ALBUM OF THE MONTH (August)
(5 / 5)
One of the best soul voices you’ll ever hear. Otis? Stevie? Aretha?
None of the above. I am talking about Josh Teskey. Never heard of him, right? Well you really, really need to…trust me on that.
One listen to any of the songs on his band’s second album, The Teskey Brothers: “Run Home Slow” out today (2nd August 2019), and that gift of a voice will have you truly gob smacked.
He sounds like a mature black American dude who has been singing from his heart for many, many moons. But this chap is white, young (ish) and he’s from Down Under. Kangaroo country. Josh has a bit of Brad Pitt about him, but with added ponytail. A cool surfer dude look that goes with the Antipodean territory.
As a music journalist with more than four decades in the job, it doesn’t happen very often, but when it does, it is uber-satisfying to come across music and bands/artists that are not that well known and deserve a global audience. Where one listen is enough to knock your socks off and confidently predict that their future is very healthy indeed.
The Teskey Brothers and in particular their secret weapon Josh Teskey, are very much that rare animal. Josh is joined by guitarist Sam Teskey, bassist Brendan Love and drummer Liam Gough – and the guys are from the outback near Melbourne in Australia. The lovely Becca at their record label, Decca, described his vocal as “out of this world” in an email to me.
Usually, OTT hyperbole and verbosity makes me shudder, and the facts usually end up being the opposite of the hype. In this case, no amount of exaggeration could do this chap’s talents, justice. But it is not just about a voice. The songs are great. The whole sound is like something dug out of a dusty vault which was recorded in Memphis in the 60s, and forgotten about until now.
“Run Home Slow” was recorded straight to two-inch analogue tape at their home studio in Australia, that “difficult second album” not sounding so difficult; a two year wait since their 2017 debut, “Half Mile Harvest”.
Enlisting the solid hands and ears of producer Paul Butler, who has worked with Michael Kiwanuka, St Paul & The Broken Bones, Andrew Bird and many others, who flew in to work with the band.
It would be a mistake to pigeon hole this record as purely soul. It is not. Everything is built on those historic foundations, but it’s not a museum piece or copycat tribute to those originators. No sir.
There are nods to gospel, southern rock, Americana, country, roots, folk, psychedelia and even old time jazz here. But there is no mistaking that incredible set of pipes as belonging to a man with soul pumping through his veins and whose very being probably depends on opening his gob and letting out that ‘oh so glorious’ sound.
The whole thing pays respectful homage to the likes of Otis, O.V. Wright, James Carr, Solomon Burke, Wilson Pickett, Percy Sledge and the kind of killer stuff we got on the Sue label back in the day.
But it also ensures the record is relevant and dare I say it, somewhat ‘on trend’. Many TV adverts and movie soundtracks are digging up obscure Northern Soul and R&B tracks that are giving Shazam a hell of a lot of traffic, as the hipsters stop in their tracks to ask: “Who the hell is that”? That question is one almost everyone who hears this man’s voice will be asking.
Originally from The Yarra Valley just outside Melbourne, brothers Josh and Sam Teskey, with local friends Brendon Love and Liam Gough started playing together as teenagers, and it was then that they discovered their shared love of 1960’s American soul music.
The word is seeping out organically, especially among the UK-based Aussie community, and the band sold out Union Chapel, London on their last UK tour earlier this year. They also just did four storming sets at UK festivals in July, and the good news is……….They are back for a one-off gig at London’s Jazz Cafe on 3rd September this year, and then back for a seven-date UK tour in January 2020, including a Shepherds Bush Empire show. See you there!
“Run Home Slow” delivers 11 tracks and opens with “Let Me Let You Down” – a chugging, mid-tempo pleaser that will pin you to the wall when that vocal kicks in. Otis comparisons will flood in. This is what Andrew Strong wishes he sounded like. No disrespect intended, because I really like his work. But this guy Josh Teskey is on another level.
The backing vocals add value, and the organ drone and Cropper-esque under-stated guitar licks give it so much authenticity, you could slice it and pop it on toast!
In fact, the one singer that springs to mind with this first cut and many more on this stunning collection, far more than the inevitable Otis Redding references, is Jackie Shane. The brilliant 1960s artist from Nashville, who spent many years in Toronto. A pioneering Transgender singer who mainly stayed under the radar for most of her career.
Sadly passing away in Nashville in February this year (2019), at the age of 78. I guarantee Josh Teskey has her music in his collection. If not, when he reads this review, I advise him to go grab those tracks fast, and thank me later.
“Carry You” is a tear-jerking ballad – with James Morrison vibes to it. An absolute solid gold winner. The slow burn to blazing vocal is a real “Wow” moment. The song writing (James Arthur would probably give a limb for this song), the string arrangement, the no-fat production values. One of the best tracks of the 11 by far.
“Man Of The Universe” will have you making up the non-existent backing vocal lines, and singing them out loud. Josh slings in a very tasty vocal lick at 1.19, where his phrasing is so innate it sends shivers down my spine. You cannot learn that shit, you are born with it.
“Hold Me”, a clappy, gospel-soaked ensemble-voice affair, which at 1.49 shifts into a Beatles-esque psychedelia section. The only cut of the 11 where I felt it needed a tad more to fully satisfy. “Paint My Heart” wouldn’t be out of place on an early Pink Floyd album. Lovely ethereal, floaty feel to it. Josh channelling Joe Cocker with the back of the throat rasp. So, so, so good.
Some singers, or so-called singers, may well want to learn the drums or the tin whistle when they hear this fella, especially on the exposed arrangements like this one, where there is no hiding place. The horn arrangement straight out of Hi Records or Stax studios. Guitars cut through like a bitch. The next track, “Rain”. OMG: Otis lives.
There are three bands and their amazing singers that came to mind – and these three singers really are amazing – when I first heard this album and this voice. Fitz & The Tantrums (I was first UK journo to interview them), St Paul and the Broken Bones (ditto on being first in UK) and Vintage Trouble.
Fitz, Paul and VT’s Ty Taylor are world class singers, great front men and their soul credentials are unquestionable. But… there’s always one of these, isn’t there…..Josh Teskey is all three of those cool cats rolled into one – and some!
The closest to pop they get is the infectious earworm “So Caught Up,” the current single – the third cut to be taken from the album, as follow-up to “Hold Me” and “Man Of The Universe”. “So Caught Up” should have been a huge hit and radio DJs fighting to play it. Like to see this get another chance in the future, with a team of pluggers on the case. Some of the biggest hits ever were released several times before they broke through.
CeeLo Green vibes maybe, and the afore-mentioned Fitz and the Tantrums territory. Strings are fab. It has that classy Mark Ronson-produced Amy Winehouse flavour, too.
I love the production values which have avoided slinging lots of “stuff” at these songs – allowing them to breath and stand on their own feet. Like “San Fransisco”, which could have been suffocated with BVs, strings, horns and the kitchen sink.
But Paul Butler and the band leave lots of space and Josh paces himself with the vocal. Country vibes pop their head up now and again on this one. It’s lovely.
“Sunshine Baby” is a bit bonkers. Musical saws, irritating whistling a la Roger Whittaker, and an old time trad’ jazz flavor. Satchmo would have covered this one!
“Sun Come Ease Me In”, has summer of love, flower power tendencies, and perhaps sticks out a tad among the soul orientated material. I’d have lost this one and the one before it. But it is all about personal taste, of course, so some will dig both of ’em.
The closer “That Bird”, was a song that Josh dreamed while on a mountain camping trip. The premise is to live for today and leave the past behind. But learn from the past to grow. Amen to that.
The final track is an example of how Josh uses his vocal gears to go up and down from rockin’ raunch to sweet, laid back gut-wrenching ballads. The pedal steel evokes the right emotion, but a wee bit too high in the mix for me and fights the vocal a little.
But nitpicking aside, The Teskey Brothers are a real find. Josh Teskey, an outrageous and audacious vocal talent. That raspy soul thang voice could strip paint. Their stunning album, “Run Home Slow” probably the best use of 45 minutes I can think of – with your clothes on.
By Simon Redley
(1 / 5) ‘Dull Zone’
(2 / 5) ‘OK Zone’
(3 / 5) ‘Decent Zone’
(4 / 5) ‘Super Zone’
(5 / 5) ‘Awesome Zone’