By David Perry
When he was 14 years old, Peter Lavender took his lawn-mowing money straight to the local record store. He had just heard Todd Rundgren on the radio.
Who is this guy?, he wondered. He sorted through the stack of album in Rundgren’s allocated bin space and emerged with 1975’s Initiation, one of the artist’s most dense, complex recordings.
He hated it.
“I was like, what is this,” says Lavender with a chuckle. After the Beatles’ melodic prowess, this was…confounding.
He made himself listen. Two minutes a day, then three, then five.
“And finally, something clicked.”
Sometimes, you work at your sound. You fuss over it, complicate it, fill the platter. Sometimes, you just let it roll. So Lavender, a 51-year-old who teaches private music lessons, is shifting gears with his next record, tentatively titled Souled Out. The songs are written, and his band, The Limbo Souls, have them down. Now, to record it.
It is a soul record, a reflection of Lavender’s love for the Philadelphia R&B fueled by the likes of Gamble, Huff and Bell. And a slice of the same southern pie that yielded Stax, Fame, Hi and the players of Muscle Shoals. It’s been the most fun he’s had with music, says Lavender.
A mid-‘90s UMass Lowell grad with a degree in music composition, Lavender had played guitar in rock bands in the Boston scene, such as The Down Staircase in the ‘80s.
After moving to Lowell two decades ago, he continued to follow his rock muse on a few recordings, but it all came together a couple years ago, when he heard guitar ace Carl Johnson and began to build a band –The Limbo Souls – around him. Lavender handles rhythm guitar and sings, Arte Kenyon handles bass chores, Steve Esposito plays keys and Justin Beaulieu plays drums.
They released Middle Street in 2012. One song, “Waiting for You,” (a love letter to Lavender’s wife, Nancy Cahill) hinted at his soul affliction. And last Christmas, they played at an annual event, deciding to render a cover of Rufus Thomas’ yuletide soul cooker, “I’ll be Your Santa, Baby.”
He feared the band’s reaction to the new left-turn.
“I brought in the first song and I was afraid. I mean, there are blues guys. But they jumped right on board.”
Lavender has always trusted the musicians to do what they do.
“I don’t tell them what to play or anything. I mean, that would be stupid. These guys know.”
He hears horns in his head, and backup singers.Who knows what the budget will allow.
He loves the notion of this album, but feels “disconnected” from the world of current pop music. One of Souled Out’s tunes, “Turn Back Time,” addresses his alienation.
“Time Warp” looks back 2,000 years and find the same global problems festering.
“Guns, bombs, it’s just crazy,’ says Lavender.
He’s anxious to play the new songs live. But after that…
“I might’ve taken it dead seriously 30 years ago but it’s strictly for fun now. I mean, it’s the highlight of my week meeting those guys for rehearsals.”