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Published: 2005/05/08
by Ellie Sanders

Soul Circus – Victor Wooten

Vanguard Records 79785-2

In case there was any doubt to the exemplary moral ground or bass ability of Victor Wooten, his latest effort, Soul Circus is here to erase misgivings. Arranged as a seeming portrait of his character, painted within no more than a few inches from his family, the record spans Wooten’s range of motion through funk, meditative R&B instrumentals, and fresh jazz as easily as it moves through the different facets of his life.

The formula is simple. First, write songs about life, love, spirituality, and being a badass bassist. Second, use snippets of your children as your intro, outro, and wherever else things get heavy. Third, say you have eight arms and play like it. And, finally fourth, be Victor Wooten. Okay, so the formula's not so simple but Soul Circus guides one through the experience of what happens when those four components collide.

The opening bass licks burst with self-confidence, a brief preemption to the track "Victa," a Bootsy Collins-assisted funk declaration of Wooten's skills. Unlike many other proclamations of elevated self worth — found, for example, on many rap albums — this one comes off as almost nauseatingly positive. Wooten makes clear that even while kicking your ass, he has your self-esteem in mind the whole time and won't purposely allow it to be compromised. The following track, "Tribute," reads as a lesson in bass history in which Wooten confirms his mastery of his influences, and covers the means by which he speaks through. With himself and his instrument covered, the album moves deeper into soul.

The track "Natives" asks that we open our minds and try to do our part in society in the spirit of our ancestors — a "wake up" mantra and notification that we're pretty much asleep at the wheel, out of touch with the guiding energies. Themes of reconnection run throughout, such as on "Cellphone," and "Back to India." The former is a clever, upbeat reminder of the interference this aspect brings to the culture, and the latter, a collaboration with Arrested Development's Speech, is a realization of a soul's yearning for the motherland.

Things don't really get Biblical though until "Higher Law," a bit of a put-off if you're not quite the solid, heart-of-gold Christian type that Wooten certainly is, but — if you are — you'll appreciate the song's innocently righteous appeal for souls. The gut-wrenchingly positive subtleties may make a person not up to the standard of purity feel like more of a sinner, possibly the subconscious intent of saying you'll pray for someone who doesn't care for that, but this is more general and more or less harmless.

If you're left wondering whether or not to bother, ask yourself: "Do I need certain spiritual uplift and/or bass practice material?" If not, just go see Vic when he comes to town.

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