The trouble with blue-eyed soul singers, especially in the 21st century, is they usually seem convinced that in order to prove they're worthy of singing R&B in the classic style, they have to try three times as hard as the folks who inspired them, and as a consequence they sound histrionic and over the top rather than honest and passionate. Thankfully, Anderson East (aka Mike Anderson) is smarter than that; on his 2015 album Delilah, the man clearly knows that dynamics are his friend, and in the manner of Joe South and Tony Joe White, he's embraced the great Southern tradition of sounding committed and laid-back at the same time, an excellent fit for his rough but sweet vocal timbre. Delilah was produced by Dave Cobb, on a run after helping Sturgill Simpson and Jason Isbell make career-defining albums, and he's done a splendid job with East on Delilah, setting him up with a studio band whose slightly swampy groove evokes the sound of the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section or the Fame Recording Studios crew, steeped in the traditions of vintage soul but sounding tight and aware of the notions of the present day. As a songwriter, East reveals himself as a good but not great talent on Delilah; most of these tunes sound like the work of a guy who loves Southern soul of the '60s and knows how to emulate the sound, but the finished product suggests the songs were sometimes built from a kit providing the requisite melodic tricks and lyrical tropes rather than drawing from his heart, soul, and inspiration (there's a reason why his cover of George Jackson's "Find 'Em, Fool 'Em and Forget 'Em" is a standout here). But if East tends to follow a template as a writer, the work is good despite the familiar building blocks, and when he sings, it's easy to forgive his minor flaws as a tunesmith. East is clearly a talent to watch, and if you're looking for retro-soul with a smoky Southern flair, Delilah is well worth your time and attention.
© Mark Deming /TiVo