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Revitalizing old-school Soul

He's only 25, but Marc Broussard is digging up swamp roots



It's the wrong guy. It's the right arrangement -- that slinky guitar intro, funky organ burbling underneath. It's "Love and Happiness," but that's not Al Green. No sleek soul man, but a bewhiskered, scruffy looking kid belting out the greatest living soulman's classic hit. Marc Broussard may not look the part, but his heart and his soul are in the right place.

The sounds coming out of this 25-year-old Louisiana native are from another era, but Broussard is making them work once again for a new generation on his latest release, S.O.S.: Save Our Soul. Since Otis Redding, Marvin Gaye and Wilson Pickett departed, soul music is all but dead. Al Green and Solomon Burke are the only survivors, but Broussard makes a pretty good case for himself. Mercifully, he doesn't trot out the tired old blue-eyed soul label warblers of the Michael Bolton persuasion use to justify their musical homicides. Revitalizing old-school soul works for what he's trying to do with the music.

It's not note-for-note covers, but the spirit is intact. He obviously has a connection with the material he's filled an album with, from Otis to Marvin Gaye to Bobby Womack to his favorite soul singer, Donnie Hathaway. "I've always been into R&B and soul music," Broussard said last week from a tour stop in Dallas. "I was into Otis really early on: 'Pain in My Heart,' 'Mr. Pitiful.' My dad was in these old swamp pop bands, so Otis was like a staple of that stuff."

Swamp pop is a Louisiana variety of soul. A mix of Creole and Cajun, country and R&B. Based on the music of artists including Fats Domino, Clifton Chenier and Elvis, bayou boys and a few girls concocted a heart tugging sound that mated tear-jerking lyrics with a gliding beat. Genre classics include Phil Phillips' '59 hit "Sea Of Love," Dale and Grace's '63 effort, "I'm Leaving It All Up To You" and Cookie and the Cupcakes "Mathilda," in 1958.

You won't hear any of those from Broussard, who's too busy resurrecting soul classics including Otis' "I've Been Loving You Too Long" and Green's "Love and Happiness."

"Soul music got lost in the shuffle and became this modernized R&B that we have today," Broussard says. He remembers a time when music was played by real men and real women playing real instruments and actually singing the songs. "Somewhere along the way, technology and this hip-hop culture got soul music lost in the shuffle and I don't know what happened, but it sure as hell isn't the same way it used to be."

This is no nostalgia trip for the Carencro, La., native. It's a labor of love borne out of respect for music that most people his age have no clue about. The older music fans have latched on to it. There's even a blurb in the press kit from Readers Digest, for God's sake, encouraging all the ancients to go out and buy it. But is there still a market for this stuff among a younger generation? Broussard says there's room for both. "I think the young people respond to it because it's honest. Older folks love it because it's real and its what they remember."

Broussard is mixing a bit of the present with the past in his latest project, recording "Rising Sun" with Sam Bush for Goin' Home, a tribute to Fats Domino, which will raise funds to benefit New Orleans' devastated Ninth Ward, including rebuilding Domino's house, destroyed by Katrina. The Vanguard release scheduled for a Sept. 25 release, features artists including Willie Nelson, Robert Plant, Elton John, Paul McCartney, Tom Petty, Elton John, Toots Hibbert and Lenny Kravitz.

And, as befits a true soul man, Broussard won't be dropping that music from his setlist when the tour ends. To him, soul music is not just album filler, it's a way of life.

"We're setting a precedent for the future of my career and the future of my writing in recording these songs," the singer says. "Obviously the bar has been set really high with these classic songs I've recorded. Hopefully, my original writing will be able to hold a candle to these songs."

Marc Broussard's Soul Revue featuring Shannon McNally plays Charlotte's Neighborhood Theatre July 14 at 9 p.m. Tickets are $18.

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