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Monday, February 20, 2006

Throwback Funk 

For the funkily inclined, this post will get you started digging into the best of the retro-funk outfits that are exploding all over the place these days. Now, we ain't talkin' about the KC and the Sunshine Band variety of "funk." It's also not on the James Brown tip, though there are exceptions to that rule here and there. There won't be much in the way of Clintonian (George, not Bill) space funk, either. This is about raw, deep funk. From almost rock & roll, guitar led bangers to noodly, spaced-out pyschadelic drifters - it's the new rare groove, the return of northern soul, and a throwback craze all rapped up together. It's about new music recorded with a low-fi vibe. It's organic funk stripped down to the essentials - heavy drums, up front bass, organs, guitars, and (of course) horns.

The best place to start (and finish) on this journey is with the man Will Quantic and his Quantic Soul Orchestra project. Two albums of material deep now, he was the man who introduced me to this whole shebang. Check out the original album, "Stampede" - which I think is a little better than the follow-up, "Pushin' On." That's not meant as a slight to the follow-up, which is a kick-ass album. It's just that "Stampede" is that good. Maybe the best part of this particular outfit is the regular use of my favorite songstress of the moment, Ms. Alice Russell. (As an aside, you should check out her most recent album, "My Favourite Letters" for some killer tracks. And if you want to be truly, completely blown away - like smoking sneakers standing empty because you were that. fucking. blown. away. - you should grab Nostalgia 77's album, "The Garden" and check out the cover of The White Stripes' "Seven Nation Army" with Ms. Russell showing off a range and potency not often found since the late Ms. Joplin.)

Anywho...the point is that Quantic Soul Orchestra is a good place to start because it's the most accessible, straight ahead, soulful funk of the bunch. It's digestible for the uninitiated, but you'll be coming back to it and discovering new bits for a long time coming. If you dig them, the next step is to Will's other project with his partner in crime Russ Porter - The Limp Twins. Their album under that moniker, "Tales from Beyond the Groove," is a winner through and through - blending styles a bit more than the QSO material but doing it just right. If you, like me, are interested in the origins of music, you'll want to know that Holland and Porter both hail from the West Midlands, UK, and currently live in Brighton. Not surprising, then, that you can hear the style and vibe of northern soul in their tunes.

And for interesting backgrounds, you can't beat the Poets of Rhythm. Who'd expect some of the sickest throwback psychadelic funk to bubble up out of Germany? Well it did. And their 2001 album, "Discern/Define" on Quannum is a classic. "Smilin' (When You're Cryin')" is solid psych-funk, lyrical but tough and just spaced out enough that you can't keep from sinking into it. But it can't hold a candle to "Eulogize the Source" - a tune I have to hear a second time in a row everytime I hear it the first. Get this.

If you're looking for a good compilation then I'm usually not the guy to talk to. I like albums and singles - singles to spin and albums to rock at the house or in my car. That's why it's good to have my roommate around. He finds the best compliations around so I don't have to suffer through the crap. Well, he brought home a gem with "Soul Fire: The Majestic Collection." Don't get much better than this as a collection. If you wanna get deeper into the artists that show up here, I'd recommend picking up the El Michel's Affair album "Souding Out the City." Good stuff on Truth and Soul Records. As a matter of fact, this collection led me to buy 4 separate albums and it might do the same to you.

Okay...I've gone long enough now without mentioning Ubiquity Records - the best damn record label today operating out of the U.S. Period. End of story. That's the imprint where you'll find "Pushin' On" by QSO, mentioned above. But it's also where you'll run across Breakestra and their recent album "Hit the Floor." This might actually be a better intro listen than QSO - it's straight ahead, aimed at the dancefloor, and absolutely, undeniably funky as all holy fuck. Oh yeah...the songwriting kicks ass too. Check "Hiding" on that front. Won't leave your brain for a few weeks, and it'll be a good few weeks.

There's much, much more on this front. Once you scratch the surface (and if you just read this whole post you can consider it scratched) there's tons of good stuff lying underneath. It's a little tricky for the CD generation - a lot of these acts favor vinyl, and I've picked the ones with the most digital distribution to highlight here partially for that reason. But there's plenty to find that's downloadable or available on CD, so happy hunting.

UPDATE:

I just realized I got through this entire post without mentioning Brooklyn-based Daptone Records. That was a silly omission that must be rectified. Remember when I said that this wouldn't be about James Brown-esque, review-style, stage show funk? I lied a little. Check out Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings. For more review-style funk, dig their first album, "Dap Dippin' with Sharon Jones and the Dap-kings." For a more soul-drenched affair, check out the newer "Naturally." And the label's deep, so keep scratchin'.

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