While guitarist Thom Douvan currently calls California home, the Ann Arbor, Mich., native cut his teeth on Detroit soul music. He played in his first soul band at age 16 and, by 1985, was playing with the legendary Funk Brothers of Motown fame. On his second release as a bandleader, Brother Brother, Douvan pays tribute to the soul music he's spent a lifetime playing.
As a guitarist, Douvan certainly has chops, having attended the Berklee College of Music in Boston. However, on Brother Brother, he tends to lay back, often letting the rest of his excellent band shine, while holding down a tight groove. When he does cut loose, as on the Alicia Keys' track and album-closer "If I Ain't Got You," it makes his playing much more impactful.
The album opens with a laid back cover of the Isley Brothers' "Harvest For The World." True to form, Douvan stays in the pocket, but offers little guitar flourishes here and there. The song features prominent Hammond organ from Duncan McMillan and is a pleasant opener. Douvan's tone, as it is for much of the album, is clean and one can hear every note clearly. On Tony Toni Tone's "Anniversary," Douvan and McMillan play off one another, with one doing the vocal line while the other holds down the rhythm, before switching roles. This offers an interesting twist to the song, which features some tasteful soloing from Douvan.
The band really cooks on Chaka Khan's "Ain't Nobody," locking into a tight, jazz-influenced groove. The song features Tony Malfatti on sax and has Douvan offering the vocal lines on guitar. While McMillan's organ takes center stage on Earth Wind And Fire's "That's The Way Of The World," Douvan delivers a tasteful, sing-along solo that elevates the track to an exciting level.
Perhaps the albums strongest cut, however, is Stevie Wonder's "Isn't She Lovely." The band alternates between 12/8 and 4/4 time signatures while Douvan goes for a rare dirty guitar tone on the vocal lines. It's an exciting mix that shows these veteran musicians are on top of their games, confidently reinterpreting these classics.
While a person may change his location, he can never forget his roots. Thom Douvan may no longer live in Ann Arbor, but his Motown roots run deep on Brother Brother, a strong soul music tribute.