Unless their family’s name is worth a few cool million, most young musicians are forced to get creative when attempting to generate some sort of substantial income. Like many artistic professions, the line between raking in millions per year and barely scraping by in the music industry is very thin. A most desirable situation for individuals who view music as a full-time occupation in the future would be to hold a job that allows them to devise their own schedules, opening up more opportunities for any gigs or recording sessions on the path toward a musical career that will hopefully break out one day. So, as the 4 members of Down Home Southernaires would likely tell you, a logical solution would be to find a side-career within the realm of art as well. Jose Castello, the group’s pianist, finds time to be a painter and a poet, while drummer Jorge Rubiera is a filmmaker and occasional fashion photographer. The other two members also serve in some unique side professions; guitarist Kristopher Pabon is an amateur anthropologist and bassist Jarrett Hann is on his way to becoming a professional in the culinary arts. And while all four of these childhood friends clearly have different interests based on their preferred occupations, there is a common bond that keeps these guys as the best of friends. For that, we can thank the power of music.
The occupational eclecticism of Down Home Southernaires proves to be appropriate when applied to their intended style, as the four-piece’s masterful blend of punk, R&B, ska, funk, and soul provides for one of the most unpredictably enjoyable releases of the year thus far. Packed with such stylistic fervor, the ambitious propensities tend to carry on over to the group’s actual songcraft. If you are someone who gets quickly tired of conventional song structures in pop music, Down Home Southernaires may be a great find for you. The 8 tracks on Negro En Bicicleta, the group’s newest release, all remain extensively cohesive in that one is able to identify Down Home Southernaires’ distinctive sense of individuality, but the subtle weaving of various genres within the intricate structures creates an enjoyably unique listening experience that marks the album as something of a rare entity. In an age where many artists are reluctant to mix and math a variety of styles in fear of critical backlash, Down Home Southernaires have emerged practically out of nowhere (or Miami) with a release that should hopefully encourage other new artists to promote their ambitious nature as candidly as possible. The impressive Negro En Bicicleta succeeds in such aspects for the most part, granting listeners with something that they can both relax and dance to.
I suppose that if one were forced to compare Deep Home Southernaires to a familiar face, Elvis Costello would be inescapable. Listening to the first minute or so of the curiously titled “Israelis on the Beach”, I imagine that many will scratch their heads at the comparison, but it becomes increasingly prevalent as the song evolves. Initially guided by the repetition of an electric guitar over the smattering of funk-tinged keys, the vocals of Jose Castello emerge shortly thereafter. While they initially sound somewhat out of place in contrast to the instrumental touches of funk and R&B, Castello’s vocals follow the footsteps of the song’s structure in transforming from a somewhat hesitant attempt into a full-fledged demonstration of stylistically eclectic success. The rhythm section halts briefly at around 37 seconds in as a swift piano chord establishes the entry point for the real meat of the song, featuring a variety of piano progressions over the constant urging of underlying guitars, bass, percussion. Purely as a keyboardist, Castello also remains extremely impressive, as tracks like “Israelis on the Beach” and the exotic rush of “Otro Sur (Sagan Samba)” demonstrate. And as for the Costello reference, once Castello belts out “At first I get patient at my last resort” during the bridge in “Israelis on the Beach”, it should be quite obvious that some influences show regardless of opposing intentions. In this case, it just contributes to the success even more.
Apart from good ol’ Elvis Costello, Down Home Southernaires remind me of the previously featured White Rabbits with their implementation of punk and R&b within classic forms of ska. Considering that White Rabbits’ Fort Nightly was one of the most talked-about debuts last year, I certainly believe that Down Home Southernaires have a similar degree of appeal that should open them up to a plethora of new fans. Negro En Bicicleta‘s opening track, “High Effect”, takes more dues from funk and soul. Backed by a faint organ and a vigorous bass line, the funky twang of a guitar leads the budding verse. The chorus sees the re-emergence of the twinkling keys found during the track’s first few seconds, creating an instantly memorable hook as Castello laments about. “High Effect” also serves as a great example of Down Home Southernaires’ structural tendencies. You could actually say that a few tracks on the album almost seem like two or three songs in one, as the arrangements that alternate consecutively in tracks like “High Effect” and “Fishing Wire of Feeling” differ so dramatically from one another that the variation – while occasionally overbearing – is generally rewarding. “I Hate the Nightlife”, for instance, relies on a sparkling rendition of folk-pop before transitioning to an anthemic burst of key-led effervescence, sounding nearly patriotic in tone. It is surprising how well they are able to mix their preferred genres together, even if they are occasionally separate structural entities altogether. If you can deal with the constant sense of variation, Down Home Southernaire’s Negro En Bicicleta is a very gratifying listen.
Down Home Southernaires – Israelis on the Beach
Down Home Southernaires – High Effect
Down Home Southernaires – I Hate the Nightlife