Endless grooves for the mind and the heart on one of Soul music's most enduring and heartfelt releases.
Soul and blues music gave us the emotional tools that would be ever present for many genres and generations to come. Blues on the one hand, was exploring and highlighting hardships, whilst soul explored the notion of emotion, the heartbreak, the joy and the jealousy. It was an exploration of human emotion that gave a lot of soul music such substance, relating to every day feelings that created a connection to the listener. Soul was about the celebration of the voice as a door, a instrument that made us cry and laugh in equal measure. Some would develop it further and thus, funk was born, a genre focused on the groove and edge, that made us get up and dance once more. Some bands and individuals catered to the full spectrum of these, and as a result stand above as musicians who transcended and blended with the times.
On first listen, The Brief Encounter have all the goods for what has just been described. For a band who released a small amount of records (2 LPs and 6 singles over a decade or so), their music has very much stood the tests of time. Why? well, the music represents soul at its most majestic, its most tear jerking; it displays a significant level of musicality, with harmonies, interplays and grooves of a unique quality; and a vision associated with the genres blended together, to create a body of work that is both impressive and beautiful in equal measure. Today, we focus on their first LP, 'Introducing', that was released in 1977. A gorgeous blend of soul and funk, delivered through an emotional and uplifting message, the album is very much a exploration of the boundaries of soul, pushing it further and further to what the genre was capable of. So, lets take a dive in to this.
To start things off, we have 'The Brief Encounter (Introduction)', that kicks it all off in funky as funk fashion. A solid and interchanging beat provides superb interplay between the guitar, the hard as rock bassline that jumps straight at ya face, and the fantastic vocal harmonies. All the ingredients are tight, all in the right place, it all just works so perfectly. It feels like a blend of B.T Express and the Dazz Band, as the group chant to us all about THE BRIEF ENCOUNTER. Its the sort of tune that works perfectly at the start of an album like this, to allow us to just join in with whatever is going to come next. Now then, 'Visions' comes next. This writer used to listen to a lot of soul, and much of it is still great to the ears to this day. Some perhaps have lost their power, their message and musical content a bit lost due to excessive over listening. However, discovering the Brief Encounter a few years ago was a revelation. And its primarily due to this tune and 'Human', that they will always have a special, special place in the heart. This tune is so fucking beautiful, its hard to quantify just how perfect this is as a soul tune. It feels elevated, not just in composition, but in its musicality. The soaring, heart pounding vocals, over an ever changing and developing groove, that just makes it seem so easy across the board. The delicate bass, the slight yet impeccable guitar flicks and licks, provide this bed for the vocals to fly up then come back to rest. Peaks to sudden pauses, moments of reflections. This one just has it all. Seriously. Up next we have 'Smile', that continues on the groove from the opener. Combining the guitar licks of the first with the uplifting content of the second tune, this song just thumps hard. The bass grooving along with the vocals, before it descends into a out of this world bridge, before swinging back into the verse. How these guys are able to transition so quick and between the various scenes and layers of sounds is something else, and shows a band on top of their game. But most importantly, on top of their sound. It takes a supremely confident band, with a strong vision of what their sound is, to pull this off. Damn!
'Just One Moment' comes into play here. The drums herald us in, with the bass taking another key role in this one. The guitar placed off the left, the keys on the right, before the horns fill the room and the world, the heavens and the stars. The funk kicks in after this, and shit is it a groover. The vocals come back in, and it all elevates (once again!). The way these songs build are class, and always leave us surprised and delighted. The guitar takes centre stage, throwing out a slamming guitar solo, before it all switches up again back to the vocals. Wonderful. 'Loving and Caring' comes up next, and we have another tear jerker. Synths and keys start us off, before the drums and vocals bring in everything else;
I want you to love me/cause I love you
I want you to need me/cause I need you
Soul's lyrics often went down this path, as mentioned previously. Caring, loving, heartbreak, jealousy, lament, all common themes and delivered by some of the most iconic and legendary artists of the 20th century. But within the context of this song, you do really feel them, you really feel the words. Soul sometimes didn't have that relationship between the music underneath the words, and often the voice was the star. Here, the music lifts and contextualises the words, which did happen with Soul music, but here its done on another level. The instruments blend together into this emotion you can hear as well as feel, tones and textures reflecting the longing, the need and the desire of wanting someone to love you as much as you love them. Oh my, tears be streamin'. 'In a special kind of way' follows suit, and once again we are welcomed into the warm embrace of love and togetherness. The slowed down tempo gives way for lucid guitar chords, light piano and keys, high line bass, and some really special vocal works. Interplays between the various vocals create a great sense of dynamics to the emotions behind the words, with every vocalist hammering home the meaning behind them. Next we have 'Good Thing, Bad Thing'. A off kilter drum beat creates the bed rock, to lovingly curated keys, with the vocals high and in focus, before it all kicks off to this utter majestic chorus. The spaces filled with the most infectious groove, funk and soul merged into this unique and slamming emotive break. The song bleeds fluidity, with transitions between various scenes and layering of sounds a dream, the groove never swaying away from its ultimate destination.
Towards the business end of the record, we have 'Time Is Moving'. Hmmmmmm, this is a groove. What a groove. An ominous voice tells us that 'time is movin', in the rich tradition of Funkadelic vocal work, before the song descends (once again) into a fucking groove!! the horns play their part here brilliantly, adding that extra level of spice into proceedings. They almost replaced the irreplaceable vocal work from the previous tracks, as the band focus more intently on the instruments on display here. The guitar is effortless in its sonic groove, the drums and bass lines curating the sub groove to perfection. What a tune. 'Got a Good Feeling' comes next, and is perhaps one of the Encounter's more well known tunes. The song starts off with a solid as hell intro, and rather than drop that intro part, the band keep it going, the drums swaying, the horns blaring, the guitar funking its head off. It reminds us a lot of the band Pleasure, particularly with the guitar effects. The vocals really show off during the chorus, as they all just soar higher and higher. This could go on forever and no one would mind. To finish things off, we have 'We're Gonna Have a Good Time', that pulls the curtains on this masterpiece perfectly. Displaying all the changes in tones and tempo we have come to expect from this great band, they still pull off a few lovely surprises, such as the progression from the more empty verse parts, to the completely full and triumphant choruses, that are seriously amazing.
An album that will forever stand the test of time. A soul album, a funk album, an album for music, an album to cherish. A record that holds your hand, no matter how you feel, and hugs you in its warm and glowing embrace. An album you feel as much in your heart as in your bones, as much in your mind as your dancing shoes. Something majestic is contained within this record, something that fuses the power of funk's groove to the open ended emotional landscape that is soul. The Brief Encounter curated something phenomenal here, music with as much feeling as you might get from the real world. This is all amplified by extremely talented musicians who saw their vision of soul and funk and created it, and is the world a better a place for it. If you feel down, or up, maybe a brief encounter will be needed, to guide you along the way.
The record was recently reissued by the ever excellent Athens of the North, and can be brought here:
Check out the rest of AOTN, its all excellent! a review of their new disco comp is round the corner.......