You can’t call Black Pumas a retro act, per se: The sound is too atmospheric, too intoxicatingly imprecise, something more remembered than recreated. The work of an Austin-based studio rat (Adrian Quesada) and a vocalist trained in church and forged busking on the Santa Monica Pier (Eric Burton), Black Pumas is to late-’60s and early-’70s soul as Quentin Tarantino movies are to vintage exploitation: a studied look at the past from a place that could only be now.
To wit, Quesada has said the spark for the project came not from listening to old soul records, but Ghostface Killah—a vintage sound refracted through a contemporary lens. Ominous (“Black Moon Rising”), uplifting (“Colors”), and gently psychedelic (“Sweet Conversations”), Black Pumas is the kind of album whose spirit lingers in the air like smoke. The deluxe version adds a handful of new songs that carry on the original’s essence: “I’m Ready” is all funk and swagger, as “Red Rover” evokes Southern gospel and “Black Cat,” with its triumphant horns and tambourine, sounds as if it was pulled straight from the soundtrack of a blaxploitation film. Sprinkle in some engrossing live versions and a few imaginative covers (including an utterly breathtaking rendition of Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car” and a rework of the Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby”) and you get an even more expansive map of all that makes Black Pumas tick.