Soul Numbers is a gem of a record that most of us probably missed when it came out last spring. It’s the third EP from Seneko, the closest thing – living anyway – to a cross between Lenard Cohen and Lou Reed that you’re likely to find. Classic soul blends with touches of alt country and Americana in a collection of songs as witty, clever, and original as you might expect if we discovered an unleased Lou Reed album circa 1981.
Seneko is Stan Olshefski – or is this an Alice Cooper kind of thing where you don’t know if the name is the band or the guy or maybe both. Hey, I like the mystery. In any event, Olshefski wrote all the songs and sings the lead vocals. But this is not a solo project. Seneko has a killer band anchored by Dave Racine on the skins, Jon Conley on guitars, and Tim Denbo on bass. I don’t know if these guys are studio, but they sound great. In the pocket, alluring, never over-playing. Dave Dorns adds keys (that’s an understatement) and co-produces with Alex Torrez. That organ alone would make this record special. But what really makes it special are the ladies who sing the backing vocals. Kendra Chantelle, Nicole Boggs, and Maureen Murphy could have been in Cohen’s or Reed’s bands any day of the week. It’s appropriate that they’re the first thing you hear.
Soul Numbers was recorded at Farmland Studios in Nashville, TN, with Jerome Mason in the chair and both mixing and mastering. It’s distributed by The Orchard. I don’t always write about the art because, honestly, it often isn’t relevant to the music. But this time, oh man, Jessica Flores’ cover shot is perfection. I’d’ve bought the record on the cover alone. God, I hope there is a record.
The EP kicks in your back door with those badass girl singers blaring “He’s the devil you don’t know” over a piano figure that’s pure, pure soul. It’s an ex-boyfriend’s dream of a song about a guy who catches his ex’s new squeeze “in a café, a couple towns away, with someone who wasn’t you.” The breakdown at 2:00 is the nectar of the gods. It’s the way Smokey or Jackie used to do it. And Conley’s got the chops to make it work with Oleshefski’s pleading vocal just the right side of tongue in check. “He’s no good. I miss ya. I need ya. I still love ya.” When he moans “I seen it,” toward the end, he’s got me. You wouldn’t believe how many songs these days are just variations on a classic theme. Nothing wrong with that. But it’s refreshing when a record comes out of the box with something refreshingly, twistingly different.
“Callin’ of the Cause” starts out with a piano/organ intro that’s the MGs. It just is. I’m not familiar with witness-protection-program songs as a genre. But that’s what this is. That good fella’s vibe. Never did something so bad make you feel so good.
“Jenny’s With Irene” is another ex-boyfriend song, but again, there’s a twist. I love these intros. This one is bass and drums with a snare that sounds amazing. Then, the keys come in, and its heaven as the vocals go all call-and-response style. “Sha, la, la, la, la, oh yeah” indeed.
“Lost on Me” harkens to Mike Scott’s latest Waterboys’ album, Where The Action Is, my favorite album of 2019. This song sounds a lot like “Right Side of Heartbreak (Wrong Side of Love),” which is a big complement coming from me. But where Scott wrote a wakeup call to a friend who can’t commit, Oleshefski writes to someone who has committed, perhaps inexplicably, not to person, but to a form of life. “Are you happy now you got what you want . . . cause the life I see you living is lost on me.” On the surface, it’s the celebrity life that’s questioned. But it feels so much deeper. The key line here is “I can’t dream in rainbows.” When the singer wishes he could, does he mean it? There’s just an 8 second intro this time that starts with the snare. I wouldn’t mention it, except that I love these intros so much. Somebody put a lot of effort into them, and they deserve to feel good about that because anyone who listens is appreciating the effort, no, the magic.
The record closes much too soon with “One Hot Shot.” It’s more rock, less soul. The organ and guitar remind me of Danny Federici and Springsteen on The River outakes. You have to think on this one. It has lyrical elements in the first, second, and third persons. Who’s asking if “you have a dragon, dying to be chased”? And everybody knows — well not everybody but anybody who’s chasing this song knows – that a hot shot won’t make a sound if it cuts you down. But in the end, it doesn’t really, right? But yet, somehow, it still does. Why the hell hasn’t this guy posted his lyrics on this website! That’s not a question, it’s a demand. Because, in the end, what really makes “Soul Numbers” special is Oleshefski’s lyrics.
You can read more about Seneko and download “Soul Numbers” for free here