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You wouldn't expect this band in this place: Idaho Falls is a high-desert town of 50,000. It clings to the Snake River on the eastern cheek of Idaho's wide bottom and is home to the nuclear cowboy.

It's a mix of engineers and scientists who split atoms at the Idaho National Laboratory and farmers and ranchers who pick potatoes and round up cattle under big skies. Blue jeans, boots and big belt buckles are de rigueur. And most of its residents belong to the Church of Jesus Christ and Latter-day Saints.

Idaho Falls looks like the last place in America where citizens would search for their collective soul through the sounds of an indie band.

But perhaps because of the town's overwhelming whiteness and oneness, the New Soul Authority offers a type of redemption for some local music lovers. It provides a vital, vibrant, spirited sound they desperately seek.

So Saul Chessin and his New Soul Authority are my Buddhas of the offbeat. They're my funky R&B jazzmen of the mundane. They help me find the joy and exhilaration in the rhythms of everyday life.

The New Soul Authority plays a concoction of R&B, jazz and blues. Call it "Rocky Mountain mojo." Bold, straightforward and honest, it dispenses with distracting frills. And it's the naked truth of this soulful sound that grabs you. All of the music and lyrics are original, written by piano man Saul Chessin.

The New Soul Authority plays at intimate spots where clusters of their fans and friends hug their music and each other for comfort. One such spot, The Idaho Brewing Co. in Idaho Falls, crafts smooth ales and stouts and serves them in a room with comfortable tables and chairs, a bar, a couch and a fireplace. Denim-clad regulars in ball caps accompanied by their dogs (well-behaved dogs are allowed), take a deep breath and stretch, and then sample the beer and savor the syncopations of the band.

At another venue, Vino Rosso in the historic Idaho Falls downtown district, friends huddle by the fireplace, the wine bar and near the band. Saul smiles as he listens to his bass guitarist, Brad Beckwith, take the music in a new direction, and replies with a new riff as his drummer, Jack Hoole, changes the tempo of an old tune.

Saul comes from the best of American musical traditions - he's a storyteller. He plays his melody, his personal truth. And when you hear it for the first time you instantly recognize it, because it's like bumping into an old friend: It skewers your soul with delight.

Saul's story is quintessentially American. He's a polite, quiet, reflective Jewish boy who grew up in the Wild West of Missoula. As a kid, he rode horses bareback. He skied white powder. He sang in the sixth-grade boys' choir of a local evangelical Christian church because the spirituals moved him. And he fell in love with an untamable Montana girl under their well-advertised, brilliant blue skies.

Saul is 53 years old. This is his first CD. He's a solitary man despite usually being surrounded by people. Quiet and unassuming, he easily disappears in a crowded room. But he goes deep inside himself and mines his music coaxing out melodies and rhythms that define his life and express his passion for living and loving.

Saul Chessin and the New Soul Authority have never been rich or famous. And they probably never will be. But the intimacy of this indie band reminds me what music can do. So I pop his CD into my stereo and listen again. They massage my pain with free-flowing melodies riding atop strong, pulsating rhythms. Troubadours for my troubled mind. Thank God for their Rocky Mountain mojo.

David Clark is a freelance writer who expects to publish an e-book, "Professor Brown Shoes Teaches the Blues," this spring.

 

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