Just before The Suffers’ members begin performing, you’ll see 20 arms stretched in the air Superman-style, followed by 10 voices. The first counts off, 1 to 10, then shouts long and hard at full lung capacity. That’s just the warmup.
What you get from this Houston band is soul, straight from horn to heart. I’ve witnessed The Suffers’ magnificence on a tiny stage in a D.C. nightclub, on a big stage at the Newport Folk Festival, and behind my Tiny Desk. What happens on the band’s first album is something that rarely happens on debuts: This band is on fire when it’s in front of an audience, sure, but the intensity of its shows is also captured in the studio.
The Suffers’ sound is steeped in what the band calls “Gulf Coast Soul,” as well as elements of ska, Southern hip-hop, classic soul, rock ‘n’ roll and especially reggae. In fact, the group’s name comes from a line in a famous late-’70s reggae film called Rockers. What helps set The Suffers apart from most is the band’s sweet style of playing: No one is vying to show off, and everyone serves the song. It helps that singer Kam Franklin is at center stage — powerful and lovable and, like her band, careful not to overdo it. She seems to understand that there’s power in holding back or waiting for the perfect moment to let go. “Midtown” is a good example; the whole band at the end of “Better” is another.
There will be many new artists to discover in 2016, with lots of debuts. I suggest you start with The Suffers.