Though the Turtles were rightfully known as an excellent pop/rock singles band, on this recording they let loose their humor, which was part of their act from the beginning. On the outside cover the group is dressed in conservative suits and bow ties, yet on the inside the group is clad in, shall it be tastefully said, less traditional attire. The Turtles (who wrote nine of the 12 songs on the original LP, two songs being added to the CD) basically mock the entire spectrum of music on this album, though elements of their pop/rock sound are contained even in the most country, psychedelic, and R&B elements of the music presented here. Two Top Ten hits are contained in this collection, Roger McGuinn's "You Showed Me" and the Turtles own subtly mocking "Elenore." Light psychedelia meets Booker T. & the MG's in the instrumental "Buzzsaw." The Beach Boys sound shows up in "Surfer Dan," and the original album closer "Earth Anthem" is a hippie ecology, folk-pop anthem that is both very pretty and quite satirical -- a listener could easily lose himself in the fine melody and atmospheric production, while laughing at the same time. The only potential problem with this album is that it is caught in the middle between two extremes: On the one hand, non-mainstream listeners will criticize the album for sounding too commercial, and, on the other, typical Turtles fans will find the album too sophisticated, especially if they are looking for another album like Happy Together. Between these two points of view falls an excellent album that is both commercial and comical, as if both of these elements couldn't coincide in one album.
Ottawa, Canada's Souljazz Orchestra have been around since 2002, releasing three albums of Afro-beat-inspired jazz before Rising Sun, their fourth. But despite a name that's unfortunately similar to jazz-fusion and jam band favorite Soulive, the Canadian sextet manages to make music that stays relatively true and honest to its inspirations without sounding either derivative or exploitative. This is especially true of the songs that stay closer to the jazz realm, which makes sense: Souljazz's members were trained in, and started in, jazz, and they seem most comfortable here. This means even when the African and Latin influences are added in, as in "Mamaya" (the name of a Guinean dance from the '40s) or the lovely "Consecration" -- which starts with a riff off the first section of Miles Davis' version of "Concierto de Aranjuez" (albeit with saxophone instead of trumpet) before moving into something more upbeat, a swinging modal jazz piece with plenty of room for exploratory solos -- there's an understanding in the listener that the music comes from a sincere and well-kept place. It's not that the songs that move away from this direction -- the Afro-beaty "Agbara" and Mulata Astatke-inspired "Negus Negast" are the two prominent examples -- sound insincere, there's just something a little bit off, the drums in "Negus Negast" mixed just a little too loud, the background vocals in "Agbara" a little too pretty (something, that needs to be noted, contemporaries like Antibalas and Budos Band have been able to avoid), something that hints just slightly of the "world music made palatable" phenomenon. Fortunately, these moments are few and distant enough that after all is said and done, Rising Sun still feels like a victory.