Bobby Harden & The Soulful Saints


How do you define a true Soul Man? With difficulty, given that so much is down to a certain
mystical Mojo. But if anyone knows one when they see him, it would be Stax legend Eddie Floyd,
who has spent 60-plus years perfecting the role. When Bobby Harden joined the star-studded Blues
Brothers Band in 2012 as one of two singers in support of Floyd, the elder Soul Man immediately
recognized similar qualities in his understudy. “He was everything I’d been when I was younger,” said
Floyd, who gracefully passed the torch aRer several tours tag-teaming on stage. “I always tell him. ‘I
saw you, my man,’ and I said, ‘That’s it! I can go back to the house and rest!’”

You get the sense it will be many years until Harden makes a similar transition into
retirement. The true Soul Man, aRer all, lives to work, recognizing that success don’t come knocking
on the door with a gold-plated invite. Born in Youngstown, Ohio, Harden was blessed with a voice to
raise roofs, and after a stint in Houston attending college, headed up to New York City to pursue his
passion. It wasn’t always easy, but years singing soul classics on the wedding band circuit sharpened
that church-trained voice and polished his moves in the process; they also instilled in Bobby the
necessary professionalism to not just survive, but thrive on a slow, yet inexorable, rise in reputation.

Being invited into the Original Blues Brothers Band, alongside the likes of Steve Cropper, ‘Blue’ Lou
Marini, Matt ‘Guitar’ Murphy and of course, Eddie Floyd, provided Harden with a public seal of
authenticity, and private assurance that he was on the correct spiritual life path. Then, just as the
Blues Brothers Band began to age out, and in-between two albums Bobby released with his own live
band, Soul Purpose, he was introduced to Daptone artist Charles Bradley’s trumpet player/producer
Billy Aukstik by Kurtis Powers, head of celebrated 24/7 online station The Face Radio. Suddenly,
Harden found himself in a different domain, alongside a younger generation of soul musicians and
entrepreneurs whose respect for the form was emboldened by a desire to render it thoroughly now.
Following Bradley’s tragic demise, Aukstik set up his own label, Dala Records, rearranged Bradley’s
backing group into The Soulful Saints, and launched Bobby Harden on Dala in tandem with Powers’
own BQE label. The impressively exuberant single ‘Runnin’ (To Get to Your Love)’ won instant
plaudits and sold out its vinyl pressing in almost no time.

Now, following an equally funky second 45, ‘Feels So Good’, comes Bridge of Love, on which
Harden’s voice is tailored to perfection by the almost impossibly dexterous Soulful Saints, and further
dressed to the nines by an accoutrement of Latin percussion, full-on horns, high-flying backing
singers and even a string quartet. The album’s ten original compositions are presented in sparklingly
clear stereo sound and run the soul gamut, from grits-n-bricks R&B (‘Played a Fool by You’) to throw-
back psychedelia (‘One Tribe’), svelte seven<es pop (‘One Night of the Week’) and some seriously
sophisticated ballads (‘Wounded Hearts’, ‘Bridge of Love’). Together they document Bobby’s life
journey in song. Through youthful self-doubt in the opening track ‘It’s My Time’, to confirmation on
the exuberant finale ‘Raise Your Mind’, Bobby proves that faith and hard work can pay dividends.
“Life is a joy when you free your soul.”

Having gotten to know Bobby personally over the last several years, I can pay testament to
his strength of spirit. Onstage, regardless of the group behind him or the co-vocalists alongside him,
he knows that 99 1⁄2 just won’t do; this is a man who sweats with the best of them even as every last
note remains on pitch. Offstage, Bobby presents with similar intensity of personality but also genuine
humility, a recognition that, as he sings on ‘It’s My Time’, “the hurdles will come,” but you “don’t let
them bring you down.” Bobby has lived and loved, loved and lived, and his experiences, alongside
the performances, have helped make him that true Soul Man. With Bridge of Love, yes indeed Lord,
his time has come.

-Tony Fletcher