By Dave Pehling
SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — NYC-based soul singer Kendra Morris previews new songs from her highly anticipated next album when she plays Brick and Mortar Music Hall this Wednesday with Antibalas guitarist Marcos Garcia’s heavy psych/Afrobeat group Here Lies Man.
Originally from St. Petersburgh, Florida, and raised by parents who were both musicians, Morris made a brief stab at higher education but found herself dropping out of college to focus on songwriting. After self-releasing a pair of EPs, she came to wider public attention as a competitor on the Fuse TV reality show Redemption Song in 2008. While she voluntarily left the show by the fourth episode, Morris was already well along on her path to pursue music professionally.
She would relocate to New York City, eventually connecting with like-minded musicians who were drawing equally from ’70s vintage rock and soul sounds and signing a deal with taste-making label Wax Poetics (the imprint of the well-established soul/jazz/hip-hop music quarterly). Her first single “Concrete Waves” and subsequent debut album Banshee that was released in 2012 featured the singer collaborating with guitarist/producer Jeremy Page on her languid, cinematic originals, but Morris also got plenty of attention for a series of cover tunes posted on the Internet leading up to the album’s release.
The response to her jazzy takes on the Pink Floyd classic “Shine on You Crazy Diamond” and Metallica’s “Ride the Lightning” (surprisingly recast as a smoldering soul ballad) in particular further raised her profile and led the singer to assemble a full album of covers entitled Mockingbird in 2013. The diverse collection found Morris ably interpreting everything from ’60s soul and pop (the Charmels’ “As Long As I Have You” and Burt Bachrach’s “Walk on By”) to modern alternative rock (Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun” and Radiohead’s “Karma Police”).
Since then, the singer has continued to explore a soulful style of songwriting that has earned her comparisons to the late Amy Winehouse and contemporary soul stylists like Alice Russell and Portishead’s Beth Gibbons. Two years ago, Morris issued the six-song EP Babble that included the fuzzed-out, simmering psychedelic torch songs “Wizards Float” and “Woman” that garnered more raves. The singer is set to release a new single “Nothing” in early February which she has hinted could be the lead song from her long-awaited next album.
Morris will share the stage at Brick and Mortar with Here Lies Man, the psychedelic Afrobeat project of Antibalas guitar player Marcos Garcia, Here Lies Man. The two musicians have collaborated in the past, with Morris providing vocals on two songs for Garcia’s other electronic funk project Chico Mann.
His new group — described not inaccurately in promotional materials as the answer to the question “what if Black Sabbath played Afrobeat?” — released its debut album on stoner rock/psych label Riding Easy Records last year, maiking significant waves in the psychedelic underground.
Conjuring a hazy, fuzzed-out vibe that hearkens back to long obscure Zambian and Nigerian psych-funk groups like Witch, Musi-O-Tunya, The Funkees and Ofo the Black Company who have enjoyed a resurgence in interest thanks to modern reissue campaigns by the Soundway and Now-Again labels, Here Lies Man immediately struck a chord with fans and critics alike.
While Garcia has had a full calendar with the release of the first new Antibalas album in five years — Where the Gods Are In Peace, which came out on Daptone Records last fall — he also ramped up his activity with Here Lies Man. The quartet played a couple of its earliest live shows supporting Antibalas in the Bay Area in September ahead of releasing the four-song Animal Noises EP that features a cover of the Fela classic “Sorrow, Tears and Blood.” This show at Brick and Mortar Wednesday night will also feature musical selections of popular Bay Area DJ heyLove* before and between bands.
Kendra Morris and Here Lies Man
Wednesday, January 31, 8 p.m. $12-$15
Brick and Mortar Music Hall