Hey you, with the comb in your back pocket, imagine if the Brand New Heavies were signed by Motown in 1964, and you’d be a smidgen near the awesome sound of the Piaggio Soul Combination. Sprinkle some talc on the dancefloor and I’ll give you lowdown on their scorcher of a new album, Soultimate, released on the 28th January on Area Pirata Records…….
From the Supremes-a-like opening bars of track one, Hang On, also the preceding single, you’ll be wishing you were in knee-high white boots and chequered mini skirt, I know I was! By name and nature, it’s so You Keep Me Hanging on, it might as well be a sequel. Yet despite it’s obvious retrospection, there’s something remarkably fresh and electrifying about it, reminding me of 1985, when Diana Ross detonated pop progression with the number one single, Chain Reaction.
But if Soultimate begins with the Kiss (keep it simple, stupid) ethos of the classic beguiling soul-pop Motown sound, there’s more in store as the album progresses; it gets far more complex than Motown’s manufactured sound, exploring mod culture from all aspects. It’s a glorious, uplifting start, though, projecting the happy-go-lucky atmosphere it carries throughout, and will force you to do the Watutsi; I know I did!
Consider mod subculture’s conception to be uniquely working-class British, while youthful cohorts at the time may’ve thought it something entirely innovative, hence the name, rather it cherrypicked existing principles, fashion and music from elsewhere. The music descended from Afro-American R&B, jazz and the ska sound from Jamaica, whereas the fashion arrived via Italy, from zoot suits to scooters.
Maybe this is payback, because The Piaggio Soul Combination hail from Pisa, Tuscany, where long-standing mod Marco ‘Piaggio’ Piaggesi combined the best singers and musicians of the local Latin-soul scene, including the breath-taking vocals of Lakeetra Knowles, who features as lead on the majority of tracks.
Second tune in is a quirky, beguiling nod to aforementioned contemporary scooter culture, with a subterranean piano riff, you’ll be doing the nose-holding finale of the Swim dance; I know I was!
From here, maintaining its catchiness, it graduates through Motown to a rawer, Stax sound, yet never without usage of the nu-jazztronica elements to keep it fresh; polyrhythms of tasty basslines, organ, groove-laden guitars and a tight horn-section. Five tracks in and things go up a Latino notch, with Se Llama Boogaloo, an irresistible son montuno number, definitely the most diverse song on the album, making it perhaps the standout.
As each element comes to the forefront, it tends to add to the overall sound of the subsequent tunes, and while a Motown influenced mainstay returns, there’s still evidence of the boogaloo and nu-jazz, Hitman being a prime example, where things nod to nineties Acid Jazz, hence my Brand New Heavies citation earlier.
Towards the end, Blindman and the instrumental Dome Slow in particular, tends off towards an electronic blues influences, preserving a continuous upbeat sixties’ mod vibe. Like beehive sporting Emily Capell, her niche being London pseudo-rap fashion amidst similar retrospection, with this melting pot of variation, the Piaggio Soul Combination wouldn’t suffer the “Duffy effect,” the noughties retrospective Welsh singer who failed to maintain her overnight success. For this is The Piaggio Soul Combination’s third album since 2017, though their debut for Area Pirata, and it’s a sparkly upbeat, highly danceable modern soul classic.
Within a burgeon reimaging of Northern Soul and scooter scenes of yore, the time is right for this entertaining collective, yet regardless of movements, the solid soul grooves laid here are era-spanning and tricky to pinpoint, best just do the funky chicken across your kitchen; I know I did, couldn’t help myself!
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