There’s not very much that’s astounding about “Listen,” the one-song debut from Reno soul quartet MELK, released Tuesday on streaming services. That is, there’s not very much that’s astounding about it, aside from the initiation of it all.
“Listen” is pretty much a straight-forward, 4/4 Stax soul romp, complete with genre-pitch-perfect, reverby guitars and a jangly tambourine accenting the drum-kit back-beat. Though drummer Kris Stosic also gets points for some borderline-arrhythmic fill-in work during quieter moments, there’s nothing really Earth-shattering here. But, what it lacks in audacity of form it makes up for in complexity of spirit. Frontman and MusicTAP favorite Spencer Kilpatrick, formerly of Failure Machine, is astoundingly,
astoundingly good, smoothly caressing plain-spoken lyrics with his wavering, sometimes-smoky croon. When the band reaches a boil, he hints at a more soulful Chris Robinson, an odd point of departure for a song that could have been put to tape in 1965, if not for the thrashy ending.
And then there’s that instrumental bridge. Though it’s unclear if it’s Kilpatrick or lead guitarist Steve Widmer (he of Moondog Matinee), the guitar takes center-stage, with an all-too-brief, rickety-rockety chikka-chikka that is funky in all the right ways. Adam Carpenter’s buoyant bass, occasionally masterful, doesn’t hurt. Intoxicating stuff. Kilpatrick apparently cut this tune a few times before being satisfied with the ambience of it all; this take really sells the goods.
Pittsburgh and a good portion of the soul/soul-rock underground currently is going crazy for The Commonheart, a many-piece outfit that nails all the strut and grandeur of soul at its finest, with a frontman of Joe Cocker quality to boot. MELK, not to be confused with Melkbelly, deserves the same foaming-at-the-mouth breathlessness. They’re more stripped down than The Commonheart, sure, but no less injected with the spirit of soul. Spencer Kilpatrick, as ever, remains a man to watch. Catch the band July 26 at Crystal Bay Casino in Lake Tahoe. You’ll find them in the Red Room. They’ll be waiting for you.