Back To The Soul - Grayson Hugh
By Johan Copermans
Soul man and comeback kid.
The year 1989 had a surprise hit in store for us: the smoldering soft soul song “Talk It Over” was a strange but welcome diversion from the Bon Jovis that reigned over the charts at that time. It looked like Grayson Hugh had struck gold. Even Hollywood opened up for him, with his songs reaching the soundtracks of Thelma & Louise and Fried Green Tomatoes. But then things took a change for the worse. The typical mixture of bad business decisions, unlucky changes in record companies and lack of promotion brought Hugh back to zero; literally, for a while Hugh was broke and even homeless.
After a slow but determined recovery and a first album after a 15 year hiatus, he’s now back in full force with what surely is one of the strongest, most enjoyable soul-rock albums of the year. “Back to Soul” is vibrant and alive with a genuine love for soul music. Hugh has spent his whole life struggling with the preconceived idea that white men wouldn’t be fit to sing soul music. Well-documented is his very first encounter with a producer in an elevator. The man couldn’t believe that this white dude in front of him was the same one that could be heard on tape belting out a soulful song, so he asked Hugh to sing the song right there and then. The result was a record deal that lead to the album Blind To Reason and the subsequent hit single “Talk It Over”.
New album Back To The Soul is a last, definitive argument to close the pointless discussion “White Men Can’t Be Soul Singers” once and for all. Every song does indeed ooze with pure soul. In that respect, Grayson Hugh’s effort can be put in line with an album like Billy Joel's “An Innocent Man”. Where Joel wrote his album from start to finish as a love letter to the greasy fifties doo-wop and early soul from the streets of New York, Hugh does the same, but highlighting different aspects of soul music. Next to Hugh’s versatile, gritty voice, the most impressive feature about Back To The Soul are the horn arrangements. They give extra color to each and every song and make for an album can be easily compared to some of the best work from that other white soul boy, Van Morrison. The beautiful title track is especially vintage Van The Man. Hugh namechecks some of his favorite singers – Sam & Dave, Otis Redding, Solomon Burke, Clarence Carter – while the horns push the song forward. Such an impressive song.
Indeed, Grayson Hugh doesn’t play hide and seek on Back To The Soul, he wears his influences on his sleeve. “Everybody’s Hanging On” has the same lyrical message as Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On”, “We Were Having Fun” has a nostalgic feel good vibe that is reminiscent of Curtis Mayfield’s earlier work with the Impressions, “Already In Love With You” is a ballad in the vein of Sam Cooke, and “Rock ‘n Roll Man” with its call and response backing vocals is a negro-spiritual that would get a nod of approval from Ray Charles. Big names and big references, I know, but this album does succeed in its mission: celebrating the pure joy of real soul music.
Back To The Soul is available in the itunes store and on