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Published on July 22nd, 2019 | by voxx

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Black Pumas – Black Pumas

The Texan duo’s satisfying soul debut…

Austin, Texas’s Black Pumas are producer/instrumentalist Adrian Quesada and singer/guitarist Eric Burton. The pair met when Quesada was tipped off to Burton by a mutual friend after he put the call out for a vocalist to join him on some instrumentals he’d written, inspired by Ghostface Killah and Motown.

Burton, then a 26-year-old busker, was just beginning to make an impact after being the subject of Street Music, a 2017 short film directed by Andrew Bennett. Capturing Burton on 6th and Congress, playing his elegiac acoustic soul with flashes of psychedelic guitar and contemplative lyrics about his life – he had been singing since he first started in church as a small boy – the film captivated Quesada.

He called Burton, who was impressed that Quesada, leader of the groups Brownout and Brown Sabbath, had also backed Prince with another band, Grupo Fantasma. Burton auditioned over the phone and Quesada invited him to his Austin home studio. Their first session as Black Pumas had neither glitz nor glamour, but it did have better equipment than Burton’s busking gear, and by the end of the day they had the group’s first two singles ‘Black Moon Rising’ and ‘Fire’. The former, a dramatic psychedelic funk piece with Donny Hathaway-like electric piano and stirring strings, made an impact locally, helping them win 2018-2019’s Best New Austin Band title in the city’s Music Awards. ‘Fire’, meanwhile, is a more relaxed groove, with ba-ba-ba-ba horns and a hint of Norman Whitfield’s Temptations as Burton sings, “Don’t be afraid to say I need you, I will understand.”

Another standout on a debut album of standouts is the cosmic ‘Colors’, which was written on the rooftop of an uncle’s house as the sun was going down. Built around a circular riff, Burton’s musings on mortality and togetherness are delivered as a modern day spiritual in a rich falsetto, emboldened with gospel harmonies. The effect is staggering.

But the absolute showstopper is ‘October 33’: the last song recorded for the album and penned by Burton, it brings him full circle. For the most part an acoustic ballad, like the ones he used to busk on the streets, it bristles with an emotional intensity. “I’m going to make it all right, stop and look and listen with you,” he croons, and while such songs can be taken on a simple level as a promise between two lovers, like so much great soul music, there’s a sense that Black Pumas, responding to the current mood of division and fear, are providing a what-the-world-needs-now-is-love message. And the world does indeed need Black Pumas and their message right now.

- By Jake White


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