A near-death experience led Tash Neal to discover new compass points in music. In 2012, drag racers in New York City broadsided a taxi transporting the Harlem-born guitarist/vocalist of the London Souls, shattering part of his skull. Bystanders gasped as medics used the “jaws of life” to remove Neal’s limp and nearly lifeless body from the crushed vehicle. In order to survive, Neal needed multiple brain surgeries immediately. At a nearby hospital, a medical staff placed Neal into a medically induced coma. In time, Neal recovered enough to play guitar and create music again, and the new music he was creating became integral therapy for an emotional and spiritual rebirth. His new songs, both in lyric and musical composition, were more than personal, they were necessarily cathartic. They articulated his pain, his loss, his anger and his healing. Bonding with a highly-skilled trio named MJT (brothers Matt, Jordan and Dave Godfrey), the weaving of the four musicians’ talents helped Neal’s new music blossom.
At the Bitter End tonight, the stage was decorated with well-worn album covers by soul and jazz artists, from the Jackson Five and Ashford & Simpson to Nat “King” Cole and Chick Corea. Shortly after the band took the stage, it became clear that the live music was going to be equally diverse. Neal’s music was no longer confined to the heavy blues-rock of the London Souls. For 60 minutes, Neal and his band played dense arrangements that bridged blues, jazz and rock, and most of all drove a thick nail into funk and soul. A cover of Muddy Waters’ “My Babe” might have harkened the London Souls, but the complex interplay of the rolling keyboards and the jazz-funk rhythm section was a step beyond. The highlight of many songs, however, was Neal’s sizzling guitar leads, informed by 1960s blues and heavy rock yet played at higher speed and intensity. The over-arching beauty of the set was that the music was not generated for commercial appeal purposes but for stretching the scope of Neal’s artistic expressions. The musician with a steel plate in his skull ironically played music that was more cerebral than, pardon the parallel, headbanging.
The bulk of the set was comprised of songs from Neal’s debut album, Charge It to the Game, which he released on March 12. It remains to be seen whether Neal’s future direction will lead to further exploration and blending of genres or if the path will circle back to blues rock. It would be fascinating to see Tash Neal & MJT open a London Souls concert someday.