Album Reviews

Much like countless other bloggers, I make the often uncomfortable balance between running a blog mostly full-time and having a full-time career, and that can be (understandably) difficult endeavor. With that in mind, I still have several things from last year – shit, that was last year already – that I have to make an honest attempt to catch up on. And of course, I owe you all my 2012 review, which I hope will be up and live shortly. So let’s get to it, right?

 

Superhuman Happiness

The Physical

The Royal Potato Family Records

October 11, 2011[i]

 

Comprised of members who have performed alongside a varied array of highly-regarded, nationally known indie bands including Antibalas, TV on the Radio, Iron and Wine, the house band for the Broadway musical, Fela!, the Phenomenal Handclap Band and others, it should be fairly apparent that as a unit, these boys can play – and that they can bring funk. But as their name implies, their brand of funk, which is influenced at times by what sounds like New Orleans Dixieland jazz, Afrobeat, Afro-Caribbean rhythms and pop music, has an ebullient and infectious sense of infectious, overwhelming joy and childlike wonder. “Needles & Pins,” the EP’s opening song describes the anxious feeling of the first pangs of love, backed by almost regal-sounding saxophone, and sped up percussion. “Hounds,” which was previously released as a 7” single has a Dixieland jazz shuffle. “GYML,” an acronym for “God Makes You Learn,” puts a bit of Dixieland jazz with big 808 synthesizer-styled hip hop beats – at the hook, you can almost pop and lock to it. “Oh Tatiana,” written for the woman who came up with the band’s name is sung in a breathy falsetto is a quick blast of pop, while “Surrender Pt.1” and “Surrender Pt. 2” are mournful, elegiac jazz tunes. Although each tune is sonically different, it manages to sound like a unified and organic whole, and as though each song was conversing with the following song. In other words, you hear similar sounds echoing off each other and in a way that’s fascinating. And interestingly enough, the recordings manage to capture much of the quirky and gleeful feel of their live set. With the release of the band’s debut full-length in March 2013, I suspect that you’ll be hearing more of them.

 

Papa Grows Funk

Needle in the Groove

Funky Krewe Records

Release Date: March 27, 2012

 

New Orleans as we all know is an important world city for its cultural contributions when it comes to music and food. However, in some way, I suspect that when people think of New Orleans signature sound they think of two genres of music – jazz and the delta blues, almost to the exclusion of everything else. But New Orleans is also known for funk – in fact, with all of the great music that has come from that city, funk manages to be at the root of it, and Papa Grows Funk’s latest effort not only reminds listeners of it, they also try to take the mantle of the bayou city’s funkiest contemporary act. Album opener “Do You Want It” has a slinky, sinuous bass line, punctuated by a great jazz saxophone solo and an incredible keyboard solo. “Make It Right Now,” is a sweaty, sexy bit of jazz-based funk. I’d suggest playing this track while in the midst of passion with a significant other, lover or “friend.” I can say the same about a track like “Yes Ma’am.” As much as it’s reminiscent of the funk of the legendary Dr. John and other 70s funk acts, it’s also reminiscent of Don Was’ work back in the 80s, and honestly that’s not a terrible thing. It’s party music that will have you dancing your ass off or hooking up with someone – and as far as I’m concerned the world needs more of that. But as funky and as fun as Needle in the Groove is, upon repeated listens there’s this sense that the album doesn’t accurately capture the band’s live energy. For band that’s developed a reputation for totally improvised sets – that’s common for countless blues and jazz artists – the material feels a bit restrained. Still, “Do You Want It,” is probably the funkiest song I’ve heard in 2012.

 

 

The Sheepdogs

S/T

Atlantic Records

Release Date: September 4, 2012

 

The Sheepdogs, a three-time Juno-award winning Saskatoon, Saskatchewan-based rock quartet released their major label (and Stateside) debut last September to critical praise and attention from the New York Times, Rolling Stone, and others. In the lead-up to their Atlantic Records debut, the band played a set of straightforward, Southern-fried, bluesy rock n’ roll that owed a great debt to the Marshall Tucker Band, Lynyrd Skynyrd, the Allman Brothers and others at a muddy Catalpa Festival at Randall’s Island Park. For those who aren’t familiar with the Southern rock sound they’re emulating, it’ll seem like a revelation – unlike a great deal of indie rock these days, it’s sincerity and seeming utter lack of sneering irony is refreshing but for a great deal of listeners, sonically speaking it’s a time-worn formula – despite how good it sounds. Produced by Patrick Carney of the Black Keys and Austin Scaggs, the material on the Sheepdogs self-titled effort at times manages to sound quite a bit like the Black Keys. Hell, in concept that’s not a bad thing but on a certain it does add to the general sense of “been there, done that” for me that permeates throughout the album. “Jaevlina!” for example has a guitar solo that reminds me a helluva lot of the Allmans, and “Easy To Go” among a couple of other songs reminds me quite a bit of the Black Keys. Still, the album’s highlight is the stomping, rollicking bluesy number “The Way It Is.” However, I feel as though the band will be forced to do something to differentiate themselves from their influences – or they’ll manage to become forgotten in the heap of one hit wonders and copycats.

 



 


[i] Much like during the previous years of this blog’s existence, there’s always some exception to my reviews and lists – for me, I count any review material I received for review during that calendar year. It’s a slight technicality but hey, it works for my purposes.