French musician turns rock into soul

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Local radio station 88Nine RadioMilwaukee is a great resource for discovering new music. The other day, after toe-tapping along to the catchy Black Keys track “Howlin’ For You,” a surprisingly soulful rendition of The White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army” caught my ear.

The cover brings an upbeat, funky take to the rock-based original, incorporating styles comparable to current artists like Cee Lo Green and Maroon 5 while tying in elements of classic soul from the 1960s and ’70s. You can’t help but groove to it.

I instantly fell in love and went to the Playlist section of 88Nine’s website to track down the artist behind the contagious tune. I was met by the charming face of French musician Ben l’Oncle Soul.

Born Benjamin Duterde in 1984 in Tours, France, the singer took on the name Ben l’Oncle Soul (Uncle Ben Soul in English) after signing with the French division of Motown Records for a solo record deal.

Duterde’s White Stripes cover was originally released on his 2009 EP “Soul Wash” and is the first track on his full-length and self-titled album, “Ben l’Oncle Soul,” which hit record stores May 17, 2010.

“Soul Wash” consists almost entirely of covers done in English, including a jazzy one of Katy Perry’s “I Kissed a Girl,” complete with swanky horns. In contrast, his full-length album is almost all in French, with only three out of the 12 tracks sung in English.

The English songs include “Seven Nation Army” and two originals entitled “Come Home” and “Ain’t Off to the Back.” But even if you don’t understand the language, it’s not difficult to get into this album. That’s what is so great about Duterde’s style — his uptempo songs are just plain catchy.

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