Whether you know Stan Walker as a judge on New Zealand’s X Factor, remember him from his first post-Idol single, “Black Box,” or have been counting down the days to his next album Truth & Soul, you can’t dispute the fact that the 24-year old is a phenomenal talent. His vocals are full of smooth licks, velvet runs and soulfulness akin to some of music’s greats. Stepping away from the pop and dance sounds of his past, in Truth & Soul he embraces his roots and gives his own interpretation of thirteen of the most well-known tunes to grace our ears. Walker boldly takes on the melodies of Otis Redding, The Temptations, the Jackson 5 and more, paying tribute to the sounds he grew up with and giving each track his own spin.
The moment you press “play,” the epic sounds of a brass section and the liveliness of Walker’s vocals will get you up and grooving to The Temptations’ “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg.” The artist’s sense of fun is captured perfectly in the opening track, and his vocals compliment the iconic instrumentation and do justice to a beloved song. Following on with “Signed, Sealed, Delivered,” we are given a laid-back, very cool interpretation of a Stevie Wonder classic. Unafraid to sing around the melody, the vocals are steered with an expertise that places Walker’s mark on the song.
The first of two duets, “I’ll Be There” features the diva worthy vocals of Samantha Jade. Rich with a brass section, this percussion-driven rendition captures the essence of the Jackson 5’s original, but is given a contemporary spin with the intertwining vocals of both singers. Rather than competing with each other, there is an understanding of each other’s voices and the importance of the heart of the song. Due to this, the duet works, although devotees of the original may struggle to appreciate the variety of octaves and notes covered in their duet.
“Try A Little Tenderness,” is a soul-infused melody that will take you back to a warm and beautiful memory from childhood. The old school sounds of the organ and brass combined with the depth of Walker’s voice will remind you of the soul greats, and while this is made unique through the percussion-driven instrumentation, the emotion that drives the song suggests Walker comes from the same era as Otis Redding.
We are taken straight to Memphis with Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On,” and a fun percussion beat works as the foundation for some on-point harmonies, quirky piano chords and a huskiness to Walker’s vocals which suits the lyrics perfectly. “This Woman’s Work” is a sensual track that allows Walker to show off his falsetto. A simple and elegant take on Maxwell’s classic tune, it draws your attention to the plethora of tones in the vocals through the use of simple chords in the instrumentation.
Returning with another Otis Redding hit, “These Arms of Mine” opens with a strong vocal that ushers in a beautiful arrangement. As with the previous track, instrumentation takes a back seat in order to emphasize the phenomenal vocals. Artists with weaker vocal skills and less confidence in the soul genre would struggle to fill this space, yet we find Walker rising up and owning this song as if he wrote it himself.
Dami Im is exquisite as she joins Walker in “Endless Love,” their take on Luther Vandeross and Mariah Carey’s version of the Lionel Ritchie duet with Diana Ross. While they certainly have some big shoes to fill, both possess the clarity in their voices to communicate the depth in the lyrics. The piano and strings used feel a little plain in comparison to the big band sound of the earlier tracks, but do provide an element of light and shade to the album as a whole.
Following on with some Bob Marley and proving that nothing is out of his reach, Walker’s interpretation of “Is This Love” comes with a gospel choir (aka his family and friends) and facilitates a nearly spiritual element to the iconic rifts and bluesy tones. Then, bringing in the talent of friends Vince Harder, Barry Conrad and Fourtunate, “End of the Road” is enriched with more vocal talent than you can poke a stick at. Reflecting the style of Boys II Men in how they share the lead vocals, together they pioneer this song and the deep sounds of the brass and consistency of the piano is merely an embellishment to what would be an awesome a Capella track.
Picking it up with “I Got A Woman,” the big band sound is back and Waker’s vocals slam home the tale of love and lust with ease. Featuring a trumpet solo that will get any muso excited, this version of the Ray Charles tune is the epitome of cool. Taking on some James Brown next, “I Got You (I Feel Good)” is funky, adding to the well-known riff and allowing Walker to ad lib as needed. Filled with yelling that Brown would give the nod of approval to and a saxophone lead to die for, this straddles the love of the old with an interpretation of the new, and shows off Walker’s raw talent.
Finishing up with “A Change Is Gonna Come,” we are left with an extravagant and compelling reminder of just how soulful Stan Walker is. The power in the vocal delivery, mixed with his control, and the emotion that keeps bubbling up from under the surface of the song, makes this a fitting close to a release that stands respectably next to the artists who originally penned the songs delivered.
Clearly a labor of love and filled with soul well beyond his years, Stan Walker’s Truth & Soul steps above the mark of the average cover record and shows us that the musicality of the past is well and truly alive today. Highlighting his vocal strengths and pulling from the richest and best sounds of the past, Truth & Soul will not only please your grandma’s ears, but it will leave yours singing as Walker gives us a new and fitting take on some of the most iconic soul music ever penned. Truth & Soul will be out on April 17th.