Although I like to try to keep an open mind, there are certain genres that are generally unlikely to capture my attention. For whatever reason, one of those is funk. It could be because I was never exposed to the right bands, because there have been many occasions when I have admired bands who have underpinned certain songs in funk (Glenn Hughes being a prominent example) but I have always had the feeling that funk is a genre where there are far more mediocre artists treading the boards than stellar ones, and, perhaps, I have only been exposed to the former rather than the latter. However, despite my reservations, I am, rather naively, one of those music fans who has an unshakeable faith in certain labels. Not, it can certainly be said, the huge corporations who churn out any flavour of the month band that happens to be available, but the smaller labels, the ones that take the time to release special vinyl editions for the fans and the labels that hone artists across a small spectrum of genres rather than spit out whatever may sell. In the past I have waxed lyrical about labels like Battlegod productions and Peaceville and today I add to that list the wonderful Provogue records, who have offered up so many amazing artists from the blues world it’s hard to know where to start. Therefore it was the trust and respect that I hold for Provogue that initially caused me to investigate Galactic’s new album, ‘into the deep’, and I am so very glad I did. An eleven track album featuring contributions from an array of artists including Macy Gray, Mavis Staples, JJ Grey and many more, ‘into the deep’ is a wonderfully rich album that cannot fail to elicit the same sense of joy in the listener that the artists undoubtedly felt when recording it. It is a fantastic record, a huge, multi-coloured joyful outpouring of music that will unfailingly brighten up even the dullest of days and it caused me to entirely rethink what I felt I knew about funk.
Opening with ‘Sugar Doosie’ Galactic successfully bring the sound and feel of a raucous celebration into the listener’s living room. With a wild horn section, powerful drumming and what sounds like the entire band cheering and shouting at every opportunity, it’s like being caught up in the midst of a New Orleans carnival and it perfectly sets the tone for the rest of the album. ‘Higher and higher’ rapidly follows with southern rock artist JJ Grey in the driving seat, and Glactic set about creating the perfect backdrop for JJ’s gritty vocals, offering up taut, distorted bass, funky, springy guitar work and an energetic drum workout that propels the song into the stratosphere. It’s a huge, joyous, soul-infused funk effort that is guaranteed to have even the most staid audience member grinning like a fool by its conclusion and if the first tune hadn’t already had me hooked, I certainly would be by this point. ‘Into the deep’, featuring Macy Gray, plays to the strengths of Ms Gray and sees the band delivering a piece that accentuates the smoky charm of Macy’s vocals with a soulful, bluesy feel and synth strings sweetening the sound. Macy perfectly fits the track, and it’s immediately clear why this was chosen as the title track for the album. Things take a funkier turn with the strutting, cocky ‘Dolla Dive’ featuring David Shaw (the revivalists) and soul singer Maggie Koerner. The track proves to be the sort of arch funk that Beck and De Staat dabbled in at their most playful on ‘Odelay’ and ‘Machinery’ respectively. Delivered with spritely enthusiasm, it’s the irrepressible sound of a band on fire, and you can imagine this track eating up dancefloors around the world with its simple, yet potent chorus and tough funk beat. One of only four tracks not to feature a guest, ‘Long live the Borgne’ is funk straight out of a Tarantino movie, so much so that you’ll all but picture the cast of Reservoir Dogs making their way down the street and into a gun fight as the Hammond organ reaches new peaks over sheets of reverb-laden guitar and a spritely, cowbell beat. Listen to it on headphones and you’re in danger of finding yourself walking in slow motion! In contrast ‘Right on’ featuring New Orleans soul artist Charm Taylor, sounds like a cross between Charm’s own solo work and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs with its handclaps, swaggering vocals and synth lines. Try not dancing to this one, I dare you!
‘Domino’, featuring the award-winning folk/blues/funk artist Ryan Montbleau, has a bluesy feel that recalls Gary Clark Jr and Ryan’s smoky vocal stands as a neat counterpoint to Charm’s brighter voice on the previous track. Another guest-free track, ‘Buck 77’ sees Galactic indulging in a synth-driven, jazzy monster of a track that has as much in common with Death in Vegas and Miles Davis as it does with George Clinton, and it is the diverse nature of the music on offer that makes ‘into the deep’ such a pleasure to listen to. ‘Does it really make a difference’ featuring legendary soul/gospel/R&B singer Mavis Staples is a soul-infused delight that benefits immeasurably from Mavis’ stunning voice and obvious delight in singing with the band. The album begins to draw to a close with the rhythm and blues of ‘Chicken in the corn’ featuring Brushy One String (so named for his somewhat original take on how to string a guitar) and Bushy delivers a suitably gnarled performance which the band match with wah-inflected guitar and a taut beat. The album ends with ‘Today’s blues’, an instrumental that serves as a neat coda to the high-energy funk of the album with its swirling Hammond organ and relaxed vibe.
Readers of this site know that we stand above all for eclecticism, although we do, more often than not, specialise in metal, and it’s always a pleasure when we can review something that is genuinely outside of our usual frame of reference. Music should always be something that challenges and invigorates the emotions and Galactic have done a fantastic job of crafting an album that both respects the talent and nature of the artists with whom they have collaborated and offers up a cohesive feel at the same time. The music is diverse, challenging and yet powered by a passion for music and for life that is irresistible. Whether it be the jazzy, instrumental ‘buck 77’, the spritely ‘dolla dive’ or the soulful ‘into the deep’, the overriding feel of the album is a zest for life that simply pours from the speakers. ‘Into the deep’ brightened my day immeasurably and caused me to re-evaluate my preconceptions of what a funk album shouldn’t be, and isn’t that what all great albums should do?