August is a cruel month. Around these parts, it’s hot and humid, with a sticky heat sinking through the skin like an anvil through water. Add to that this: It’s the last stretch of freedom for the young (and some old), with each turn of the desk calendar carrying them closer to the start of a new school year. In the late ‘70s, that freedom translated for me into sweating most afternoons with friends who lived up the street. We played hockey, whiffle ball and nerf ball in the middle of an asphalt road, routinely banging into parked cars, and – when the mood struck – half-court basketball in a driveway where a non-regulation net hung overtop the garage door. As I’ve written before, most notably in this remembrance of Donna Summer, a portable radio tuned to the Top 40-oriented WIFI-92 blasted in the background most of the time.
Private Space by Durand Jones & the Indictions takes me back to that era unlike any new album I’ve heard in a long time. If the Indiana-based band’s last album, American Love Call, conjured the R&B and soul of the late 1960s and early ‘70s, this effort – released yesterday – slides forward on the dance floor a few years to the post-Saturday Night Fever soundscape, when syncopated rhythms, sultry serenades and disco delights shared space in the Top 40 alongside pop, adult contemporary, rock and even country. Any of the songs on the album would have sounded at home on WIFI-92, in other words.
The 10-track set opens up with “Love Will Work It Out,” which features Durand Jones’ soulful vocals punctuated by Aaron Frazer’s dulcet falsetto. Lyrically, it surveys the state of America in the COVID age, including the reasons for the unrest in 2020 (“modern-day lynchings in the streets that I called home”), while professing (or is that hoping?) that – as Todd Rundgren once sang – love is the answer.
The second track, “Witchoo,” switches gears and, along with several other songs, integrates modern flourishes into the retro sound without causing any spacetime confusion. Everything jells. In many ways, it’s a “Disco Inferno” for the 2020s, pure sonic joy.
The same’s true for the remaining eight tunes, which echo everyone from Roberta Flack, Peaches & Herb and Barry White (minus the baritone) to the Bee Gees, Tavares and Earth, Wind & Fire. The sultry “Private Space,” for instance, could well be a heretofore unknown hidden track on Roberta Flack’s Blue Light in the Basement, while Diane says “Reach Out” could well be a long-lost Earth, Wind & Fire treasure.
Homages these songs aren’t, however. Jones, Frazer (whose falsetto often leads the way) and company mix the melodies and rhythms of the past with a present-day passion that makes the end result sound simultaneously timeless and modern. Which is to say, as much as the music takes me back to the sweltering summers of long-ago, it leads me to contemplate this present summer’s dying days. Private Space provides a perfect escape from the madness and sadness that continues to encapsulate the world.
The track list: