Oakland-based funk and soul outfit The Grease Traps can trace their origins back through about two decades and two prior projects: Back in 2000, Aaron Julin (keys) answered a classified ad by Kevin O’Dea (guitar), searching for players who were hip to the grooves laid down by Blue Note Records artists like Grant Green and Lou Donaldson. The duo quickly formed Groovement, an act that covered those artists, along with others jazz-funk staples.
When their sax player and frontman moved, Julin and O’Dea switched gears and formed Brown Baggin’, an act that got into the harder hitting funk of The JBs, The Meters, Kool & The Gang, Mickey & the Soul Generation and a lengthy list of others. They increasingly became influenced by the rare funk compilations released by Keb Darge, Gerald Jazzman Short and labels like Harmless, Ubiquity, Soul Jazz and Now-Again, as well as contemporary outfits like Breakestra, The Whitefield Brothers and the Daptone and Soul Fire crews.
As the story goes, in 2005 while still with Brown Baggin,’ Julin and O’Dea began to get fed up juggling the schedules of seven band members, who each had their own varying professional and personal obligations. Julin and O’Dea put out a classified ad seeking a bassist and drummer to jam with as a quartet. The first two musicians, who answered the ad and showed up were Goopy Rossi (bass) and Dave Brick (drums). It was clear from those early jam sessions, that the quartet had a great musical and creative chemistry.
Originally intended as a fun side project, The Grease Traps quickly became a priority as Brown Baggin broke up. Performing as an instrumental quartet four a handful of years, the band expanded their lineup with the addition of a horn section and lead vocalist The Gata. Over the years, the band has shared stages with the likes of Shuggie Otis, Robert Walter, Durand Jones and The Indications, Monophonics, Neal Francis and Jungle Fire.
The band’s long-anticipated full-length debut Solid Ground is slated for a November 5, 2021 release through Italian purveyors of funk and soul, Record Kicks. Six years in the making, Solid Ground was recorded between Monophonics’ Kelly Finnigan‘s San Francisco-based Transistor Sound by Finnigan and Ian McDonald and Oakland-based Fifty Filth Studio by Orgone‘s Sergio Rios, live and straight to eight-track tape on a Tascam 388 to recreate that old-school analog sound. The album’s material features guest spots from the Monophonics’ horn section, backing vocals by Bay Area-based vocalists Sally Green and Bryan Dyer, as well as strings organized by Kansas City-based violist Alyssa Bell.
The album’s material features a mix of covers and originals. The originals draw from the Oakland-based soul outfit’s various influences including gritty funk, fuzzy psych soul, lowrider soul and funk. Lyrically and thematically, the album’s material sees The Gata openly discussing the pressing issues of our moment: racism, finding hope in a world that seems pitted against you and so on. The albums’ covers manage to capture the energy of the band’s live set.
Album single ” Birds of Paradise” is a strutting bit of Muscle Shoals, The Meters and The JB’s funk centered around shimmering and arpeggiated Rhodes, a chugging bass line, old school breakbeat-like drumming, wah wah pedaled guitar, a big horn line, and an enormous hook paired with The Gata’s soulful crooning, yelps and howls. Fittingly, the song focuses on affairs of the heart: the song’s narrator brags, struts and attempts to do anything and everything he could to prove that he’s the man for the woman he desires.