After watching vocalist Tips (Tipriti Kharbangar) twitch and uncoil on stage as she exorcized some of her own demons and raised a torch to the biggest god of rockdom, I expected a lot of that bite in Soulmate’s new album. But Hendrix is an experience like no other. And as her partner and Soulmate guitarist Rudy Wallang put it, paying a tribute to Hendrix feels like playing the guitar for the first time.
But to the band’s credit, Moving On is an incredibly good blues album, and coming from the most successful blues act in the country, that is a big deal. The band seems to be describing its evolution in the title track: Getting older, a little bolder/Building up my confidence/I’m getting stronger, a little wiser/Casting aside all pretence. The sound is more mature—this is the band’s eighth year on the circuit, and this progression to mellow vocals and guitar is inevitable on the blues road. A coming of age of sorts. Although I don’t like Tips “a lot less meaner” even inside the studio. Thankfully, she’s anything but on stage.
But wait a minute. Before I could take in Tips’ new blue in tracks such as Set Me Free, I had another surprise coming. Is Rudy doing a Clapton on me in Remembering Rory? While the plucking was leaning ever so easily towards Slowhand, the vocals and arrangements (except for the finger-kissing drum-roll start, clearly the handiwork of a Deep Purple lover that Shaun Nonghulo might be) in Come ’Round My House sure took me back to Clapton’s record Back Home (2005).
Rudy’s rock and rollin’ in Kool Kat Strut, the other instrumental in the track besides Peace Prayer and Come ’Round My House. Kool Kat Strut is also where drummer Sam Shullai displays, as always, remarkable restraint, a rarity in most percussionists. Bassist Ferdy Dkhar also steps out of the shadows here.
The songwriting has evolved, especially in tracks such as Smile at Me, which you and I can relate to. But there’s a bit of gassing around in She is —I mean the guitar chops and wails are all great, but while a line such as Clever as a Vixen has an old world ring to it, it’s a dud line that sticks out. Just how many more songs do we want to hear about women being a paradox?
Stay Away would be a blast on stage. Tips is back. It’s the hell’s angel you heard in I Am from Soulmate’s self-titled debut. In this one, she’s seething, spitting fire and threatening “to set those hound dogs”.
I’ve promised myself another evening of Soulmate. Thing is, it’s tough to get Rudy’s blues out of your head. And tougher to take your eyes off Tips even when she’s wearing a scowl on her lips, feathers in her ears and a tambourine on her head. You go hit the bar and plug into the band. The album is worth every rupee you burn.
Lalitha Suhasini is a freelance music journalist. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org.