Neo-soul has become a much used term over the last fifteen years and the likes of Erykah Badu, Angie Stone and Rapphael Saadiq have paid homage to the great legacy of soul music that has been so influential in shaping contemporary American music in the second half of the twentieth century. Enter onto the scene an instrumental collective with a vocal dimension, RC and the Gritz. Based in Dallas, Texas, a state with a long history of pioneering black musicians (Bobby Bland, T-Bone Walker, Ornette Coleman to name just three), RO and the Gritz belong to a new generation that effortlessly weaves in elements of funk, hip-hop and soul into the mix. In their use of heavy bass there is the influence of Roger Troutman and Zapp. Vocalist Claudia Melton is on hand to provide some welcome variety and excels on the bass line riff of ‘We can’t be friends’ while Texas’s very own neo-soul superstar Erykah Badu turns up as guest vocalist on the sumptuous ‘Leave me alone’, a song that has been garnering much airplay on Gilles Peterson’s radio shows.
Ideally, this writer would like to hear more of the instrumental soloing virtuosity of the band as illustrated wonderfully on the Stevie Wonder-influenced track ‘Melodies’ which is also notable for some Earth-Wind and Fire style wordless harmonies. It makes all the difference to the enjoyment of the listening experience to be able to hear subtle keyboards in tandem with melodic bass line grooves and hopefully future collaborations with singers of the calibre of Erykah Badu will veer the band more in the direction of jazzier approach to the instrumental side. There is a nod to early 1980s era hip-hop drum patterns and scratching technique on another instrumental ‘C7#9’ while the sampling on ‘Summer Boo’ leads on to a glorious mid-tempo soul groove with shared lead vocals. In sum, a fine outfit with plenty of potential that just needs a little fine tuning to become a major new figure on the neo-soul scene.