By Max Diehl | Guest Contributor
I still remember the first time I ever heard Ray Charles sing. The power, passion and grueling roughness combined to make an ethereal experience that is simultaneously personally familiar and completely unique. That is a significant part in the making of musical star power: the ability to connect to the soul, in some strange, intangible respect.
This is the best way to introduce anyone to this album: ‘Angels & Queens (Deluxe),’ from Gabriels. Ahead of the release of the second part of the album this April, a look back at the first half is necessary.
Stepping into the album itself, we have a tracklist that is only half developed as of this moment since the late 2022 project awaits its second release due to the newfound fame from opening for Harry Styles on his most recent tour.
It has that familiarity of a hit you’ve listened to a thousand times, the edge and charisma of blues and soul with the singular uniqueness of a newly pioneered genre never heard before. Occupying a space somewhere between soul and blues, R&B and modern jazz, Gabriels has developed a formula entirely their own and it is a thing of beauty.
Perhaps it is unfair to put this group on my list for “Next Up” because their sound is one that feels like a lifetime of careful cultivation. Maybe the fame comes soon, but this young group is old at heart and is as close to a blast from the past as 2023 has to offer.
Here are my thoughts on the highlights of the tracklist.
“The Blind” has echoing voices, a haunting synth carrying us through an emotive ballad and a seeming hesitancy to open up too soon. This is a romantic introduction to a lifetime of heartbreak.
Title track “Angels & Queens” is full of jazz, some great swing and moments to contemplate, but only long enough for a ‘stomp your feet’ baseline to jump right back in. And man oh man, is there some attitude in that voice.
“Taboo” welcomes the listener to a bygone era — a swing band in a smoky basement, shimmering dresses and coiffed hair. Alas, you are here alone, and your only company is a glass of whisky that isn’t quite loving you back. It’s gruff, filled with edge, and contemplative but begging you to jump back into reality. The strings and brass that line Jacob Lusk’s sultry vocals here are splendid.
“To the Moon and Back” is so familiar, reminiscent of ‘Georgia’ by Ray Charles and ‘Dream’ by Vince Tempera. Walking in the footsteps of legends is a dangerous game, but this callback is not an unwarranted one. This is the beginning of a new legend. The gospel track, a quiet organ and the sudden introduction of an 808? This is a welcome home to a place we’ve never quite been before.
“Remember Me” asks — nay, begs — the listener for some space to breathe, for some space to be their own unique product. And then, to actually take that deep breath by cutting all the instrumentals? I almost ran through a wall the first time I heard this.
“If Only You Knew” is likely where Lusk’s gospel roots shine through the strongest. This feels like an intimate time of worship for a God that has offered beauty and benevolence in a life that has consisted of anything but. The playful piano in the back provides some relief from an otherwise heavy track.
“Love and Hate in a Different Time” must be from the 1960s during the height of gospel music, and I will never be told otherwise.
“Mama” somehow felt like Mac Miller stepped into 2023 and offered up a beat to a voice that is vastly different than his own, but seems to strike the same chords in a way that is far beyond my understanding. The multiple minutes of choral singing that close this half of the album are a thing of beauty. This is a perfect cap on this project, and is a work of love, perhaps even more than the rest of this album.
The full version of the Gabriels’ album will release on Apr. 28, 2023.