Singer and keyboardist Samuel Glover started Natural Selection as an R&B cover band, and you can feel the funk on the seven-song White Picket Fence CD. Glover favors vintage synth and electric-piano tones, giving both spacey and retro overtones to most of the songs. The deep bass notes of a Fender Rhodes that open "Sitting on Your Front Stairs" ring out in a homage to Stevie Wonder, although the looped drums clatter like a dance-club banger. Album-closer "You're the One That I've Fallen For" interjects a little '80s-era Minneapolis R&B into the formula — and in fact, Natural Selection deserves props for treating Morris Day & the Time and Prince & the Revolution as equals.
But despite the decades-old sonic touchstones, White Picket Fence sounds vital. Credit Glover's weathered-yet-elastic pipes for selling the emotion behind these thoroughly danceable tracks. Lyrically, Natural Selection has a heavy heart. The songs may be light on their feet, but they are rarely lightweight. Glover's vocals pack plenty of soul for a white boy, though at times he channels Edwyn Collins' straining ache. For all the band's soul affectations, Glover has as much in common with indie-rock singers as he does with R&B crooners, and that grit helps the disc from ever getting too slick.
Likewise, bassist Nick Jost's rough-edged funk lines create grooves that are never smooth or smarmy. On the Huey Lewis hat-tip "She's Too Hip To Be Square," the slapped bass, slick guitar strokes and punchy horn blasts interweave over a glitchy drumbeat, offering Glover a jagged rhythm for his kitchen-sink drama. The title track continues the theme of domestic dissonance with weighty piano chords and a nimble (if distorted) drum-machine pattern. Glover's note-hopping, baby-please-don't-go falsetto in the song's bridge is a reminder that, like the best soul men, he can lay it on the line when it counts.
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