Seratones are a five piece who hail from Shreveport, Louisiana fronted by the gospel trained AJ Haynes and featuring Adam Davis (Bass), Jesse Gabriel (Drums), Tyran Coker (Keyboards) and Travis Stewart (Guitar). Power is the follow up to the raw rock-blues-with-a-soul-twist of their debut, 2016’s Get Gone and has flipped this ratio with soul music to the fore and rock-blues popping up throughout. It may be that the sheer nervous excitement and kilotons of energy you get from being a new band has given way to more control and allowed a more confident soul-orientated influence to come through. Power is more radio friendly and won’t be a surprise to those familiar with Amy Winehouse, Lauryn Hill or Joss Stone. But though the sheer power of AJ Haynes’ voice often soars above the track Seratones are not a ‘female fronted band’ (a term I cannot abide) they are a band that can read and support each other and serve the song not the ego of any individual member. I say this with some surety as I have seen them live twice and they all have a hand on the steering wheel.
Power starts with the Motown-esque ‘Fear’ a swaying ballad that sets the more soulful tone. A Motown drum-flourish announces the title track ‘Power’; all sleek lines and muscle car looks and the vitality of the on-the-beat snare, keyboard stabs and swirling strings add a panicked bedrock to this eponymous diatribe: “Mama said, “Listen–your first mind is your greatest intuition”, Find the Strength in your hands and you will pull your way out of the quicksand. But this grind is so damn real– trying to break that same bad deal, with the devil that I know and the Devil that I don’t“. I imagine the message of this track will be misunderstood by TV companies and it will end up plastered all over sports show clip reels.
‘Heart Attack’ is probably the most out and out pop song with a great Eastern feel and a beautiful mellotron-sounding keyboard part to round off the song. ‘Lie To My Face’ ticks the doo-wop box but is no candyfloss pop missive to unrequited love. It’s ‘Essence of Winehouse’ and I feel a little pity for the subject of lines like “Lie to my face and cry me a river. You play your game and blame me forever. Cut like a blade, the way that you sever all this Time…”. ‘Gotta Get To Know Ya’ was the first single from the album and with good reason as it should have you pushing repeat. It’s got tons of bounce and sits on a rolling riff that Lenny Kravitz would be proud of. There’s also a too-short fuzzed guitar solo that I hope gets extended in their live set.
‘Over You’ feels like a modern soul take on Bacharach and David’s Walk On By and is complimented by ‘Permission’ a beautifully sparse, finger-clicking song which pulses around a floating vocal line bobbing along over swelling organ. ‘Sad Boi’ seems to channel Janet Jackson or Cameo and offers a refreshing analogue take on the slick 1980s production; not that you get many 90s dance tracks which will namecheck Bukowski or Baudelaire: “You like Bukowski and Baudelaire. you like the way I comb my hair. we’ve been sitting here for too long. you already played me your song.”. The penultimate track ‘Who Are You Now’ feels like an amped up Hall & Oates track and the closing track ‘Crossfire’, driven by haunting piano, emotes candle-lights to create a low-key but classy coda to the album.
Power may be more of Cadillac than a V8 muscle car but there’s still the threatening growl of cynicism held in check by fuel injected optimism. It teeters between world weary and life affirming; hoping for the latter, fearing the former. So many new soul or R&B acts ‘borrow’ from the sound or production of what has gone before as a short hand to cool but Seratones are drawing from the well not poisoning it and their infectious sincerity and musicianship elevates the songs and allows them to be both familiar and new. I cannot wait to see how these tracks sit alongside songs from Get Gone live. Seratones gigs are incandescent and the shows I saw at London’s The Lexington and Oslo back in 2016 hold a special place in my gig memory as they played with all the ferocity and fearlessness of a band who would play full tilt regardless of whether it was a packed arena or a half empty scout hut. It’s a shame that there is only one UK show on the current tour but I would urge readers to catch them live whenever their V8 Cadillac drives into town.
The album Power is out now and Seratones play the Camden Assembly, London, on 21 November, 2019.
Review by Paul F Cook