You don’t have to listen to much of this album to be convinced it comes from a 1960s Stax back catalogue. It therefore comes as a surprise to discover that you’ve been listening to a group from Australia in 2018. Half Mile Harvest, the debut album from The Teskey Brothers, is ten tracks dripping with soul and blues with generous measures of funk, R&B and gospel thrown in. The resulting blend is both original and invigorating.
The album oozes quality which is perhaps not surprising given that it took ten years to make. Brothers Josh and Sam Teskey and long-standing friends Brandon Love and Liam Gough all shared a deep love of 1960s American soul music. They formed a band and after ten years of perfecting their collective talent playing in and around their home city of Melbourne they made a record. Here it is. Such was their respect for the music that they recorded the entire album in their home studio to 2-inch tape. What emerged is a deep, warm sound that you could wrap yourself in. The record certainly meets the early Stax condition of one studio and one equipment set-up.
The opening bars of ‘Crying Shame’ come straight from Memphis as does frontman, Josh Teskey’s voice. The band adds a freshness to this classic soul sound that immediately captures the attention.
Another feature is the way The Teskey Brothers layer their compositions. ‘Say You’ll Do’ starts with an even more sultry vibe. You can feel the heat. A gentle horn section establishes its presence before Teskey’s heart-rending voice adds to the atmosphere. He brings this pot to the boil then cools off with several “walk on by’s”. The slide then takes over into the next crescendo of horns and strings. The highlight of ‘Pain & Misery’ is more of those horns. The emotion the band squeeze out of their every note intensify this aptly titled song.
With their delicious slide that introduces ‘Shiny Moon’ The Teskey Brothers move effortlessly into blues territory. That guitar line comes straight from the porch, but what is most striking is the song’s sparseness; low vocals, simple drum beat and those licks pulling it all together.
The blues guitar gets more room on ‘Reason Why’. The Teskeys’ Stax connection is indisputable but here there is more than a hint of early Allman Brothers, Hourglass even. “I love my lady/but I can’t tell you the reason why” sings Josh against the moodiest licks that again build up via harmonica into a belter of a slide solo. It’s not all slow numbers. ‘Louisa’ is R&B with pace and intensity where the blend of harmonica and keys drive this track almost off the road.
The Teskey Brothers pull together all their many talents into an eleven minute finale, ‘Honeymoon’. This doesn’t just build up but is a ride through every source of their inspiration into a jam that would suggest this is a band to see live. The intensity and excitement particularly of the keys arrangements leaves you feeling completely breathless by the end.
There is a fine line between inspiration and imitation. Half Mile Harvest sets out the broad sweep of inspiration that has motivated The Teskey Brothers. What they have produced is no pale imitation but a carefully crafted album carrying their own stamp on soul and blues.