Aug 22, 2009

The Budos Band - First Album


"Funk" music is forever branded as kitsch and “retro” in our pop culture, and that’s a damn shame.

Given that such music is the foundation for so much contemporary and so-called “futuristic” dance music, funk has an intrinsic timelessness. Ditch the “wonka, wonka” guitar licks, the stereotypical Blaksploitation and 70’s porn stereotypes, and all of the Me Decade’s schlock, and the music has tremendous power. “Heavy-funk,” which strips the music down to pure minimalist groove - as heard from The Meters, James Brown, and Sly Stone, to name too few – is arguably the best incarnation of how the music shoots directly into the body and soul with fewer chords than punk and enough breakbeats to supply hip-hop, jungle, and house DJs for decades. In short, heavy-funk can be pure hypnosis. Listening to the first few meters and the opening snare snap of the Meters’ “The Handclapping Song” is enough to do the job for me. The work of recent “heavy-funk” revivalists such as Sugarman Three, Breakestra, the Poets of Rhythm, and Sharon Jones and the Dap-kings faithfully swing that therapist’s watch and retain the soul without succumbing to telling the music as a punchline that befell to the music in Hollywood and Baby Boomer “what were we thinking back then?” kitsch.

Here comes The Budos Band, walking off a Staten Island ferry and armed with chops they sharpened after school at a community center. There is no amateurishness here; their instrumentals could’ve been performed in 1970 as much as 2005. The 11-piece ensemble’s eponymous debut album, recorded in just three nights, is one of this year’s best dance records, embodying funk’s best elements and keeping the mind locked in their hands throughout most of its too-brief 37 minutes. Although their take on heavy-funk is certainly up there with their label mates on Brooklyn’s Daptone, namely the Sugarman Three and Sharon Jones, they also enrich their attack with deft afro-beat dynamics and hornwork. The sound is equal parts Meters and Fela Kuti as the band follows a simple, cowbell-driven cadence and let the brass sing. The psych tip that graces their guitar melodies, their flute’s trails of echo and tribal rhythms that can lead any Pied Piper march from the club and onto the streets, only augment these touchstones.

Opener, “Up From the South” begins with a “she loves me/she loves me not” bassline. The Afro-funk percussion then struts in, while the brass section and organ riffs all announce the band’s name loud enough to be heard across three states. The following “T.I.B.W.F.” has a stronger groove with a grouchy baritone sax stamping its feet after what seems to be a pitiful breakup as the brasses follow it and repeatedly shout “get over it, dammit!” But even with the raucousness of it all, the trumpet solo is calm, placing an arm on the Romeo’s shoulder. Elsewhere, the band revives Fela’s ghost in the brilliant space out trance of “Eastbound,” and steadily glides through the Latin funk of “Monkey See, Monkey Do.” They later begin “King Charles” with them laughing at a member’s shoddy impression of a monarch before they pepper out a groove akin to an after-hours nap on the last subway train of the night, watching the streetlights dance across the window.

Unfortunately, a few of the slow groove pieces tend to walk in circles. The Budos are at their best when chasing a beat like frenetic but calming “Budos Theme,” and are able fuel themselves enough to launch far into the sky with just three notes in “The Volcano Song.” They amazingly improve on a funk classic in their cover of Sly and the Family Stone’s everyman hedonism of “Sing a Simple Song.” Their full 11-piece orchestration and three-dimensional production all sound like the song is being heard through the walls of a Garden of Eden that grows in Staten Island.


Anyone who's even slightly familiar with late sixties/early seventies soul, funk and jazz can't help but pine for the era. Labels like Stax, Volt, Fame, CTI/Kudu and Motown ruled the Billboard charts, and clubs of all shapes and sizes were grooving to what was popularly dubbed as "the sound of young America". By contrast, modern R&B stars are hip-hop castaways with a fondness for crunk imagery and underage girls, while mainstream jazz has its head so far up Kenny G's lightweight ass that it's just a tenor sax solo away from being pronounced DOA. If it weren't for Daptone and its cabal of powerhouse modern/vintage soul acts, most people under the age of thirty-five wouldn't have the slightest idea what it means to truly be a man, or woman, of soul.

Staten Island's Budos Band are the righteous psychedelic funk division of the Daptone army, channeling the spirit of The Chambers Brothers, Psychedelic Shack-era Temptations and even the Godfather of Soul himself on their dazzling eponymous debut. Aside from the usual funk/soul suspects informing their muse, a sizzling Latin undercurrent boils its way to the top of each of the album's eleven cuts, cutting and jiving like early El Chicano but with the added rhythmic muscle that came to define Fania Records' renowned early-seventies output.

The shadow of downtown luminaries like Willie Colon and Larry Harlow hangs over writhing, horn-drenched choogaloo workouts like "Up from the South" and "The Volcano Song", especially in their use of guitar as a rhythmic component, and the saucy salsa tempos bubbling beneath their more obvious funk assertions. "Across the Atlantic" is a Curtis Mayfield-style ballad -­ a dense, waltz-tempoed brace of keening, choppy guitar lines and "say it loud, say it proud" brass-driven melodies. "Budos Theme" is flashy and outrageous, with technicolor horn stabs and a circular rhythm patter doing constant battle. In its best moments, it sounds like the theme from (Johnny Carson's) The Tonight Show, as roughed up by a roving band of barrio thugs.

It's clear that the Budos boys spent some time studying fellow New Yorkers (and labelmates) Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra and Sugarman Three; you'll hear those acts' influence throughout The Budos Band. It's evident in the staccato basslines and syncopated drumming that Sugarman favors ("T.I.B.W.F."), and the vast, verdant visions of the Dark Continent that Antibalas so rapturously conjures ("Monkey See, Monkey Do"), that these bands were more than mere influences; they provided the young band with a cultural foundation and helped to shape their core ideals from the ground up.

The R&B/soul scene may never regain its former prominence, but that's okay. As long as The Budos Band and their downtown NYC contemporaries are around, the sounds, sights and memories of those halcyon days won't soon be forgotten. By showing us glimpses of the genre's past, they shine a big, bright light on its future.



01 Up From the South
02 T.I.B.W.F. Titel
03 Budos Theme
04 Ghost Walk
05 Monkey See, Monkey Do
06 Sing a Simple Song
07 Eastbound
08 Aynotchesh Yererfu
09 King Charles
10 The Volcano Song
11 Across the Atlantic

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