|Holy Ghost / Alex Petit / Sidney Selby||Desiigner||3:53|
ONE is saxophonist Stacy Dillard’s debut disc for the New York-based Smalls Records, wherein he leads a combo of electric guitar, electric piano, bass, and drums. ONE manages to cover a few distinct stylistic bases--hard bop, post bop, the early days of fusion (circa 1968/’69)--and yet is a solid, consistently good listen. Dillard plays soprano and tenor saxophones, but plays mostly tenor throughout.
His sound is big, brawny, and surging in the manner of tenor masters Sonny Rollins and Joe Lovano. Each track (six minutes per piece, on average) gives everyone a chance to shine without any extraneous noodling.
This collection of "front porch soul and jookhouse funk" is very tasty, and not just because the band celebrates ham hocks and other Southern delicacies on "Ho Cake." In an era when people overdub and compress the soul right out of recorded music, producer/engineer Dan Prothero has managed to capture an organic, earthy sound that perfectly suits this band's sultry swamp funk grooves. This is particularly appropriate since singer/songwriter John "JJ" Grey seems to be a big fan of old-timey authenticity. His lyrics decry overdevelopment and the homogenization of American culture; he romanticizes the early days of his home state before "skyscrapers and superhighways [were] carved through the heart of Florida," while his band celebrates the American musical heritage of Muddy Waters, early Bootsy Collins, and other funk, blues, soul, and rock practitioners. Granted, some listeners might not share Grey's simpleminded enthusiasm for a time with "no car, phone, or electric light"; after all, there weren't any funk or soul records back then, and contrary to what Grey says, there was plenty of strife in the good old days. Also, Grey's Luddite tendencies didn't prevent his band from releasing an enhanced CD-ROM with bonus audio tracks, full screen video, an interactive mixer, and a virtual reality studio tour. Nonetheless, the music is exactly what you'd want from this type of project: firmly rooted in tradition but still sounding fresh and spontaneous. Grey's vocals find the right mixture of smoothness and grit, his harmonica playing on "Blackwater" suggests an otherworldly spirit haunting the Florida swamps, and while he doesn't have the distinctive off-center sensibility of the late Lowell George, for example, he does have a sense of humor; he even tells an amusing short story about dumb criminals on "Cracka Break." Of course, Daryl Hance, Fabrice "Fabgrease" Quentin, Nathan Shepherd and George Sluppick are all a crucial part of Mofro's sound, and label-mate Robert Walters also contributes to the album by playing clavinet on "Ho Cake" and "Santa Claus" and an electric piano solo on "Lazy Fo Acre." Some of the laid-back funk workouts may seem a little long to those who prefer tight song structures to a jam band sensibility, but Mofro delivers a solid album overall.
Supposedly a concept album about the disgraced 37th president of the United States (though the lyrics make no recognizable statements about Richard Nixon's infamous life and times), Lambchop's fifth full-length was a powerful consolidation of the strengths they'd gained since their uncertain debut in 1994. Kurt Wagner's sometimes singing/ sometimes talking vocal style, and lyrics that were oblique to the point of seeing surreal, remained a matter of taste, but his melodies hit a new peak in their beauty and evocative spirit as he merged countrypolitan country, smooth R&B, and chamber pop in ambitious and intriguing ways. And as Lambchop swelled to 13 musicians (not counting guest musicians, a choir, and the string section), the arrangements became increasingly sophisticated as Wagner and his collaborators used their rich palette of sounds to inspire a wealth of moods -- from the easygoing groove of "Grumpus" to the luxurious sadness of "Nashville Parent" -- and helped to clarify and strengthen that which seemed uncertain in Wagner's lyrics. And given the sheer ambition of this album, Nixon is a milestone in independent record making, music constructed on a grand scale that's richly satisfying without seeming overdone or tricked up simply for its own sake. And regardless of how one feels about Wagner's abilities as a singer, when he lets his heart do the talking on numbers like "The Distance from Her to There" and "The Book I Haven't Read," his sincerity is undeniable and affecting.
Calling Nixon Lambchop's masterpiece is to ignore the fine work they'd done before, and the similarly ambitious work that came afterward, but it is the point where they showed they were in full command of the tools and talents at their disposal, and its glorious eccentricities are as pleasurable as anything in their catalog.