There’s a soul and R&B scene growing in Colorado. Bands with strong female leads backed by a stacked group of musicians, perhaps a ripping guitar player and some solid horn players with a sturdy and steady rhythm section laying down a solid musical base. Durango has added to that growing scene with Hello Dollface, and more recently with the always productive and always on the move J-Calvin.
Denver continues to remain one of the great, but at times underappreciated, music scenes, with an increasing number of soul and R&B bands, including the sometimes five-piece, sometimes six-piece Ghost Tapes.
Ghost Tapes will perform tonight (Friday) alongside J-Calvin and PJ Moon and The Swappers at the Henry Strater Theatre. It’s an evening of music presented by iAM MUSIC and titled “MOUSAI,” or “Muses.” An ancient Greek term for the goddesses of music, song and dance, poetry and the overall arts, they serve as inspiration to the artists.
In the honor of “MOUSAI” it’s a female-fronted night, with two of the three bands playing fronted by females; Ishka Phoenix leading Ghost Tapes; Sarah Pumpian with J-Calvin; and Angi Gulino will join rock band PJ Moon and The Swappers for a handful of tunes.
Ghost Tapes’ guitar player Nick Moulds is front and center in the growing statewide R&B collective, a movement that in his eyes is snowballing and adding some fresh flavors to Colorado’s musical landscape.
“The jazz, soul and R&B scene here has really blossomed,” Moulds said. “I’m constantly blown away and inspired to just keep working. There are some days where you say, ‘Why am I doing this?’ but then you go see your friends and they blow you away and you say, ‘That’s why,’ because we’re building this amazing scene and building this amazing community. It keeps you wanting to work, at least, me.”
Moulds is a guitar player who trotted down the similar path of many guitar players; The Stones were a staple, and the late Stevie Ray Vaughan was the player he aspired to be. When he landed in Denver, he started digging into the jazz players.
“Watching them play was so inspiring, so I started incorporating jazz into my playing. But when Will (drummer Will Carmen) and I started the group, we wanted there to be a prominent role for jazz styles and theory, lots of minor 9th chords, and flat 9’s. The music nerds I think will enjoy it.”
Music nerds and overall music fans will likely dig on the breadth of influence. Self-defined as a “modern soul band,” there are elements of the music of Muscle Shoals and Stax records but combine that with the last four decades of rap. Members of Ghost Tapes were raised during a time where rap was king, and their sound is loaded with nods to hip-hop.
They released their first record in 2017, a very DIY effort recorded in Moulds’ basement. It’s a solid and upbeat dose of modern funk music, where down-tempo rhythms with a lounge vibe are combined with the groove of acid jazz and driven by Phoenix’s solid vocals. With another record in the can, the band will continue to put their spin on soul and R&B while continuing to let the influence of the genre’s originators be woven into the fabric of their new songs.
“When Will and I started the band, we were discussing different concepts, and one of the big things was, we called it a ‘soul umbrella’ – taking our favorite things from the different decades of soul music and R&B music, because it can be so different,” Moulds said. “So, if you’re feeling like the modern soul vibe, you know, we’ll be up your alley.”
Bryant Liggett is a freelance writer and KDUR station manager. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.