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Juanita Place 

Her Hero

B.J. Rice isn't just the singer, keyboardist and principal lyricist for R&B/rock outfit Juanita Place. At several points on Her Hero, Rice (with the help of multi-tracking) becomes a many-membered gospel choir and lends heavenly, soul-powered harmonies to these groove-based songs. On songs like the soul ballad "Just to Us," the layered vocals help fill in the space left by broad, open piano chords and Jason Warren's jazzy guitar lines. Rice's self-harmonies are a case of musical indulgences paying off for the band — elsewhere, though, guitar and drum solos are needlessly showy and hamper some of the album's forward momentum. (To wit: the honest-to-God bongo jam that makes up the entirety of "Percussion Interlude.")

These musicians are better when they are playing in service of the songs, and more often than not the players keep things streamlined to allow Rice's vocals to take center stage. Bassist Kyle Jeffery lays down a simple, supple groove for the head-bopping funk of "Cold Front," and drummer Shontez Jones turns the jazzy shuffle of the aforementioned "Just to Us" into a double-time workout in the song's coda, using his ride cymbal to subtly punctuate the steadily rising climax. At fifteen tracks and nearly 60 minutes, Her Hero is a touch too long, but the quartet saves some magic for the program's end. The penultimate track "Die a Little" kicks off with a little '60s-inspired organ and guitar interplay and continues its slow burn with smoldering intensity. The album works well as a showcase for Rice's fine voice and decent, if somewhat overdrawn, lyrics, but Juanita Place is at its best when all four players lock in together.

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September 23, 2020

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