Imagine this if you will. You’re listening to the finest blues-based rock and roll band you’ve heard in a long time. Then the singer starts to sing and his voice evokes the same cool, sweet, enigmatic sound as Blues Traveller’s John Popper. And the female backup singer wails in behind him, powerful and hot like the backup vocals for Bat Out Of Hell. And the music just keeps on rocking. And you are filled with the music. Sun5 is like that.
The music is enigma. This blues-based rock and roll will slide across some invisible line into something like but not quite jazz. It’s a gentle, entrancing moodring-soft sound like the best of Blues Traveller. Then that soft sound will slip past the musical horizon and rise again as clean, driven rock and roll, the lead voice now harder and more gutsy, the music no longer a salve but a salvo, an attack on the senses. Then the sound will shift again.
It’s all good. It’s surprising this New England band isn’t better known across North America and, for that matter, around the world. The closest comparison I can make is with the funky jazz sound of Blues Traveller without John Popper’s harmonica but with fantastic backup vocals by Missy Johnson, but this band really has a sound all its own. Much of the instrumental work of this East Coast band shows strong influences from the best West Coast rock and roll going back to the Sixties.
The final and longest song on this release, “Montecito” presents a comfortable mix of reggae and Tex-Mex rhythms in a rich orchestration with superb vocals and solo instrumental leads. While it would be difficult to choose a favourite from among these ten superb songs, “Montecito” would definitely be high on my list.
While, to varying degrees, most of the songs in this set rock, “Swirl” is more quiet and reflective. The song is still rock and roll, but the mood is more relaxed and at times even melancholy.
The title song, “Libertad” has this same sort of quiet feel but is actually fairly up-tempo, swinging to a jazzy near-Latin beat. This is one of the songs in this set where the vocals of Thomas Kivlan especially remind me of the work of John Popper. Kivlan’s vocals are sweet and seductive, carrying the lyrics to emotional heights they might otherwise never reach.
Formed in Boston in 2002, Sun5 has a wealth of potential it’s never realized outside the regional New England market. That’s a shame. The unique sound created by Thomas Kivlan, Yohei Nakamura, Jason Kenyon, and Tim Paul Weiner compares favourably with the best of today’s bands. They should be reaching a far wider audience than just concert-goers in the Boston area.
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