New(-ish) Music: Nicole Willis and the Soul Investigators

Fight disinformation: Sign up for the free Mother Jones Daily newsletter and follow the news that matters.


Because of the holiday weekend and a jaunt to DJ down in LA, I thought I’d take a week off from the Top Ten Stuff ‘n’ Things. But don’t fret, Riff readers, I’ve still got lots to say about new music, I’ll just post about it randomly.

Keep Reachin' Up
My first exposure to Nicole Willis and the Soul Investigators was via their single, “If This Ain’t Love.” At first it’s easy to lump the track into the current neo-soul trend with Amy Winehouse and her backing-band-sharing compadre Sharon Jones. With Willis’ silky-smooth voice and the jazzy backing track (not to mention the retro album cover), “Love” seems like a straightforward throwback at first listen; but closer attention shows there’s more going on here.

“If This Ain’t Love”

The track’s minor-seventh piano chords and unexpected melodic twists are unabashedly modern, and the flute solo at the end verges on psychedelia. This is retro, but set entirely in the present.

Willis was born in Brooklyn but spent her formative musical years in London, working with The The and Leftfield along with more traditional soul musicians like the Repercussions. Her husband, Finnish musician Jimi Tenor, produced her solo debut in 2000, mixing traditional jazz styles with electronics, as is his wont. The Soul Investigators are themselves a Finnish collective, around nine members strong (it looks like from their photo) and oddly, it’s with them that her voice really finds a home.

The album, Keep Reachin’ Up, actually came out an embarrassingly long time ago: 2005, in fact, but it had only limited release on a Finnish label. Thankfully, it’s finally available on iTunes. Check out “Soul Investigators Theme,” an instrumental track that features the piano front and center again.

“Soul Investigators Theme” (via Die Monster)

The groove is insistent and hypnotic, the kind of thing you could set on repeat all night. Or try “Feeling Free,” a Marvin Gaye-reminiscent number with an insistent beat, precisely executed by these crazy Finns. The Soul Investigators work in the grand tradition of The Four Tops and The Supremes, but can’t help imbue their music with a cool, airy spirit.

We've never been very good at being conservative.

And usually, that serves us well in doing the ambitious, hard-hitting journalism that you turn to Mother Jones for. But it also means we can't afford to come up short when it comes to scratching together the funds it takes to keep our team firing on all cylinders, and the truth is, we finished our budgeting cycle on June 30 about $100,000 short of our online goal.

This is no time to come up short. It's time to fight like hell, as our namesake would tell us to do, for a democracy where minority rule cannot impose an extreme agenda, where facts matter, and where accountability has a chance at the polls and in the press. If you value our reporting and you can right now, please help us dig out of the $100,000 hole we're starting our new budgeting cycle in with an always-needed and always-appreciated donation today.

payment methods

We've never been very good at being conservative.

And usually, that serves us well in doing the ambitious, hard-hitting journalism that you turn to Mother Jones for. But it also means we can't afford to come up short when it comes to scratching together the funds it takes to keep our team firing on all cylinders, and the truth is, we finished our budgeting cycle on June 30 about $100,000 short of our online goal.

This is no time to come up short. It's time to fight like hell, as our namesake would tell us to do, for a democracy where minority rule cannot impose an extreme agenda, where facts matter, and where accountability has a chance at the polls and in the press. If you value our reporting and you can right now, please help us dig out of the $100,000 hole we're starting our new budgeting cycle in with an always-needed and always-appreciated donation today.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate