by Alex Colston (@re_colston)
Sometime ago—most specifics escape me—Sean Eldon Qualls sat me down in his living room between two tower speakers, more expensive than the new liver I’d need to replace mine with by night’s end. He played me live stuff of D’Angelo and his touring band; really, the scene resembled Alex in Kubrick’s “Clockwork Orange,” eyes wide open, under enforced re-socialization. Somewhere in the shuffle of it all, I do actually remember asking, familiar with Qualls’s music, “So, you just want to make the best R&B a white boy can make?”
“Yes, now shut up.” And he changed the record.
The truth is that in Sean’s record new record You Didn’t the D’Angelo bits are traceable—in the track “Jack,” for instance—but so are many other strains. You Didn’t is a pastiche of many musical landscapes, but that’s a boring description, so let’s name them: Qualls combines the technical musical mania of math-rock, the 90s guitar-pop that jingle-jangles with radio-single accessibility, and a conversational lyricism so down-to-earth it’s like your hanging out with him.
You Didn’t has been trickling out over an extended period, but Qualls finally called the product “finished” on New Year’s Eve last year, because, as he would have it, he “mainly just tryin' to screw up y'all's ‘Best Of 2016’ lists.” That’s hilarious as it is sensational, and that’s the effect of Qualls’ record if you give it a front-back listen. Raised above the raucous, melodic jubilee soars Qualls' falsetto, the riffs pile-on, but retain a principle of organization, which sums up to never losing the groove.
The groove is everything. This record lives and die by its pocket.
A groove is often a confluence of collaborative movement across multiple musicians keying on the same thing, in the same direction. The fact Qualls, a single, mortal individual, can appear to pull off that all by his lonesome is seemingly second nature with his talent. This record wasn’t cut by the method he calls “Band in a Box,” but his previous ones were, and, should you ever meet him, he’ll be sure to tell you all about. When Qualls plays live, it’s with a brain trust called “Sean Eldon & The Couple-Too-Tree.” I would say that you could catch them live, but Qualls plays, by design, once or twice a year. So, get to listening to this record, or make your way to Chicago to be lucky enough to see it live, but either way hang out with this dude’s music.