Speaking candidly about the pointed messaging in many of his most enduring, influential songs, Curtis Mayfield once said, “Painless preaching is as good a term as any for what we do.” Travis Atria, late of the popular Gainesville, FL based psychedelic rock band Morningbell, immersed in the legendary soul man and musical activist’s life and philosophies while working on Traveling Soul (2016), the first biography of Mayfield that he wrote with son Todd Mayfield.
Both sonically and lyrically/thematically, Travis – recording under his last name Astria - draws big time on the icon’s provocative, multi-hued aesthetic on his alternately silky/smooth/soulful, jazzy and bustling/crackling/electrifying – and most importantly of all, socially conscious and truly meeting the moment - debut album Moonbrain. Atria came across the quirky nonsense word in poet Sylvia Plath’s novel The Bell Jar, but for the singer/songwriter/guitarist, contemplating the the travails of today and the uncertain future of the planet, it somehow captured “the insanity we’re living through. We know we’re on the brink of extinction and are doing nothing about it.”
While Mayfield, Marvin Gaye and classic funk artists like Parliament are obvious influences, Atria’s sizzling fusion of mellifluous, sensual flow and tight, grooving vibes with edgy, high octane rock intensity truly makes the musical/literary Renaissance Man the Lenny Kravitz of the 2020s.
The ten track collection presents a unique dichotomy, balancing on the nose songs of alarm and darkness with other lighthearted gems that soothe and offer slivers of hope. So while the slammin’, Prince-like rocker “Blood Moon” (which features one of his hypnotic, jangling guitar solos) blasts us with a horrifying rundown of all the natural disasters climate change has and can wreak and the seductive “Jazz Cigarette” points out some of the scary details (“Temperature’s always rising/Ocean’s acidifying”), Atria also blesses us with the uplifting and empowering rock/soul anthem “Shine” and the whimsical and wondrous escapism of “Love Theme” (we all need a little “la la la” chorus in our lives).
As he opens the door on what promises to be an impactful solo career, Atria captures his fascinating dual view of life perfectly with the titles of two of the album’s core thematic tracks. On “Suite: What’s the World Coming to/143,” he asks that plaintive question, but the title of the previous track remind us that maybe to survive, even as we listen to the Beatitudes he references, we all just have to be a little “Lucky.”