On the cover of Must Be Nice, the Vermont duo comprising Soule Monde—drummer Russ Lawton and keyboardist Ray Paczkowski- stand in wintery repose on the grounds of a lifeless grey mansion. Paczkowski looks off into the distance while a smiling Lawton holds the sarcastic title card; two trespassers delivering the musical antidote to a cold, bleak, and uninviting place.
It’s projecting to suggest that an album of instrumentals is an obvious contemporary political comment, especially one whose recording took place a year before the dawn of Trump. Regardless, the timing couldn’t be better. Coincidental, maybe, but the opening track, “Immigrant Too,” entering on Paczkowski’s sustained Hammond B-3 chord and set alight by Lawton’s whip-crack snare, can’t help but suggest something more dissenting than the key-shifting, multi-toned vamps it showcases.
Having developed their partnership during an ongoing tenure as sidemen for the Trey Anastasio Band, the pair have reached here a new peak of telepathic performance. Whether in the chunky, barking jabs that mark the mid-tempo “Rocket” or the cowbell accents that rattle the poly-rhythmic “Take My Hand,” the album revels in an array of textures and grooves that feel simultaneously by design, yet spontaneous. Be it warming funk, breezy Afro-beat, or New Orleans second-line, the eight tracks are as tightly executed as they are unleashed.
Hints of blues color “Compared to Jody,” before the brightening optimism of “Kota,” with Paczkowski morphing shapes that resemble harmonica against Lawton’s Crescent City zephyrs. There is the deeper, smokier fusion of “Mina,” as Lawton’s rim shots gradually bloom into the rumbling backbeat, and the bop-stroll of “Took You Long Enough.” Yet, it’s on “Influence,” the record’s finale when the hybridized funk-rock explodes in a cathartic release as Lawton emerges from a short solo pushing Paczkowski into a full-fledged, tempo-flogging freak-out. Just the right light for the darkness. Just the right heat to counter the cold.