real fast, but I’m still in the same place where I started.” It is at moments like this where Myron & E sound less like a band trying to imitate cherished duos of the past like Sam And Dave and James And Bobby Purify and more like a headliner imprinting their own footprints in the sand.
Because of these trivial lapses, some vocals come off as either halfhearted or unrewarding as with the jingle-apt “Broadway” and “Cold Game,” where it can feel like the instrumentals are doing most of the work. It’s a noticeable distinction from the impeccably groovy arrangement “Do It Do It Disco,” which ensnarls Myron & E in an oasis of clicks and clacks. Here, the duo loosens up its ties and does exactly it demand of listeners: “Get out of your chair/Let’s get it started right now.” Myron delivers this advice with a tantalizing clamor that find his vocals boogying alongside the riveting instrumentals in a rapturous jam session led by jumpy brass instruments and a rhythmic bass. By then, it’s clear that the guys have found their footing. It’s the difference between a sluggish sashay and a ferocious stomp, and they’ve ignited a blaze in the process that undoubtedly causes you to look back—even if nothing ever really goes up in flames.