Mark Sultan has long gone by two stage names: his own, and BBQ (of King Khan & The BBQ Show). Most solo work has been truly solo: just Sultan, his guitar and his drums. That’s right: he’s a one-man band instead of a “singer-songwriter.” On BBQ, Sultan merges both names and both worlds.
While I’m familiar with his work, for the most part it’s been through his other projects instead of the one-man show. On BBQ, the work is reflective of his full catalog and owns a sound very similar to his collaborations with King Khan, just more minimal. It’s guitar-drum-vocal melody at its core, and it’s mostly the core that speaks on the twelve songs on this record.
While it has that strong melodic but minimal base, it never feels too skeletal. Some of the solo acoustic records by other artists sound lazy and half-complete. BBQ’s songs are fully constructed with the lesser instrumentation in mind. The melodies soar when a fuller sound is required and the guitar switches from lead to rhythm when appropriate. “Broken Arms” features both of those traits, with choppy and repetitive guitar to carry through the transition from emphatic vocals to more somber tone. Sultan lets lose in “Knock on Wood,” achieving that full band sound without the hassle of extra bodies in the van. “Will You Teach Me” is a bit more somber.
There are moments where it still feels a little too bare. “You to Be Mine” is one of those, where the choppy beat never fully clicks together in complement, instead feeling a little too minimal. The following song, “Rock Me” is one of the better melodies on the record and mostly stands strong, but when Sultan lets his voice soar in the middle no instrumentation rises in tandem, letting little more of that same minimalism shine through.
Ultimately, though, the classic R&B of BBQ shines. It’s smooth R&B and fundamental a rough around the edges grit. “I Love You So Much” exemplifies the style and really sounds like it could be a full band all the way through, as does much of the record.
The ultimate question concerning a one-man project is if it sounds complete or skeletal. BBQ is a successfully fleshed out project but that doesn’t mean it wouldn’t improve with some more nuance and harmony along the way. When listened to with the advance knowledge that Sultan often works collaboratively with others, it’s hard not to reimagine these songs with a fuller instrumentation, taking them another level higher. In the end, it’s an enjoyable record with a few standout songs but it also feels like it could be something just a little bit more.
7.5 / 10
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