The Suffers, Make Some Room
You can’t resist The Suffers; seriously, it’s impossible. Their music is just so infectious, so warm and mellow it’s like one of those rare perfect spring days when the sky’s bright and blue and cloudless, the weather’s warm but not yet hot, and all feels right with the world. This band is like that.
So I’m honestly not too surprised that stellar vocalist Kam Franklin and her band of merry men (Nick Zamora, Kevin Bernier, Jon Durbin, Jose Luna, Michael Razo, Cory Wilson, Adam Castaneda, Alex Zamora, & Pat Kelly) have exploded out of Houston’s often-underestimated music scene and have started to make their mark in the wider world at large. It was really only a matter of time. That said, it is a little surprising that a band can get the kind of coverage they’ve been getting across Texas and nationally without a real-live release under their collective belt. Sure, they put out the excellent 7″ back in 2013 for “Slow It Down,” but still.
Now, with brand-new EP Make Some Room, it feels like everything has finally snapped into focus. I’ve seen the band a handful of times now and have been bowled away at every one, but — and I’m a little reluctant to say this, because it sounds kind of terrible — for a long while I’d basically viewed The Suffers as “Kam Franklin + A Backing Band.” Live, she’s most definitely the star of the show, with those amazing pipes alternating between belting out Aretha Franklin-style soul and crooning sweetly like she’s speaking right to you. It’s hard to not watch the band play and not fall just a teensy bit in love with her; she’s got that kind of presence.
Listening through the headphones, though, it’s like a whole other world. Suddenly, there’re all these layers and layers of sound, and while Franklin’s definitely right up there in the front, grabbing hold of you with that sultry, expressive voice, I’m also hearing those excellent chicka-chicka guitars on the smooth, grooving title track, not to mention Luna’s subtle-but-great congas and the badass horn section. Franklin notwithstanding, The Suffers demonstrate once and for all that they’re all phenomenal players, a rocksteady/soul/funk ensemble that rivals folks like Naughty Professor and even The Dap-Kings. Not even kidding, there.
“Make Some Room” kicks things off nicely, with those awesome horns and funky backbeat providing the perfect backdrop for some old-school R&B, the kind you could easily hear Sharon Jones or Bettye LaVette doing. It’s sweet and full of desperate yearning, almost a little melancholy despite the generally bouncy vibe, with Franklin seemingly pleading with a would-be lover to just make some space for her in their life.
“Stay” slows the EP down a bit and incorporates a tropical, reggae-tinged sound — especially at the ska-ified break — with the singer keeping it low-key and downcast as she pleads with a current lover to please stay with her. On the other side of the musical coin, “Gwan” is a bona-fide raveup, a fast-paced, head-snapping burst of gorgeous, lush, aggressive funk, and here Franklin comes off as confident and defiant, declaring that once her love gets going, it can’t be stopped.
Make Some Room closes out with another quieter track, “Giver,” which I’ve heard and liked live but which really shows its true soul colors in recorded form. It begins delicate and fragile but steadily builds to an impassioned crescendo, with the horns stepping out in front to do some seriously mind-blowing solos and Kelly’s organ sneaking out from the back for the first time. When it ends, the song leaves you feeling bereft and a little lost, like you’re the one feeling the uncertainty and heartbreak yourself.
My one quibble with the EP is that, well, it’s only an EP. I want more of The Suffers, and I want it now, dangit… For the moment, though, this will have to tide me over, and it’ll serve wonderfully as an introduction to the rest of the world. You will love this band, sooner or later; trust me on this.