Bahamas – Earthtones (Brushfire)
It takes a lot of work to sound this laid-back. Guitarist Afie Jurvanen, the singer and songwriter behind Bahamas, make easy-on-the-ears, R&B-influenced pop music that happens to feature Jurvanen’s subtle guitar wizardry at its core. He never whips out a blazing solo littered with 16th notes—that’s the last thing one could imagine him doing. Instead, it’s the tiny phrases and harmonies he inserts between the grooves that define his signature sound—along with his seductive vocals and the female harmonies that accompany him everywhere he goes.
On his fourth album, Jurvanen—who, concurrent with his ever-expanding popularity, also has a reputation as a musician’s musician—joined forces with one of the most formidable rhythm sections in modern music: bassist Pino Palladino and drummer James Gadson. They’re best known for their work with D’Angelo, but they’ve backed up everyone from The Who to Beck to Lady Gaga. Jurvanen managed to steal three days from their busy schedule to play on approximately half of the tracks here, improvising arrangements on the spot. Considering the talent involved, that certainly doesn’t imply that anything here is slapdash. The inherently funky feel of Palladino and Gadson drives songs like “Show Me” and the slightly campy “Bad Boys Need Love Too.” But it’s telling that it’s hard to distinguish between their tracks and those featuring Jurvanen’s regular touring lineup: drummer Jason Tait (Weakerthans), bassist Darcy Yates (Great Lake Swimmers) and guitarist Christine Bougie. Backing singer Felicity Williams is indispensible—notably on “No Expectations”—and she’s augmented here occasionally by Alanna Stuart (Bonjay) and Robin Dann (Bernice).
The songwriting here relies more on groove and spontaneity, including the lyrics, which Jurvanen admits he didn’t have as much time to focus on, due to having two small children at home. But the rush job brings out a candid honesty in his writing, whether talking about depression, an ailing mother, his white privilege, or just being an opening act. Then again, he can also let himself be cornier than he might otherwise be: “I’m waiting on you like a tax return.” Overall, the strength of Earthtones is testament to the “first thought, best thought” school of record-making. (Jan. 19)
Stream: “Alone,” “Show Me Naomi,” “No Expectations”