I’d never heard of Secret Stash Records before the ever-indispensable Heavy Soul Brutha hipped me to the existence of Sonny Knight and the Lakers’ new I’m Still Here LP, but based on the aforementioned evidence, I’m convinced that the Minneapolis label is doing the Lord’s work.
Bluntly put, this is some fine, fine stuff — sweet, authoritative soul, impeccably captured in its fullest, sweat-drenched bloom. It’s truly a group effort, too — Knight is a gifted belter, and that’s his name in big print on the record, but he’s persuasively aided and abetted by his band: drummer Eric Foss, guitarist Blair Krivanek, bassist Casey O’Brien, keys man Sam Harvey-Carlson, and a three-piece horn section consisting of trombonist Tony Beadersadt, trumpet player Bryan “Lumpy” Highhill, and saxophonist Cole Pulice.
In fact, although it’s Knight’s barrelhouse roar that shines brightest in the spotlight, it’s Foss who’s the record’s secret weapon — like any great soul singer, Sonny Knight’s only as good as his drummer, and Foss runs such a tight ship that the cover photo might as well depict Knight sitting comfortably in a pocket. In addition, Foss co-produced with John Miller — and as the co-founder the label, he was also the guy signing the checks. (In other words, it’s a really god thing Foss is so good at what he does, because it isn’t like anyone could have stopped him.)
This is a point I’ve harped on repeatedly over the years, but it’s relevant here, so I’ll say it again: Cutting great-sounding soul records in the 21st century is a lot harder than it seems like it ought to be. This is a music that thrives on simplicity, but sound is so malleable now that it’s stupidly easy to go overboard in any one of a hundred directions, and what you’re often left with are recordings that don’t seem to trust the performances to carry the songs — or the listener to absorb the mojo without gimmicks and signposts.
All of which is to say that I’m Still Here‘s greatest gift might be that it simply is. It doesn’t sound like 2014, or 1965, or anywhere in between; like all the best records, it simply sounds like people making music together in a room, right now. If this album doesn’t make you want to peruse Knight’s concert listings to see if he’s coming to your town, you might be a shut-in; if it doesn’t make you swivel your hips and shake your ass even a little bit, you might be a corpse. There’s nothing flashy or profound about it, it’s simply the kind of record made for putting on when you want to feel good, and can we ever have too many of those? I’m telling you, we cannot.
One final comment, regarding I’m Still Here‘s defiant title: Like Leo “Bud Welch, the 65-year-old Knight is making his big solo splash at an unusually advanced age. As with Welch, that has no real bearing on the music; it’s simply an inspirational side note, and one more reason to smile when Sonny Knight starts to holler.