Brothers & Sisters by Steve MasonRelease date: March 3, 2023
Steve Mason has long surpassed his former band’s number of studio albums, here he is with album number five entitled Brothers & Sisters. As the frontman of The Beta Band he has always appeared to me to be one of music’s mavericks, capable of creating records that hold no barriers. Always leaning heavy on beats and percussion, you can always be assured of songs that will have your toes a tapping. His voice is unique, often foregoing traditional melodic variation in favour of a more chanting style of vocal delivery and it always matches the repetitive groove inclinations of the music.
This vibrant collection has been co-produced with Tev’n and featuring two tracks with Pakistani singer Javed Bashir. Many of the tracks are embellished with the addition of British gospel singers Jayando Cole, Keshia Smith, Connie McCall and Adrian Blake. Special mention should also go to Kaviraj Singh who brings some marvellous tones on the santoor. Opening with ‘Mars Man’, an extra-terrestrial (by way of Asia) journey of skittering percussion and marvellous soaring brass tones. Steve lays out a haunting chant like a spaceman lost and searching for home.
The gorgeous and uplifting ‘I’m On My Way’ skanks along on a propulsive handclapped beat before erupting with a splurge of gospel singers in the chorus. Steve makes the defiant proclamation “Here I am, hold my soul, I’m never gonna settle for rock n roll”. The ebullient protest anthem ‘No More’ is a smorgasbord of mesmerising whirling instrumentation and beautiful and defiant chanted vocals. When Javed Bashir swoops in with his lines it is a supremely uplifting moment, and you want to jump up onto your feet and throw some shapes! ‘All Over Again’ raises the hairs on your neck as the voices and strings swell in the chorus. Accompanied with gospel choir backing Steve sings “You were there to pull me through when all around was breaking” and you feel a tinge as it’s such a tender moment.
‘The People Say’ is a swinging groovy song in the vein of Primal Scream’s ‘Moving On Up’ as the beats slip and slide and the pianos roll with waves of happiness. Steve and his band of musicians have really excelled on this album and this track exemplifies their attention to detail. ‘Let It Go’ strips down the myriad instrumentation in terms of an overall presence, but the levels of intricacy are no less when you listen closely. Things get funky at the end with more gospel backing and chiming pianos over a plethora of percussive slaps and taps.
Starting as a delicate ballad of searing synths and a sad reverbed bar style piano, in ‘Pieces of Me’ Steve sings “fuck your heated pool cause I cannot follow fools” and you do a double take. What I really like is the control in the song where it resists the urge to go full-on and remains understated and the addition of the santoor adds a delightful extravagance. ‘Travelling Hard’ has a wee bit of a nondescript verse before the uplifting chorus provides a reassuring “no-one said it was gonna be easy” as the music rises with joy to reinforce the sentiment.
The brilliant ‘Brixton Fish’ features a Stevie Wonder style bumpy funky groove underpinning a shimmering droning vocal and once again Javed appears to stunning effect. I’m not familiar with Pakistani singers and found myself looking up more of his music. His voice is such a delight, and the mix of Steve’s drifting lilting sounds works so well. The party-up vibe of ‘Upon My Soul’ is a swinging all dancing groovy train that wants to see the album go out in a feelgood vibe. Rinky dink piano and handclaps really punctuate the rhythm to great effect.
Closing song ‘Brothers & Sisters’ further drives the positivity with the carefree chant of “brothers and sisters pump up the volume”. In other hands this would sound ham-fisted but as a closing track on this triumphant album it is an undeniably upbeat statement, and you can’t help but smile. There’s a kaleidoscope of sounds spinning a psychedelic groove and it’s truly joyous.
The influence of Asian atmospherics permeates the album in the same superb way African music enhanced Paul Simon’s Graceland. Steve has always had a brilliant way with beats and percussion and a knack for creating absorbing and detailed rhythms. The melodies on this album are sublime throughout and it really does leave you feeling uplifted and transports you away from the ills of the world. Brothers and Sisters, pump up the volume!