Soul music is many things to Ben Pirani: It’s positive and it’s hopeful. It’s a soundtrack for struggle, which is where soul music came from in the first place. That the struggle has been happening largely in the black community is not lost on Pirani, who is white — it’s something he thinks about a lot. “I feel really strongly that soul music is precious and must be treated with care and respect,” he says. “Anything less is colonizing the funk.” That brings us to another crucial point: real soul can’t be faked — it’s an expression of self that is so much more than mimicry of the sounds that have come before. “It’s called soul music,” Pirani says. “You’re supposed to sing from your heart and your soul and not your record collection.”
That’s exactly what he does on How Do I Talk to My Brother? Make no mistake: Pirani has a lock on the sound and feel of soul music on his Colemine Records debut. The album contains 11 deeply felt tracks with echos of vintage soul in the vocal harmonies, the way the songs sit back in a deep pocket and Pirani’s unerring instinct for stick-inyour- head hooks. Yet he isn’t just rummaging around in the past on How Do I Talk to My Brother? The New York-via-Chicago singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist brings a contemporary context to his music: He’s writing about what he sees going on all around him, and his reaction to it, be it racism, love, war, poverty or politics.