There is a long history of husband and wife duos in music. Sonny and Cher, John and Yoko, Kurt and Courtney; recording together with, shall we politely say, mixed success. Although, in this reviewer’s opinion the Plastic Ono Band albums are severely under-looked. Nevertheless, few couples feel like they belong together onstage quite as much as Lisa Kekaula and Bob Vennum, of the BellRays.
The California punk-soul legends are celebrating their thirtieth musical anniversary with a tour and best of album, and you can feel the joy in the air. Between Bob’s virtuoso guitar playing and the incredibly deep soulful voice of Lisa, everything just pops. The sly glances and little smiles they exchange during songs are almost as much of a joy to behold as their music. Unlike most bands in their thirtieth year, bound to each other only by recording contracts and simmering discontent, the chemistry and pleasure that Lisa and Bob share is electric. It doesn’t hurt that the songs are also incredible – may I humbly recommend Black Lightning as an introduction to see how seemingly disparate musical styles can mix gloriously.
The backing musicians, drummer Dusty Watson (currently of the Sonics if you’re into your garage bands) and Bernard Yin are more than capable musicians, who are a treat to watch. It is Kekaula, however, who steals the show. Here is a woman singing with the soaring confidence and innate charisma that most acts try desperately to master. She interacts with the rather intimate crowd and really takes control of the proceedings. It’s tempting to reel off a list of soul icons to compare her voice to, but to do so would be to short change her impressive vocal strength. Again, consider listening to Power to Burn to get a real taste of her mastery.
The BellRays are a great, tight, touring band, the sort who play small to mid level venues when you really could picture them tearing it up in full theatres and larger rock spaces. However, the opportunity to be part of a small but appreciative audience is not something worth overlooking. Whether you be one of the many singing along to every line, or (like your reviewer) just having your eyes opened and wondering how much you can afford to spend on vinyl at the merch table. A genuine musical joy.