Shillong-based band Soulmate has had the tendency of maintaining long gaps between releases. Their last album Ten Stories Up was launched in 2014, and before that, they had only two records after being formed in 2003. In contrast, they’ve been hugely prolific on the live circuit, with the songs Set Me Free and Lie in regular demand.
Fans naturally looked forward to Give Love, the latest offering by vocalist Tipriti ‘Tips’ Kharbangar and guitarist-composer, Rudy Wallang. Rest assured, this is a cracker of an album, where the band continues with its seamless blend of blues with rock inflections.
What hits you first, besides the sheer musical quality, is the way the album has been structured. Over the 10 songs, the tempo and mood keep constantly changing, and yet, the whole thing flows like a river. While Tips and Rudy play the main roles, there are fantastic contributions by bassist Leon Wallang, drummer Vincent Tariang, keyboardist Brian Suting, and organ player Ron Cha, with a few cameo guest appearances.
The album kicks off with The Way We Are, which we heard at this year’s Mahindra Blues Festival. A trademark Soulmate tune, it sets the pace with Tips’ crisp vocals and Rudy’s smooth guitar lines.
“Don’t want to be no star, don’t need no fancy car,” sings Tips, before announcing “All I need is you and me” and then “We have to live, we have to eat.”
Rudy takes over the vocals on the racy Don’t You Miss Me Baby, which also features a smooth organ stretch. The title song, released earlier as a single, impresses with its blues-pop yet Santanaesque feel and the simple lines,
“Give love to receive love.”
The album is laced with other beauties. The gospel-flavoured, Hole In Your Soul has an incredible slide guitar part by Hmingpuia besides a rich acoustic guitar backdrop. Tips’ vocals here are mellow and soulful, and a children’s choir embellishes the finale.
I Sing The Blues, where the interaction between Tips’ power-packed vocals and Rudy’s guitar phrases shows mathematical precision. Rudy then slows down the tempo with ‘Troubled Times’, where he has a wailing guitar solo, with Raveen Panday playing a steady Hammond organ
“Dangerous times to live in, what a world to bring our children to,” sings Rudy on this protest song, asking what we could do to “stop this rot.”
Tempos are frequently alternated as the pacy guitar stomp and concluding vocal chant of Soulmate Boogie makes way for the melodic instrumental Still Loving You.
The uptempo Koko Taylor composition Voodoo Woman, which Soulmate has played often at shows, again goes into standard blues territory. The album concludes with Your Love with its supple rhythm guitar and bass lines, with Tips singing,
“Your love is like soothing rain on a steamy day, come on give me some more.”
It’s a great concert song and has that clap-along vibe.
All in all, this is a fantastic set of songs from one of India’s most talented bands. The production standards, spearheaded by Rudy himself, are perfect. It might not be fair to compare It with the previous Soulmate recordings which had their own charm. But this stands out on its own. We could only request blues buffs to give time to “Give Love.”