If Sam Huber has anything to say about it, Finland will be known for his brand of “Future Soul” as well as its saunas, reindeers, Nokia, and Santa Claus village. What is Future Soul? The official description says it is “a musical manifesto deeply anchored in vintage soul while looking and thinking beyond the horizon at the same time.” Yet, if you really want to know what Future Soul is you have to listen to Huber’s latest album entitled UP. Yes, that is UP in capital letters.
UP has the feel of a timeless love story, running the gamut of hookups, an ongoing relationship, breaking up, and getting back together. The story is told as much musically as it is lyrically. It takes you on the highs of falling in love, through the doubt of uncertainty, the anguish of separation, and optimism of a rekindled love affair. Huber uses his voice as an instrument to complement the strings, horns, drums, and guitars that sonically set the soul filled tone of the album. His rich, warm baritone a la Barry White can be heard on every track but at times gives way to a soulful falsetto as on “Lessons Of Love,” “Lonely Eyes,” and “Love Game.”
The album starts off with “I Won’t Let You Go,” an inspiring blend of soul, funk, jazz, and blues. It is a blend that resonates throughout 7 of the 8 tracks, lifting one’s spirit and giving rise to the album’s title. The opening drumbeat and horns give way to Huber’s deep baritone reassuringly saying, “I won’t let you go.” And “Think it over. Think of what we got.” In the background you hear horns reminiscent of Hugh Masekela in “Grazing In The Grass,” only more upbeat. “All I want to do,” Huber says, “is to live my life and be with you.”
“Hot Summer Burnin’” is the second track on UP and is the lone exception to the uplifting tone of the album. From the opening refrain of “Hot summer burnin’…” there is an air of abandon all hope ye who enter here. “Way up in the mountains. Down in the valley, too. Hot summer burnin’. What we gonna do?” If Huber’s vocals take on a satanic quality, well that just adds to the burn. The song is relentless as a sweltering August heat wave – the kind where the air is so thick you can cut it with a knife. Ostensibly about the effects of climate, the lines “all for the money, all for the greed” cast a wider net.
Fortunately, the next track, “Lessons Of Love,” is a return to the uplifting tenor of the album. Even “It’s A Shame,” Huber’s take on the Spinners song (co-written by Stevie Wonder), has an upbeat quality to it. Perhaps that is because it may be a shame “the way you mess around with your man” and “the way you hurt me,” but the unspoken truth is you are the one who is going to be sorry when I’m gone. So it’s a shame you won’t realize what you have until it’s gone.
“Lonely Eyes” is reminiscent of Eddie Holman’s 1970 hit “Hey There Lonely Girl,” coming across as homage to the soul music of the time. “You Called Me In The Morning” is a truly sad song but one mixed with the nostalgia of remembering the good times of an ending love affair. “Love Game” calls for an end to all the games lovers play with each other, the on again off again shenanigans that seem to be part and parcel of all love stories.
The Helsinki-born Huber came into the world with soul music seemingly embedded deep within his DNA. However, in an interview with American Blues Scene earlier this month he admitted he is at home with “everything from classical to heavy metal to whatever.” Prince was his biggest influence but he was first drawn to soul by listening to Stevie Wonder’s Songs In The Key Of Life. Huber was introduced to the world of funk after listening to James Brown and Larry Graham. He plans to explore a future funk world in an upcoming album entitled DOWN. Again, DOWN all in capital letters.
UP is a soul filled album sounding at times like a Tamla, Stax and Roulette recording straight out of the ‘60s and ‘70s. Still, it is not a rehash of music from that bygone time. Though it is true to their spirit, UP also is not some kind of nostalgic tribute to past practitioners of the genre. “Any music that is soul-full,” Huber has said, “is soul music.” UP may remind you sonically of soul music from another time, but it has elements that are new, original, and maybe even futuristic. That is what makes it Future Soul. If you can’t quite put your finger on what those elements are, don’t worry. You don’t have to. All you have to do is enjoy the soulful ride.
UP is due out on November 23 from True Groove Records. The companion album DOWN is due out in two weeks. The entire project will come out as a double vinyl LP called UP & DOWN next year.