Mighty Souls Brass Band
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Mighty Souls Brass Band

Memphis, Tennessee, United States | Established. Jan 01, 2012 | INDIE

Memphis, Tennessee, United States | INDIE
Established on Jan, 2012
Band R&B Jazz




"Skinbackalley: Mighty Souls Brass Band Lift Up!"

Those of you familiar with Skin Back Alley will have noticed that we’ve had something of a penchant for the mighty sounds of the Memphis music scene of late. With such deep roots in American music heritage, it’s no wonder; the range of extraordinary talent scattered across the city is in many ways unparalleled.

Add to that roster now the Mighty Souls Brass Band, a funky rotating collective of brass musicians and composers steeped in everything from soul to swing, jazz to funk, New Orleans funeral to world music and beyond.

Anchored by sousaphone/tuba player and composer Sean Murphy, the group have slowly but surely coalesced around his vision of a Memphis brass ensemble capable of traversing that terrain of funk, soul and world music whilst honouring the traditions of Memphis’ own historic output. Accompanied by sax soothsayer Jim Spake (Alex Chilton, Al Green, North Mississippi All-Stars amongst others) and a host of Memphis’ finest session musicians, that vision is brilliantly realised on the collective’s debut album, Lift Up!

A collection of a dozen pieces, ten originals and two traditional, the LP was largely recorded live in order to capture the vibrant essence of what the band is all about. Opening track “STS” provides jazzy swagger by the proverbial bucketload, whilst the traditional “I’ll Fly Away” pares back proceedings to a statelier southern pace. Semi title track “Lift Up Your Mighty Soul” does just that with its own particular brand of bluesy stomp n’ holler, and elsewhere across the record is an astonishing array of exquisite composition and musicianship that demonstrates just how flexible this band can be.

“That’s the great thing—one of the great things—about this group,” says saxophonist Jim Spake. “It’s so elastic, musically and in terms of personnel. Sean’s got to be there, he’s our font of craziness… but it’s like [drummer] Tom Lonardo says: We’re all just moving wind. It can be a different band on any particular night, because there are so many things we can do with the music.”

Well quite. As with the best musicians working in any genre today, for all the hard work and finely honed skill on display, Lift Up! proves to be far more than a simple showcase for such talent. It’s a soulful, joyous, life-affirming slab of sparkling and spirited brass, moving head, heart and hips in equal measure. It is at once sophisticated AND celebratory. In short, it’s a delight and you don’t want to miss it. - Graeme Blackwell

"Schwindy's indie music spotlight: Mighty Souls Brass Band"

I won't lie to you, loyal reader. I am a sucker for brass bands. Perhaps that makes me a bit of a nerd, but that's not the only thing. Frankly, there's very little to dislike about brass bands. They're equal parts jazz and funk, and it's pretty hard to be in a bad mood when you hear the music of a brass band. When I received a notice about Mighty Souls Brass Band, it did not take me long to express my interest.

It didn't take long before this band started reeling me in. The album begins with "STS", which gets the party underway immediately. This song definitely brings Rebirth Brass Band to mind. Don't be surprised if you find yourself swaying in time with the bass notes of the sousaphone (no, it's not a tuba). That song is followed up by "Lift Up Your Might Soul". If you ever need a mood booster, just play this song. It's cheaper than any prescription and it's pretty much guaranteed to work. You'd have to be a real sourpuss if this song doesn't improve your mood.

The band also shows a good sense of humor with the song "Love Attack". The story of this song is that of a man who goes to the doctor with a hole where his heart should be. The doctor diagnoses him as having a love attack - including the diagnosis that his patient's brain has gone sappy - something we've probably all experienced at some point.

This is real simple. Whether you're having a good day or a bad day, if you want your day and your mood to get better, check out this album from Mighty Souls Brass Band. In fact, just put this album on repeat, and crank up the volume. You just might spread some good feelings to anyone in listening distance. - Examiner


Lift Up! (2015 Blue Barrel Records)



Mighty Souls Brass Band, a rotating collective of composer-players versed in a multitude of musical traditions, isn’t a soul band, nor is it a funk band, a marching band, or a swing band.  And yet, depending on where you catch them live, you’ll hear all of those influences, as well as more from around the globe, in the group’s music.  “We’re not interested in just being a bunch of Memphis musicians playing New Orleans-style brass band music,” says Sean Murphy, sousaphonist and band leader.  “We love that music, and we honor it.  But we love Memphis music too, and world music, and we want to pay tribute to that history.  And it’s a deep one.”

True enough.  Check MSBB’s roster, for one thing—an evolving list of knockout players whose chops around Memphis are long-established.  The group began to coalesce in 2012, when Murphy and Jim Spake came together to play a New Orleans-style funeral, accompanied by horn player/vocalist Jeremy Shrader and percussionist Earl Lowe.  Murphy, who has spent 13 years honing his chops in an improv dance and music group, found a kindred spirit in the wildly versatile Spake, whose sax playing appears on three decades’ worth of albums by Alex Chilton, Al Green, the North Mississippi All-Stars, Natalie Merchant, and dozens more.  When Murphy outlined his project—a brass ensemble whose repertoire drew from American soul and funk as well as global traditions—Spake jumped at the chance, as did a host of other players from Memphis’ powerhouse session-musician community.  On any given night the talent represented onstage at a MSBB show can run from five to 14 members deep, showcasing some of the best and most esteemed players in the city’s rich performance pool.

That elasticity—of personnel, and of the music—allows MSBB to enjoy a lot of flexibility in its arrangements and live performances.  “That’s the great thing, one of the great things, about this group,” says Jim Spake.  “Sean’s got to be there, he’s our fount of craziness.  But it can be a different band on any particular night.  In other settings, you might think, ‘Oh no, man, we don’t have our bass player?’ In this group, the feeling is more like, ‘Hey, who’s playing today…?  Cool…’”

That portability brings us to MSBB’s many diverse gigs, which can take them—as the band’s lively booking schedule recently did, over the course of a single day in October 2014—from a morning show playing globally-derived “world brass band” music for children age 8 and younger, to an afternoon’s polka-inflected set at an Oktoberfest party, to an evening opening for (and backing) New Orleans legend Dr. John.  To hear Murphy talk about the heady blend of styles the MSBB works in is to hear how the band’s music drinks deep from a multitude of sources.  The tight, polished work of MoTown’s session horns; the gritty, dirty inflections of New Orleans’  funky Meters; the slippery R&B of Memphis’ own Booker T. and the MGs—it all finds a place in the thumping heartbeat of Mighty Souls Brass Band.

For proof, check the band’s debut album—Lift Up!, on Blue Barrel Records—largely recorded live, to catch the infectious synergy of the group.  You’ll hear all of these influences, but you’ll also hear the writing and arrangement talents of the MSBB’s members, who themselves composed ten of the album’s dozen tracks.  This vigorously creative impulse, this desire to weave something new from the threads of various traditions, is what makes Mighty Souls Brass Band a unique act even among brass ensembles.  Rooted by bandleader Murphy’s sousaphone (“I like to say I play the ‘brass bass,’” he notes cheekily), MSBB has talent to burn, and that talent burns bright and fierce on Lift Up!  From the swaggering opener “STS” to the stomping blues-holler “Lift Up Your Mighty Soul” to the stately southern swing of the traditional “I’ll Fly Away,” this is a band that knows where its roots lie, but also where its branches are reaching, far out into the world, a world that, as Murphy notes, seems invariably to express its deepest spiritual desires and celebrations through music. 

Mighty Souls Brass Band is a group attuned to that desire, that celebratory spirit.  It’s a music that swings, that soars, that swoons—all of which is suggested by that profound, that humble, that most human of words: “Soul.” 

How mighty, indeed.

Band Members