A couple of 60s/70 Throwback Soul/Funk Bands
Step back into time with me here. I don’t know if this is a new trend, or if there are just a couple of great throwback bands out there that embody the 60s/70s funk style really well right now. But, JC Brooks and the Uptown Sound describe themselves as “raw power Chicago soul.” When I first heard “Baltimore is the New Brooklyn,” I thought, “This is great, a real Motown sound with a rockin’ edge and a 70s R&B, funk and soul sound.” It also brings to mind Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears, another 60s/70s style funk/jam band who tear it live. If you get a chance to see either of these bands in concert, do it.
Both of these bands are blending 60s and 70s Motown and Stax grooves to create a big, funky sound. And yes, you can definitely dance to it.
Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears doing “Sugarfoot.” Big horns!
And, check out JC Brooks and the Uptown Sound doing “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart,” a Wilco cover. More big horns!
My Morning Jacket’s latest album, Circuital, was released May 31st, and the hype machine was out in full force to promote it. And, for good reason. My Morning Jacket (MMJ), now on tour to support their latest release, has become arguably one of the biggest bands on the planet. And, in recent years, co-founder and lead singer/guitarist Jim James (or, on most other projects, Yim Yames) has done his part by putting his hands in almost every pot out there. Ranging from solo projects, (a George Harrison cover EP), side projects (The Monsters of Folk, with Conor Oberst and Mike Mogis from Bright Eyes, and M. Ward.), providing vocals for other bands (such as Dr. Dog and The Decemberists, just to start), to constant and intense touring, and even following Jack White’s lead and starting his own record label, Removador Records, James has been a man in motion.
With their latest, the southern rockers from Louisville, Kentucky, who have built a reputation for delivering unbelievable live shows, continue to turn out great rock and roll. However, if they are maybe a little less experimental on Circuital than they were on their last album, Evil Urges, it’s understandable. Doing much of the album in live takes, Circuital was mainly recorded in a church gymnasium in Louisville, and mixed in Nashville, and according to Jim James:
“Z was looser than Evil Urges. On Evil Urges, we deliberately tried to get it as exact as we could – which we had never done – but I think that for us, that was kind of a stressful process that we didn’t end up enjoying, and didn’t want to replicate. This process (recording Circuital) has been a lot more free. We found an organic space that was kind of our own – it wasn’t a normal studio – to really grow and make the record in, and explore by ourselves.”
My initial recommendation is to say buy this album; if you like MMJ, you’ll like Circuital, and if you don’t know MMJ, you will still most likely like it. It has all of the elements that have made MMJ the inventive, creative band they are, kick-ass guitar, great vocals, sing-along choruses that instantly bounce around in your head, and a mix of genres that they distill down to their own brand of rock and roll. But, if you don’t like MMJ, this album may not be the one to convert you.
While MMJ has laid claim to a certain sound that is all their own, there does not seem to be a lot of new ground covered on their latest. The music is great…but there are no real surprises and nothing quite jumping out at me musically. Certainly not compared to It Still Moves (with their masterpiece song, “Golden”) or Z. At the same time this is one of those albums that you instantly feel will take multiple listens to even begin to decipher and appreciate. That is certainly not a bad thing; as brilliant a band as MMJ is, their music makes a little bit of work worth it. Pop candy, it’s not.
The opener, “Victory Dance,” has vague elements of Pink Floyd, (as does “You Wanna Freak Out,” which honestly sounds like it could be a song from Ween), a Bob Seger classic rock feel, and sonic soundscapes that turn into a sped-up crescendo, before fading into Circuital, the title track.
The first single, “Holdin onto Black Metal,” is guitar led, but with added horns, bright harmonies, James’s high, taut falsetto, and a children’s choir chorus. In “The Day is Coming,” Jim James’s uproarious vocals seem to be an anthemic call to action, “The Day is Coming, the day is near..the way is clear.”
“First Light,” offers a Black Keys fuzzy-guitar sound, and hopeful outlook, and, like most of their songs, many jumping off points to grow into a killer ten-minute live jam. Circuital also has soulful and piano-based songs like “Movin’ Away,” a teary ballad to something we all must go through, a change in love, life, and home. “A new life to create,” sings Jim James in the album closer. An album which also clocks in as the shortest in the MMJ discography, about 45 minutes, as opposed to an average of an hour for earlier albums.
Circuital is an album of complicated textures, of multiple guitar riffs playing off each other, and music that veers from organized pop structures to thrashing rock and roll, to ’70s piano and acoustic, to funk and soul riffs, to old-school country to ‘60s-sounding Beach Boys melodies and harmonies (“Outta My System”). As my Musichord partner in crime Gordon noted to me after his first listen, “It’s kind of like if Radiohead made a country record. I can’t figure out if it’s alt country trying to be weird, or weird trying to be alt country?”
Good question. Melding all of these fantastic influences and sounds into a cohesive album that you can still sing along and bang your head to is really a big part of what makes MMJ great. Well, that, and their incessant touring and powerful, blow-it-all-out concerts that melt your face off.
A band that has achieved the success that they have, inevitably leads to a band trying to redefine themselves or struggling to find their identity, as success can’t help but change a band’s identity. Regardless, they are confident in their spot in the music world, the music they’re making and the music they are going to make, and while Circuital isn’t going to alter the musical universe, it’s one more bright spot in this band’s dazzlingly brilliant career and catalog.
My Morning Jacket, formed in 1998, is: Jim James/Yim Yames (singer-songwriter, guitars), “Two-Tone” Tommy (bass), Patrick Hallahan (drums), Carl Broemel (guitars, pedal steel guitar, saxophone, vocals), and Bo Koster (keyboards, percussion, vocals.)
Musichord Rating: 7/10
A friend of mine sent me a link to this video a couple of months ago, and I thought “This is lo-fi, and low budget, but it’s catchy as hell.” Since then, the L.A. band Foster The People has broken out world-wide on the strength of this single and a three-song EP, without even having an album out yet. Torches, their first album, is due out May 23rd.
Check out the groovy “Pumped Up Kicks.”
Fleet Foxes hit D.C. this week, and seeing them at DAR Constitution Hall in downtown D.C. made me feel like I was sitting in an extremely large coffee shop in Seattle, with lots of girls in horn-rimmed glasses, and guys all wearing variations of the same plaid flannel. Fleet Foxes, or “Fresh Foxes,” as a local DC news station referred to them during a weekend events update, have a unique sound, which has garnered them critical praise and strong album sales since they broke into the indie music scene four years ago. Though there are some obvious influences, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, Elliott Smith, any folk music from the 60s, early country, and even the Beach Boys, they are still a difficult band to peg or pigeonhole. There is an obvious folk/country quality to their music, and when I hear them, I think of mournful church choirs – though it’s more a hippie-beardo choir, singing with a reverence for nature and the world around them. I’d go to that church.
On tour right now for the release of their second album, Helplessness Blues, just released this May, Fleet Foxes developed a huge following in 2008, without any hit singles, based on the strength of their brilliant second EP, Sun Giant, and their first album, Fleet Foxes. Opening up for Fleet Foxes currently is another Seattle band, The Cave Singers, reformed with former members of Pretty Girls Make Graves. For a three-piece, The Cave Singers put out a pretty good rusty-vocals, blues-fueled foot-stompin’ opening performance.
Unfortunately, this show was at DAR Constitution Hall in downtown DC, as I have to say DAR really does not seem to be made for concerts. If you sit on either side, especially up high, the sight lines can be bad, and the acoustics seem poor from almost any seat. Despite this, a quieter show like Fleet Foxes came off really well, unlike, say, a roaring My Morning Jacket show I saw there two years ago, where the music turned into mush, especially the higher up you sat.
Playing nine of the 12 songs on Helplessness Blues, two songs from the Sun Giant EP (including the powerfully beautiful “Mykonos”), and seven songs from their first album, Fleet Foxes sliced and diced a great set of tracks from all of their popular releases up to this point. Their harmonies immediately beckon one to sing along, and through many tracks, the crowd did just that, though more at a low murmur, rather than a full-out sing along. The last song of the encore, “Helplessness Blues,” the title track, especially roused the crowd from their mellow attentiveness to stand up and sing along.
Fleet Foxes’ music has a sort of timeless quality, with their soaring, perfect harmonies, full and rich acoustic textures, and plaintive lyrics, recalling ‘60s folkster poets, rhapsodizing over the loss of innocence. And innocent, at least at this point, is how the extremely young six band members of Fleet Foxes come off. Robin Pecknold, the band leader and songwriter, is only 24 years old, having put together Fleet Foxes in the Seattle area in 2006.
For the current album, recorded on the Sub Pop label, Pecknold says, “we all went up to Woodstock, New York, to record at Dreamland Recording, where our friends in Beach House had had a good experience recording their last album Teen Dream.” There is a dreamy quality to Fleet Foxes studio music, which still comes through when you see them live, and the list of different acoustic instruments they play is impressive. Their harmonies are precise, and they all seem to have wonderful voices. This, combined with their tight acoustic sound, made for a mesmerizing live performance. There is an intelligent and quiet beauty to all of their music, which seems to foretell the potential for a band that is here to stay, and be brilliantly creative for a long time. The concert ended as it had begun, with the crowd rising to their feet to applaud this band that obviously pours their hearts (and minds) into all of their music.
Check out the setlist here.
Musichord Rating: 9/10