The young Joel already got to know and love the varieties of soul from Motown to Philly in his parents’ house. When he discovered Prince, he finally decided to become an R&B artist himself. On his debut album, all these influences from his youth find their way into the music, are woven into Culpepper’s vision of modern soul music, which is always aware of standing on the shoulders of giants.
Just as Paul McCartney would not have been able to realise his vision of psychedelic pop music on “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” without John, George and Ringo, Culpepper also relies on a team of friends and companions to record “Sgt Culpepper”. Collaboration and community are essential for the singer-songwriter to bring his soul music to life. The varied sound on “Sgt Culpepper” is also due to the artists he invited into the studio. Produced by a team led by London grime producer legend Swindle, with whom Culpepper already collaborated on his 2017 EP “Tortoise”, contributions with artists such as Raf Rundell, Shawn Lee, Tom Misch and Guy Chambers provide a sound mix infused with subtleties, in which other R&B facets are always echoed.
Culpepper spent two years working on his vision of an R&B concept album, which he divided into four sections – “The Battle”, which includes the singles ‘W.A.R’ and ‘Return’, “The Surrender”, epitomised by ‘Poetic Justice’, “The Love”, which includes ‘Thought About You’, and “The Lesson”. Each of these chapters confronts the listener with different emotions. Every aspect of this essential push and pull is addressed, from the shimmering jazz-soul frustration of ‘Dead Bodies’ and ‘W.A.R’ (“I’m tired of having to turn the other cheek”) to the summery, lovelorn effervescence of ‘Kisses’ and the ambiguity of ‘Break’, which is simultaneously written about a struggling love affair and the ranting nature of the Brexit debate.
The superb ‘Thought About You’, with its punchy drumbeat and acrobatic baseline laying the seductive ground groove for this heavily 70s influenced track, was co-written and produced by ‘Silver Fox’ Shawn Lee. ‘Black Boy’, celebrates with gospel verve all that it takes to be unique in the ever increasing pressures of the world and is inspired by Culpepper’s time mentoring in London schools. The album’s highlight is the atmospheric Tom Misch and Swindle-produced ‘Poetic Justice’, which culminates everything this album stands for, underlined by smooth guitar riffs and jazzy beats.
Through charismatic storytelling, a diverse voice honed through years of stage experience, personal epiphanies and the formation of a new creative collective that strengthens his craft, “Sgt Culpepper” heralds a new era for Joel Culpepper as an artist, one in which his unique approach to soul will resonate with listeners and artists in the UK and beyond. Definitely one of the albums of the year!