After setting sail from their funk-jazz roots for a few years, Soulive has re-invented their raw, danceable sound on Up Here. It’s appropriate that 2009 marks their first decade as a band, because it’s taken them a good portion of the last ten years to finally settle down and play some funk a la 1999. At its best, Soulive is the core trio of Alan and Neal Evans on drums and keys, respectively, and Eric Krasno on guitar. Of course, horns are always welcome, and they’re provided here by none other than Sam Kininger and Ryan Zoidis, who are longtime cohorts of the band. The element that always seems to trip up the flow of Soulive albums is the vocals, and that trait holds somewhat true on Up Here as well. Everything’s groovy as long as the band is doing their thing on pulsating tracks like “Hat Trick,” which is almost stereotypically funky, and the slow-burning “PJ’s.” Even the not-so-subtle nod to Sugarhill Gang’s “Jump On it” during the album-opening “Up Right” is kosher, as the band celebrates a return to form. But stumbles occur when singer Nigel Hall – the band’s new label mate and tour buddy – shamelessly cribs from James Brown on “Tonight” and “Too Much” and takes Andre 3000 far too seriously on a (still enjoyable) cover of “Prototype.” Still, Up Here is the most satisfying Soulive release in many years thanks to tracks like “The Swamp” and “For Granted.” Soulive hasn’t given up the forward-thinking mindset that they worked so hard to cultivate, but Up Here shows that even the most intrepid among us need to reflect on their raw genius occasionally.
Rating: 7.9 out of 10