Individualistic Soul Band Brandi & the Alexanders Make a Welcome Return to the New York Stage

by delarue

For the last few years prior to the lockdown, Brandi & the Alexanders were one of the most musically interesting retro soul bands playing around New York. Frontwoman Brandi Thompson is more about subtlety than wounded wail and the group behind her – guitarist Nick Fokas, bassist Eric Wendell, keyboardist Ethan Simon and drummer Eric Gottlieb – punch in with a drive that’s closer to classic 70s sounds and four-on-the-floor rock than hip-hop. In the studio, they keep their songs on the short side and have a great sense of humor. The tunesmitbing is strong: the songs are catchy without falling back on cliches. And Thompson doesn’t autotune her voice either!

They’ve put out a couple of records: the most recent one is How Do You Like It, which came out in 2018 and is streaming at youtube. The band are making a return to a familiar stage, the big room at the Rockwood – which has recently reopened without restrictions – on March 25 at 8:30 PM. Cover is $10.

The album opens with the title cut, a kiss-off anthem that’s a mixture of slinky psychedelic soul and hard funk, Thompson picking up with a gritty vindictiveness at the end. The second track, Higher is a catchy, tightly pulsing, harder-rocking take on late 60s Motown.

I’m in Love is funkier, with blippy electric piano and a little gospel bridge. The band slow things down with Jealousy, a simmering piano ballad in 6/8 time built around an icy chorus-box guitar riff and swirly organ. After that there’s a surprise, a slow, swaying 90s G-funk inspired cover of Black Sabbath’s Paranoid that’s just plain hilarious

They pick up the pace with Running Around, an brisk update on a familiar minor-key soul-blues theme from the 60s. “I’m so sick of these goddamn love songs,” Thompson scowls in the next number, a trip-hop strut with growling guitars and some amusing voiceovers.

The album’s hardest-rocking song is Drama Queen: just when you think the band are going to expand on the guitar multitracks, or launch into a long solo, they end it cold. Likewise, they wrap up Pulling Me Down, a catchy mix of airy keys and wah-wah guitar grit, in under three minutes.

“Luck ain’t got nothing to do with it,” Thompson asserts cynically in Lucky as the band rise from a slow wah-wah groove to a surreal, squalling sax break and a big coda. She reaches for extra venom in Shapeshifter, a vindictive, imaginatively orchestrated blues tune about a real femme fatale. The band wind up the album with Bad Love, a slow, gospel-tinged 6/8 ballad, Thompson working the dynamics for all they’re worth and finally kicking out the jams. Good to see these guys still together and playing at a time when so many others have been scattered across the country – or across town.