Soul Side of Town – Tower of Power’s “Breakthrough” Album

Soul Side of Town is a retro funk, instant classic.  Tower of Power‘s newest album is a beautiful addition to the group’s legacy.  While it doesn’t break new sonic ground,  ToP have always been ahead of their time and have had a great influence on many young funk bands of today such as Lettuce and Snarky Puppy.  Soul Side of Town hits all the right notes and covers a broad space.  In fact, it’s the group’s first #1 Billboard album in 50 years! The album is quite polished and has elements that draw upon the full group discography, for example –

  • Split opening closing like Oakland Stroke: East Bay! All Day! – East Bay Oakland Style!
  • Instrumentals: Butter Fried & After Hours
  • Emilio on lead vocals like It’s Not the Crime: Do It With Soul
  • Ballads: Let It Go, Love Must Be Patient and Kind

I had the opportunity to hear two of the tunes live at the Playboy Jazz Festival, Hollywood Bowl and they fit in with the set seamlessly along with all the classics.  Here’s a track by track rundown.

East Bay! All Day! – Short intro track (split) with a nice intro by Tom E. Politzer followed by the vocal chorus and keys tickler from Roger Smith.  Good tone setter for album.

Hangin’ with My Baby – Excellent vocal performance by Marcus Scott and some extra saucy horn licks with class “Doc” on the bottom.  I’m particularly nostalgic for the female background vocals which are a beautiful touch.  Marcus calling out DG and Rocco is a classic touch and Roger delivers a nice organ bridge to balance the punchy horn lines. Jerry Cortez gets in some nice guitar work to round out the song as well.

Do You Like That? – The female vocals, and string intro brings back memories of such classics as “Below Us, All the City Lights.”   This song has a sweet groove, makes me want to be out on a summer night, cruising and listening to some tight, classic soul.  This song definitely has potential to ride up the R&B charts as a single.  The lush sound is packaged just so right and again Tom P takes a nice short solo on sax and adds some fine flute work towards the end of the tun, a terrific finishing touch.

On the Soul Side of Town – The title track, has a ominous sound, reeking of danger but pleasure at the same time.  It has a feel similar to “Back on the Streets” although the pace is slower.  I’m especially fond of Emilio’s “Soul Side” vocal accents.  Again, a nice organ interlude from Roger Smith breaks the song in half and it comes back with power vocals from (now departed) vocalist Ray Greene and tight as a fist horn work that only ToP can deliver.

Do It with Soul – Put this one right up there with “Soul with a Capital S”.  It’s an Emilio lead vocal, with a terrific altissimo solo by Tom P and some extra fast, staccato horn lines, a herky jerky keys line, excellent bottom work by Doc, great axe work by Jerry.  This is another one that can climb the charts.

Love Must Be Patient and Kind – This ballad is reminiscent of Clever Girl.  Beautiful arrangment with excellent female background vocals.

Butter Fried – I suppose an instrumental with this title has to be extra greasy and it is, terrific organ work throughout with the horns riding over the top on the waves. Cortez gets high marks for the guitar solo.  Nice mute work on the trumpet leading to a great Garibaldi-Prestia-Smith section gliding out with Emilio shout outs of “funky” and exhorting the horns with “c’mon fellas” and you know the band is feeling it as the horns start trading down the line in turns like they used to do.  The close out is about as close to New Orleans as ToP gets and somewhat like the close of Snarky Puppy’s Quarter Master.

Selah – Another Emilio vocal tune, not sure what the word ‘selah’ means (and neither is the internet) other than it’s biblical.  The song’s lyrics cite some lamentations of past actions which we know several of ToP members have, as we all do.  The tune is catchy all the way through despite a darker tone.

Let It Go – The opening of this song reminds me of the classic Stylistics tune “You Are Everything” – it took me a minute to place it.  Perhaps the most lyrically conflicted song, this one’s a ballad that sounds like a love song but it’s really about breaking up from a one sided relationship.  The voice has to ‘let it go’ based on unrequited love and the powerful delivery shows the strain that has taken its toll.

Stop – This is one I don’t want to stop – it’s lyric, horn lines and upbeat rhythm make me want to keep going.  Excellent horn and key work complimenting each other from Tom and Roger and it just swings.

When Love Takes Control – Another classic ballad with great production values.  It’s very clear that Emilio and Doc and the fellas still have a lot of gas in the tank when it comes to songwriting.

After Hours – Possibly my favorite tune on the album, the opening vox intro from Emilio is like a full can o’ grease and the horn licks that follow could easily be the JBs.  It’s a tune that’s classic ToP but could easily fit on a Lettuce album – I would love to see them cover this one.  The trombone solo by Ray Greene plays well with Tom’s sax and it’s full on funk.

Can’t Stop Thinking About You – Closing out the “full” songs on the album, this one is a beauty of a 70s style soul song complete with the top notch vocals, background vocals and the excellent horn work again by Tom.

East Bay! Oakland Style! – Nice organ fade in from Roger followed by the title chorus and a horn fadeout.  Excelllent close and bookend to the album.

Of course you should buy the CD or download or you can listen here:

Soul Side of Town – YouTube

Here’s ToP with So Very Hard to Go from the Playboy Jazz Festival featuring the OG Greg Adams! Catch Tower of Power at City Winery Atlanta, August 13th and 14th.

Emilio Castillo – 2nd Tenor Sax
Stephen “Doc” Kupka – Bari Sax
Francis Rocco Prestia – Bass
David Garibaldi – Drums
Roger Smith – Hammond B3 and keyboards
Jerry Cortez – Guitar. Electric Sitar, Lap Steel, Baritone Guitar, 12 string Guitar
Tom Politzer – 1st Tenor Sax, Alto Sax, Baritone Sax (solo), Clarinet, Flute
Adolfo Acosta – Trumpet, Flugelhorn
Sal Cracchiolo – Trumpet, Flugelhorn
Marcus Scott – Lead and Background Vocals
Ray Greene – Lead and Background Vocals, Trombone
Joe Vannelli – Keyboards
Chuck Hansen – Bass Sax