There’s a glint in Jodie Abacus’s warm brown eyes that seems to whisper the words: “trust me. I’m a travelling musician”. This native south Londoner sounds like he has seen his share of wild things and strange places. He had a rough ride to get to where he is now, involving breaking up with his long-time girlfriend and a battle with life-threatening pneumonia at the same time.
The outcome of these hardships is not aggressive or self-indulgent. Abacus’s music is uplifting and more selfless than one could dare to expect. There’s spice and swing to this broad-shouldered soul singer’s music. The swing comes from Abacus’s silky-smooth voice, which has the timbre of a Stevie Wonder or Smokey Robinson. And the spice comes from his new-age blend of tradition funk and soul instruments with sparky electronic seasoning; Anderson .Paak is not far off from Abacus on the musical spectrum.
Opening for Corinne Bailey Rae at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire, London, Abacus is a soulman in the flesh. If Nao is the new queen of “wonky funk”, then Abacus is the new king of warped soul. The sun-cooked soul of Good Feeling highlights the beauty in the everyday like a fresh take on Bill Wither’s Lovely Day. He dedicated the enduring song Space Buffalo to the singletons, pondered the hard life of a refugee (Keep Your Head Down), before closing with the buzzing I’ll Be That Friend.
Combining the musical rule-breaking of Parliament with the confidence of Motown greats, Abacus delivered a lively performance. We can’t speak for his maths skills, but this man’s sums can lift a heavy heart.