Friday, April 22, 2011

The British Are Coming! The British Are Coming!

Words By Andy DeVilbiss

Most of us were celebrating a particular date earlier this week. You know the one I'm talking about. It's practically a counter-culture holiday at this point. But you may not know there was another day this week that actually carries some pretty heavy historical significance. April 19, 1775 was the day of the "shot heard 'round the world" when the American Revolution began with the Battles of Lexington and Concord in Massachusetts. Seven hundred English troops on their way to destroy the Massachusetts militia's military supplies in Concord were waylaid by colonials who had received advance word of the redcoats thanks to William Dawes, a dude you may not have heard of, and Paul Revere, a dude you most certainly have heard of, who embarked on a midnight ride to warn everyone that the British were on the march. Six years of fussin' and fightin' ensued until America secured its independence from Great Britain with Lord Cornwallis' surrender at Yorktown, Virginia.

After that little revolutionary tiff, aside from that whole War of 1812 hiccup (which Americans should be very grateful worked out favorably because our fledgling nation was truly outmatched and outclassed in military terms), I'd say we Americans and the British have had a pretty smashing relationship. In fact, due to our shared language and that colonial history, I'd say the UK holds the number one spot on our favorite foreign countries list and a special place in the hearts of most Americans. Look no further for evidence than the obsession over the upcoming royal nuptials between Prince William and Kate Middleton. Every major American news outlet will be there to cover it. I know several women who have told me they'll be looking to that event as style guide for their own weddings. Hell, those two kids were even celebrated through one of the most quintessentially American creations - a crappy Lifetime Network movie (I'm guessing the future Princess was played by either Judith Light or Meredith Baxter-Birney as Lifetime is contractually obligated to have at least one of them in every movie they make). Let's just say I don't think we'd be doing that kinda thing for or paying that much attention to any other set of royals.

Musically speaking, both sides have been generous with each other. For example, you sent us the Beatles (thanks), and we sent you Jimi Hendrix (you're welcome). Lately, I'd bet a lot of readers (and writers) of this here blog have been thoroughly enjoying the sublime jazz-funk of the New Mastersounds, originally hailing from Leeds. From interviews and articles I've read, it seems the New Mastersounds have thoroughly enjoyed touring America over the past few years and learning that we Yanks enjoy and respect the art of improvisational jamming a bit more than the crowds they played to in Britain in their early days. In fact, the evolution of the New Mastersounds illustrates a bit of the difference between American and British sensibilities when it comes to funk and soul music. Our funk notions are generally driven by bands and live performance, from James Brown live at the Apollo to Galactic live at Tipitina's. Britain's approach to funk is in large part driven by DJ culture, particularly the northern soul movement of the late 1960's which was fueled by a rabid desire for rare, off-the-radar, American soul recordings.

As a result, British funk and soul is often a condensed affair, with more of an emphasis on shorter, single-length tunes, and, while I love a 10+ minute live jam as much as you probably do, there's absolutely nothing wrong with three to five minutes of flavorful funky focus. In some ways it may even be more of a challenge to take that approach, and, damn, those Brits do it righteous-like. They may not be shredding epic jammy solos, but British bands like Speedometer, the Haggis Horns, Soopasoul, and Big Boss Man have incredible chops and creativity that match many of your favorite American funkateers. It just so happens that three acts from across the pond that I really dig have new albums about to drop, so consider this here entry as my equivalent of Revere's midnight ride. One if by land. Two if by sea. Three if by Funk. Prepare your earholes... The British are coming!

Smoove & Turrell - "Eccentric Audio" (Worldwide release- 6/6/11)

DJ and producer Smoove was already a favorite of British funk and breaks aficionados before he found his musical soulmate in vocalist John Turrell. In 2009 they released their first cooperative effort, "Antique Soul” on the great Jalapeno Records label (which features other great talent like Kraak & Smaak, Skeewiff, Max Sedgley and Dr. Rubberfunk). It's an album that hasn't left my iPod/Phone since I got my grubby hands on it. The combination of Smoove's crate-digging beat mastery with Turrell's heartfelt lyrics and buttery, blue-eyed soul crooning forges a devastating funk bomb, and, if the first single "Slow Down" is indicative of the quality of the rest of the tracks, they're poised to blow out speakers and leave more craters in their wake on the dancefloor with "Eccentric Audio." You can also preview another stellar track, “In Deep” here:

Laura Vane & The Vipertones - "Sugar Fix" (Worldwide release- 6/10/11)

Fronted by one helluva singer in British bombshell Laura Vane, the Vipertones are a slick collective of English and Dutch musicians drawn together from various projects (Diesler, AIFF, the Soul Snatchers, and the Jazzinvaders among others), and they're putting a fresh spin on old school soul. They burst onto the European scene in 2009 with their self-titled debut, which featured blistering tracks like "Steam" and "Roof Off" that forced listeners and club-goers to get down on the get down. "Roof Off" was so well-received it got its own entire remix EP. They don't show any signs of slowing down with their forthcoming album "Sugar Fix." It's sticky-sweet with tight funky beats and some absolutely brilliant horn arrangements. Seriously, some of those horn licks are ridiculous sick. It's all designed perfectly to showcase Laura Vane's sultry vocals, which are just dandy like candy and put a craving in my ears - the audio equivalent of my sweet-tooth's desire for a Milky Way bar. Highly recommended if you're a fan of acts like Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings. The joint's not available outside of Holland yet, but you can stream the whole thing here: (I also highly recommend the Vipertones' cover of "Hello" by Martin Solveig. The techno-pop original is currently featured in a Trident gum commercial. Their cover is super funky, making it about a kajillion times better, and it's taken from a live performance on Dutch radio. Get it here:

The Bongolian - "Bongos For Beatniks" (UK release- 5/9/11)

Where to begin when discussing the daffy and delicious beats of the Bongolian? Really the title "Bongos For Beatniks" kind of says it all. I swear the guy must be a lovechild produced from a threesome between the funky organ virtuoso Jimmy McGriff, percussionist Tito Puente and the prettiest green-skinned alien go-go dancer in all the galaxy. The alter-ego of Big Boss Man frontman Nasser Bouzida, the Bongolian brings it with spacy psychedelic groove that sounds like the kind of stuff farcical "British" super-spy Austin Powers would get down to, if Austin Powers had been dipped in LSD, loaded into a day-glo colored rocket and shot towards the moon. Chunky keyboards, sci-fi production vibes and, oh yes, relentless funky bongo beats that all add up to cool, daddy-o. Good for your dome and your derriere. I'm not sure if there's an American release date set yet for the CD, but you can find this new one in digital format, as well as all the Bongolian's previous releases and other great stuff from his label Blow Up Records, on iTunes. You can also stream "Bongos For Beatniks'" first groovy single, "The Riviera Affair," from here:

Mark your calendars for these three killer funky releases that prove you can't spell funk without UK. If there's any justice in the world, cuts from these bad boys will get played by the crappy wedding DJ at Prince Willie and Kate's reception. Congrats, you crazy kids, but I think my invite must have gotten lost in the mail. Should've had it delivered Revere-style by horseback. Too bad. I suppose you'll just have to hope that one of your other guests gives you that toaster you wanted.


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