Bahamas is back, and this time he's bringing on the funk and R&B. Yes, while the Toronto-based singer-songwriter (born Afie Jurvanen) netted Juno Awards and a Polaris Music Prize nomination for his 2014 indie folk LP, Bahamas is Afie, his new album, Earthtones, delves into far different genres. Part of that newfound eclecticism comes courtesy of James Gadson and Pino Palladino, a pair of seasoned session musicians best known for their work in D'Angelo's backing band, The Vanguard, on the R&B legend's 2014 classic, Black Messiah.
Jurvanen and his backing band are clearly inspired by Gadson and Palladino's contributions, giving several Earthtones songs deep, funky grooves in every facet. That's especially true on "Everything to Everyone," which features percussion that wouldn't be out of place on a '90s neo-soul LP. Meanwhile the piano playing, singing and overall rhythm on "So Free" all slide with the smoothness of a Soul Train dancer busting a move across polished linoleum tiles. And "Show Me Naomi" is soulful enough to be a Stax Records deep cut, thanks to its upbeat, slapping production and velvety grooving guitar.
And while Jurvanen, Gadson and Palladino have rightfully earned plenty of press for their offbeat collaboration, the regular Bahamas backing band also more than earns their keep throughout the proceedings. Backup singer Felicity Williams, especially, steals the show on the irresistibly catchy "Opening Act (The Shooby Dooby Song)," on which she breaks into doo-wop-esque vocals. The same could be said of "No Expectations," on which she practically adopts a scat singing style that fits snugly with the galvanizing horns and guitarist Christine Bougie's solos. In fact, Bougie is every bit as big a scene stealer Williams, especially on "No Expectations," fretting notes in short bursts that deftly mimic her band mates' horn playing.
Indeed, Jurvanen knows just when to cede the spotlight, and when not to. On "Bad Boys Need Love Too," he shines by contorting his typically soft singing into staccato rap-reminiscent verses that are strained with passion. By pushing himself and his collaborators to such bold new heights, Bahamas is sure to win over slews of new fans. This is the work of ravenous, restless musicians who refuse to be pigeonholed.
Order Earthtones on tan vinyl via Umusic. (Brushfire)