Walking into the offices of Dirty Records in Kingsland, TimeOut is welcomed with a hearty hug and a peck on the cheek from Opensouls singer Tyra Hammond.

She's excited. "I'm going to see Beyonce," she says, shivering with delight.

As greetings go, it might sound random but when I interviewed Hammond early last year - just before a show she was doing with her other "purely funk" band Tyra and the Tornadoes - she was besotted with Beyonce. She even carried around the bootylicious babe's live DVD in her handbag and when anyone showed the slightest bit of interest in her beloved popstar she would show them the DVD and insist they check it out. Although they had to get their own copy because there was no way she was parting with hers.

And now, she tells me, she's off to see the lady herself in Sydney in September.

"It's going to be hard-out," she beams.

She no longer covets the DVD so closely and listening to the new Opensouls album, Standing In the Rain, one wonders if Hammond hasn't traded in Beyonce for a Diana Ross and the Supremes obsession. Or perhaps Smokey Robinson and the Miracles. The band's second album is unashamedly late-50s, early-60s Motown-inspired and a stark contrast to the hip-hop-soul debut, Kaleidoscope, from 2006.

It's an effortless and fun-loving listen. It not only makes you want to sing along, which was the key ingredient the band had in mind when they started recording it, but don't be surprised if you line up your mates in a row like the Four Tops and dance in perfect unison.

"It's a singalong album and the lyrics are in the booklet, so you can sing along," smiles Hammond. "I used to love doing that with my old CDs, so hopefully people will do that too. I hope it's the album people listen to when they're having beers in the garage."

Also here today is her Opensouls bandmate Jeremy Toy who, in contrast, is quieter and more reserved. Together the pair are the driving force behind Standing In the Rain, with able assistance from the rest of the band made up of singer Bjorn Peterson, drummer Julien Dyne, bass player Chip Matthews, trumpeter Isaac Aesili, and bells and whistles man Harlin Davey on MPC.

Toy is a little weary of the Motown influence, and reckons if the Opensouls were from another time and place they may have resided further south, in Memphis rather than Detroit where Berry Gordy founded the Motown record label in 1959.

"Tyra sounds slightly country, so maybe we are a bit more of a southern band. But we're actually from New Zealand," he laughs, "so I don't know if it's a good or bad taking from the 50s, but it's only time really, and at this day and age it doesn't matter because everybodys' iPods have music from anywhere and everywhere."

The 29-year-old formed the Opensouls with Dyne in 2002. He had been playing in punk bands, then suddenly found himself playing soul music with jazz thrown in.

Since those days playing what he refers to as acid jazz, he says the band have grown as musicians and refined their sound. "Back when we started we were all trying to play jazz in a weird hip-hop way. But now we've managed to get completely rid of that and it's just solid songs."

The Opensouls, who play this weekend's Telethon on TV3 (the band's Turn It Up video from 2006 was a take-off of Telethon in the 80s), are these days like a happy little family of musicians whose members also play in a number of other bands and have their own solo projects on the go.

Dyne recently released the album, Pins and Digits, and trumpet player Isaac Aesili's debut solo album, Eye See, is out in early September. And both, along with fellow Opensoul Matthews, play in the Eru Dangerspiel band led by former Trinity Roots member Riki Gooch, which plays the Auckland Town Hall this weekend.

But it's Standing In the Rain that will be the band's focus when it is released on August 17. Work on the album started in late 2007 with Dollars, the most steely and muscular track on the album with a surf guitar riff and a galloping Latin beat written by Davey.

"It was kind of left over from the stuff we were trying that was kind of electro-punk-influenced stuff like [New York sister-act group] ESG," says Toy.

Then current single Hold You Close - with a grainy, vintage video that's on high rotate on music television channels - was the next song to surface, in March 2008, and it was the turning point.

"We went through a little bit of a writer's block stage. Well, I did," says Hammond. "Jeremy was always making music but it wasn't really my kind of flavour. I found it hard to write to the stuff he was doing, but as soon as Hold You Close came along it was easy for all of us and we were like, 'Yeah, this is it'."

Toy: "I think we had to get all these other things out and then it started sounding good once we got the electro and the punk thing out. We even tried full-on modern R&B and that was not working," he cracks up.

During the writing of the album, Hammond's 10-year-old sister Shaquille (known as Boogie), died suddenly and her passing inspired the album's most touching song.

Toy says he wrote the lyrics to Prayer, with the poignant lines, "I see sunken eyes. I see heartbreak. It hurts so much but I'm not gonna look away 'cause baby I'm saying goodbye one last time", after Hammond told him Boogie had only a few hours to live.

Instead of being a sad song it's also one of the album's most danceable tracks.

"I wasn't really keen on having a sad song," says Hammond, "but when he showed me that song I cried, because it's really beautiful. It's so much fun to sing and it was really cool to be able to give her that gift."

LOWDOWN
Who: Opensouls
What: Hip-hop-soul goes Motown
Line up: Tyra Hammond (vocals); Jeremy Toy (guitar); Bjorn Peterson (vocals), Julien Dyne (drums), Chip Matthews (bass), Isaac Aesili (trumpet), and Harlin Davey (MPC).
New album: Standing In the Rain, out August 17
Past albums: Kaleidoscope (2006)
Playing: Telethon, TV3, this weekend