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08/19/2019
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Soulsha, Carry It On

Score one for boldness. Soulsha is a band that blends Scottish grooves with funk and uses melody to serve rhythm. It is the brainchild of Elias Alexander (vocals, fiddle, Highland pipes) and Neil Pearlman (keys, accordion), both of whom are American but are well versed in Scottish and world music. As Alexander tells it, they had their minds blown during a trip to New Orleans and decided to form a Scottish funk fusion band. Their 8- sometimes 9-piece band includes Senegalese percussion artist Lamine Touré, a kit drummer, a saxophonist, a trumpet player, guitars, and electric bass. The sometimes-9th member is none other than Galen Fraser, the son of Alasdair Fraser. Don't be fooled by track titles such as "Isle of Skye Reel" or "A'Ghirian," though. In each case you'll get blasts of brass, chunky bass lines, and talking drums to go with the bagpipes and fiddle. The band's normal MO is to lay down an accented funk groove and use it as the springboard for launching into energetic reels. As you'll quickly surmise, the reel is usually the Celtic club of choice for high energy stimuli; this is a jump-up-and-down-and-sweat kind of band. Check out the live performance of the aptly named "Rhythm's in the Melody." You'd not be wrong to think that Soulsha's also a rave band. Another in this spirit is "Fetchal (Let'sDance)." Listen to the inflections in Alexander's vocals on the title track and you'll think Paul Simon's Graceland album. It's not all gyration and jive. The most "Scottish" track is "Standing in the Water," with its grand and sweeping melody. "Beautiful Line" uses echo vocal effects, but it too ratchets down the pace. For the most part, though, Touré, kit drummer Chris Southiere, and the rhythm section (Jake Galloway and Dylan Sherry) place their beats and pulses front and center, a flip of the usual Western pattern of melody first. Soulsha isn't the first band to fuse Celtic and African music­–Baka Beyond has been around since 1992 and the Afro Celt Sound System since 1995–but they are certainly a ray of light on the musical horizon. If you speak no Scots Gaelic, Soulsha is a play on the Gaelic soillse, which means, well, ray of light. ★★★★