Recorded and originally released in Australia last year, this lovely album is building to become of one of 2011’s vey best and the reason why is obvious … even after just a cursory of listens to the 11 tracks. The Electric Empire trio – Dennis Dowlut (guitar), Jason Heerah (drums) and Aaron Mendoza (keys) – have been around the musical block a good few times and they’ve learned what makes a good song. Equally, their mutual love and respect for the music of the 60s and 70s has taught them how to approach their “good songs” and make them into vehicles that can convey the passion and the messages they want to communicate. Listening to “old masters” like Curtis Mayfield, Donny Hathaway, Al Green, Stevie Wonder and, yes – the Beatles, they’ve learned the knack of what to put in where, and – maybe more importantly – what to leave out and when.
Different commentators have tried to come up with reference points to Electric Empire’s sound and most keep coming back to the Stevie Wonder/Al Green axis. And yes, there’s a distinct flavour of both maestros about their work. The most obvious Stevie reference comes on the complex ‘Then It’s Over’. On it, there’s a lovely wandering clavinet weaving in and out of Dowlut’s vocal as he caresses lyrics that speak of “other galaxies” and “never-returning shooting stars”… all very Wonderous. There’s more Stevie (circa ‘Songs In The Key Of Life’) flavours on ‘Have You Around’, ‘Brother’, ‘I Just Give It’ and ‘Life Again’ , while the big Al Green homage is the already and rightly big, ‘Baby Your Lovin”. It’s so good that it would standout on any album… here, it’s just one of many great tracks.
Other highlights – and ones that are harder to pigeon-hole with an obvious reference – are ‘Have You Around’ and ‘Little Things’. The first is a lively dancer that combines some loose-limbed funk with great harmonic changes, while the latter is a lovely, understated ballad featuring Aaron Mendoza on lead (his deft piano touches are a delight too). ‘Always’ is another great cut. After its harmonic vocal opening, it takes off with some swirling Latin-esque rhythms while Venetian street/canal sounds and a snatch of a Barack Obama speech add to the cocktail’s headiness.
The album ends with an 11th “hidden” track (it’s not that well hidden actually) and it’s the most difficult to label. ‘Love’ is a ponderous, building ballad that begins with some ‘Abbey Road’ era Beatles guitar before Darren Dowlut embarks on the most remarkable vocal you’ll hear all year. Yes, there’s a lot that’s remarkable about this album and you’d do well to investigate. The album is available at http://itunes.apple.com/gb/album/electric-empire/id447017468