Album Review: Black Pumas – Black Pumas (ATO)

Straight from the heart of Texas, this Austin-based duo has produced one of the best debut albums heard in years.

Black Pumas are multi-instrumentalist/producer Adrian Quesada and vocalist/guitarist Eric Burton. Quesada has been kicking around for a few years…he even scored a Grammy…while Burton, transplanted from California has spent his previous few years busking.

With a voice that recalls vintage soul greats such as Otis Redding, Sam Cooke and Bill Withers (and maybe even CeeLo Green), it was only going to be a matter of time before Burton was discovered. Lucky for him, and for us, it was Quesada who had the good sense to recognize his talent.

Both men write songs, with Burton providing all the lyrics to the 10 tracks that comprise their debut album. The production chores are handled by Quesada who has employed what sounds like Austin’s finest players to flesh out the duo’s sound. We’re talking strings, horns, backing vocalist along with drums, bass, keyboards and guitars.

This is an album that could easily get by on its sound alone. Quesada and his band lay down beautifully realized vintage soul that manages to sound both classic and modern. And Burton’s acoustic guitar on tunes like Touch The Sky and Colors adds a certain singer/songwriter earthiness that causes these songs to resonate even deeper.

Elsewhere warm electric pianos and Memphis-style horns make for a smooth, sultry groove.

But then there are the songs themselves.

These are melodic, emotion-packed tunes written in a way that cuts deep. Burton’s lyrics slyly  reference vintage soul acts such as P-Funk, The Floaters and Otis Redding, but these are not exercises in nostalgia…they sound vital and contemporary.

All 10 tunes are strong, but its October 33 that is the stand out. A haunting ballad triggered by Burton’s acoustic guitar, the singer really digs deep inside himself as the strings swell up around him.

As someone who listens to a lot of new music, folks are always asking me what’s new that I can recommend. Usually I panic, my mind a blur of the tunes I’ve been devouring, and a sputter something vague and unintelligible. But these days the answer to that question has been easy…check out the Black Pumas…easily one of the best albums of the year so far!

Marty Duda