With the release of Back To Life, guitarist Ben Brandt and bassist Kevin Koa make their debut as the driving force behind Soul Miners Union. The album’s ten original tracks pull from traditional blues norms and structures, but the contrasting styles and deliveries of Brandt and Koa offer a couple of new wrinkles. Brandt brings a gritty, seasoned approach to the songs that he captains. His guitar and voice imparts a darker yin to his partner’s yang. When Koa is at the helm, the album shifts towards a jazzier blend of singer-songwriter blues, shaped by his brighter tone and snappy delivery.
The title track, “Back to Life,” introduces listeners to Koa’s warm voice over a laid back rhythm and sparse accompaniment. Here, and on other Koa dominated efforts, Brandt provides crisp licks and understated solos, allowing the songs to focus on Koa’s lyrics and smooth delivery. “Inside Out” shifts the sonic palette into Brandt Territory, starting with his raspier vocals and sharper guitar attack. The guitar solo affords Brandt space to stretch out and cut into some more aggressive playing. Heavier still, “End of Time” stands out as the hardest and darkest song of the set. The riff-driven rhythm and ominous lyrics are a stark contrast from the lighter numbers on the album. At the other end of the spectrum lies Koa’s “Everyday,” with its brisk and catchy verses.
“Where Do We Go,” the best and most direct track of the album, strips away all but the essential song, highlighting the music and Brandt’s fiery guttural guitar. On “Hold It Down” and “Black and White” the pair play somewhere in between their stylistic differences resulting in a more fluid meshing of their approaches.
As much as Back To Life is a Soul Miners Union album, it also serves as a canvas for Brandt and Koa to alternately explore their own stylings and serve as each other’s accompaniment. Some listeners will prefer the Koa driven tracks while others will opt for Brandt vehicles, but the deft playing, seamless transitions, and memorable choruses should satisfy both camps. At times Soul Miners Union gives a glimpse of what might become a signature sound on forthcoming albums. In the meantime, their debut provides a fresh take on a few different blues avenues.
The Review: 7/10
Can’t Miss Tracks
– Inside Out
– Where Do We Go
The Big Hit
– Where Do We Go