Album Review: Sky Hi Funk Band’s Reality Check EP

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Sky Hi Funk Band

Reality Check EP

G.E.D. Soul Records

Release Date: May 7, 2013

 

Track Listing

1.      Reality Check

2.      Numero Uno

3.      Funk ‘til Dawn

4.      Plan B

5.      Your Body

 

Personnel

Derobert “Dee” Adams – vocals

Josh Sable – guitar

Joshua Scott Cochran – keys

Aaron Heffron – alto sax

Austin Little – trombone

Mike Royer – trumpet

Dave Singleton – drums

Tim Hawkins – bass

Silas Jackson – percussion

 

Soul music has seen a remarkable renaissance over the past decade or so, as there have been an increasing number of contemporary bands who have been releasing new, original music with the classic soul sound we’re all familiar with – including acts such as Chicago’s J.C. Brooks and the Uptown Sound, and the Right Now; Boston’s Jesse Dee; Brooklyn’s Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings, Daptone Records labelmates Charles Bradley and his Extraordinaires, and the Del Reys; Cody ChesnuTT, Erykah Badu, Janelle Monae and countless others. This is of course in an addition to the old school groups who have seen their careers revitalized through the Dig Deeper party series here in New York and other events across the country.

  In age of prepackaged, slickly overproduced, cynically calculated, soulless bullshit that’s force-fed upon a largely ignorant, unenthusiastic mass audience, soul music’s prominence this decade is similar to the punk rock revolution of the 70s – both are gleefully reactionary rejections of current trends and values, as well as an attempt to create music with a profound meaning (in radically different ways, of course).  Certainly, in the case of soul music, it marks a dramatic return of hearing the special simpatico between talented musicians playing multi-layered compositions; of vocalists who can actually sing without the ridiculous and unnecessary vocal pyrotechnics that seems to impress modern audiences; and of the return of the lush, richness of analog sound. (God bless you, analog sound! Horns somehow sound more regal. Moog keyboards and Hammond organs sound better, too. Trust me, they just do.)

   And if there’s one place that may well be the metaphysical heart and soul of this soul renaissance it would arguably be the Nashville, TN-based G.E.D. Soul Records, the label home to the fantastic Derobert and the Half-Truths, AJ and the Jiggawatts, and countless others. We’re talking about sweaty, deep Southern fried, funky soul by the way, and it sounds as though it could have come out during the heyday of Muscle Shoals around1966.  This year is primed to be a big year for G.E.D. Soul – you should expect a new Derobert and the Half-Truths full-length album later on this year; as well as re-releases of AJ and the Jiggawatts’ The Drop EP, and one of their first 7 inches, The Grips’ Tennessee Strut. And the label just recently released the latest EP from the Sky Hi Funk Band, led by keyboardist Josh Cochran, and featuring Derobert Adams of Derobert and the Half Truths contributing his silky smooth vocals.

  Because of Adams’ involvement, the Sky Hi Funk Band will fairly and unfairly draw comparisons to Adams full time project, Derobert and the Half Truths. Certainly, there are obvious similarities – namely, one of the country’s best horn lines, a horn line that rivals that of the Funk Ark and others. And lyrically, the songs cover some of the same subjects that concerned the old school soul singers. We’re talking about the daily struggles of getting by when things seem absolutely against you and being strong in the face of impossible odds; dealing with unfaithful lovers, jealous, spiteful haters; falling in love, falling out of love. The songs speak of these subjects with a lived in, personally experienced feel – and it’s the sort of experience that listeners and fans would also know on a very profound level. It wouldn’t be out of the ordinary for someone to shout out “Speak the truth, brother!” as though they were in church. As for the songs on the EP, album opener “Reality Check” describes both the benefits and dangers of daydreaming – sure, it can be a wonderful escape, and it can inspire one to be creative or to do anything they’ve always dreamt; but it can make people delusional and refuse to see reality as it is. “Numero Uno” has its narrator telling a few envious haters to back up off them before they get hood and slap a fool up. Album closer, “Your Body” is a seductive, “Quiet Storm” like love song, full of sensual come ons – and it’s done with a joyous feel.

  Sonically, the differences are occasionally quite subtle, and other times they’re pretty obvious. Generally speaking, the material feels and sounds as though it were inspired by R&B from about 1966-1975, Afrobeat, thanks in part to the use of keyboards and organs to propel the song forward such as on “Funk ‘Til Dawn,” the one instrumental on the album. The influences here feel more varied although they’re very subtle. Naturally because of that, the material should feel warmly familiar – that is the point after all. But if there’s one minor issue, it’s the nagging sense that the album doesn’t quite capture their live sound. Considering their influences, their sound should sound sweatier and looser than it does here. Capturing that live energy can often be difficult on a debut effort. Still, the members of Sky Hi play so with an amiable, down home sort of charm. You can’t help but like them and cheer for their success.