Soul Thief is a band that hails from the UK, playing a blend of what they describe as Pink Floyd meets Red Hot Chili Peppers. I definitely hear the Floyd, not so much the Chili’s. The band does get funky though, as the title of the album would suggest, but their sound reminds me a bit more of say, the more laidback cuts on Hendrix’s Electric Ladyland album. Funk City Revolutions, released last year, is their debut album, and the Cosmic Woman EP just came out a few weeks ago. Let’s dig into their full length debut release first.
City Ride gets things going with a stabbing guitar riff courtesy of Marcus Gage, and a deliciously funky groove from the rhythm section of Robert Matthews on bass and Stuart Barton on drums. This is probably the most upbeat track on the album, even though it pretty much sticks to a mid-tempo pace. Things take on a much more chilled out psychedelic blues vibe with Jailbreak 68 and the cool space noir of Her Eyes See the Future. Sudden time changing rhythms also add a surprising element to the proceedings. By the time I got to the slow and easy echo funk of You’re Fire!, though, I was actually wondering when this album was actually going to catch fire. Other than that first track it was all pretty slow and moody. But after repeated listening to the whole disc, I began to realize that this was not about upbeat rocking and scorching riffing. Soul Thief are all about fires after midnight, burning low in swaying lamps, with the shadows gathering around, and outside the window, billions of stars shining down on a surrealistic landscape. Funk City Revolutions is all about the slow burn, the slippery, mysterious and mellow, smoky groove of the night, with an undercurrent of psychedelia tugging it along. They do toss a log on the fire though with the 10-minute long Stranger With a Gun, which picks up the pace a bit, and features some terrific heavy blues guitar in its first few minutes, but then it slides into a psyched out astral excursion with lyrics about tripping the seven seas and sailing around the sun. The sound of waves crashing at the end segues into one of my favourite tracks on the album, the luminous and misty Spheres of Gold. The album then closes with the nearly 10-minute Tiger’s Claw. All of these tracks have a certain ebb and flow to them, as they surge in power, then relax into a mellow groove, surge again, relax again, taking the listener along for a ride on the waves of some otherworldly ocean. But it also somehow manages to remain grounded too. There’s plenty of freaky effects and trippy lyrics to please lovers of psychedelia, but the music always stays rooted in the blues, which always brings it back to Earth and solid ground.
On the Cosmic Woman EP, the band picks up where Funk City Revolutions left off. Admittedly, it’s not that much of a progression from what we heard on FCR, but it does open with certainly one of the best songs the band has recorded, the 12-minute Heart and Soul. Dreamy acoustic guitars, some smouldering electric guitar, a sensuous bass and leisurely drumming pair with weird and eerie voice effects and bassist Matthew’s longing vocals. Things do pick up pace a bit with Circles of Her Mind, with some clever rhythms and Gage’s always, well, engaging guitar work. And while the band does create some memorable riffs, especially on this song, but on all their songs in general, they’re not built around the riffs, being more fluid in nature, as if the riffs emerge from that flow I mentioned before, rising to the surface, sinking into the depths. The final song on the EP is the 13-minute Rainbow Fire. Continuing with that ebb and flow tradition, the song builds slowly, till about 5-minutes in where Matthews starts singing, his vocals drenched in delay to nice affect. From there, it moves back and forth between instrumental jamming and vocal parts, till it finally drifts off into the night.
I really like their sound. It’s cool and original. But I did kind of wish that some of the songs varied in tempo a bit more. Other than City Ride, pretty much all the songs on Funk City Revolutions and the Cosmic Woman EP move along at the same languid pace. But they do use odd time signatures and intriguing rhythms, and Gage’s guitar work is just superb, going from smooth and bluesy to smoking hot, distortion heavy riffing. And I don’t tend to comment on the vocals a lot, but Matthews’ smouldering vocal delivery is definitely an integral part of the Soul Thief sound, bringing a distant, haunting quality to it. This band definitely has a future, and Funk City Revolutions and the Cosmic Woman EP are both part of a great start. Hope to hear another full-length soon!
For more information you can visit the Soul Thief web site at: http://www.soulthief.co.uk
Reviewed by Jeff Fitzgerald