Let's clear it up right away . . . this ain't no blues disc.
Is that a bad thing? Depends, methinks, upon how open you are to fresh sounds.
Lead vocalist and keyboard player Yuni (Yun Hui) - all four-foot-nine of her - was born in South Korea, moving to the U.S. at age seven. She studied classical voice and piano before immersing herself in American pop and blues. The latter seems to have paid off, as this, Red Beans And Rice's third outing, represents an amalgamation of various and diverse influences, chief among them funky R&B.
All songs here are originals, with everything credited to the band as a whole. Hence the ensemble sound permeating the project; arrangements are thick and rich, with everyone contributing equally. And again unlike most blues, there are very few instrumental solos to be found. Darren Stroud's guitar work, however, is exemplary throughout. Yuni herself is no slouch on keys, and the whole thing would go nowhere were it not for Billy Young's busy percussion.
Yuni handles about half of the vocals, with the kind of unaffected voice that nonetheless sounds gutsy without any need for shouting. The rest are taken by bassist Tom Becklehimer and guest Jeff Triwedi. Though both are adequate, and I usually like vocal variety over the course of a disc, to my ears neither can hold a candle to Yuni; I found myself wishing she'd taken all the leads.
Lyric themes lean toward social commentary, proving this a thoughtful band with a conscience. Those tunes dealing with relationships favour wry observations, though "Prison Time" is a pretty and heartfelt ballad. Most telling is probably the quasi-autobiographical "Edge Of The Blues," which pretty well sums up the band's musical/philosophical stance.
Packaging and production are both first-rate for an indie recording.
RB&R are routinely voted "Best Blues Band" in their native Indianapolis. As Yuni herself says, that's largely because there's simply no other way to categorize them, at least for the purposes of these awards. Fans of funk and fusion and those who favour the rhythms of World Beat will find much to like here. Blues purists are advised to approach with caution - while the band's R&B influences owe a stylistic debt to the twelve-bar tradition, there's nothing here that doesn't leave that tradition far behind.
Given the calibre of musicianship evident throughout, however, I suspect that anyone who sees these folks live (even the purists!) would become an instant addict to the musical menu offered up by Red Beans and Rice.
YuniVision/Red Beans and Rice
5045 E 12th St., Indianapolis IN 46201
Phone: 317.356.YUNI (9684)
This review is copyright © 2001 by John Taylor, and Blues On Stage, all rights reserved. Copy, duplication or download prohibited without written permission. For permission to use this review please send an E-mail to Ray Stiles.
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