Posts Tagged ‘ The Meters ’

Album of the Week 29-2017: The Meters – Rejuvenation

Within the funk idiom, The Meters are the prime representatives of the New Orleans sound. Not as angrily defiant as James Brown, not as dirty as the Ohio Players and not as crazy as Parliament-Funkadelic, the band focused on swinging, relatively relaxed grooves, which landed them a job as the backing band of New Orleans greats like Allen Toussaint and Dr. John. Their own material is worth hearing as well though. ‘Rejuvenation’ is their first album without any instrumentals, which were part of their charm, but the record is so full of inspired grooves and memorable melodies that it hardly matters.

On their first three albums, The Meters specialized in laid-back funk grooves, often making their songs sound like they belong on the soundtracks of one of the Blaxploitation films that were so popular at the time. The shift to predominantly vocal tracks on this album’s predecessor ‘Cabbage Alley’ may have raised some eyebrows at the time, but it is a fact that ‘Rejuvenation’ is full of excellent songs, some of which – most prominently the typical New Orleans rhythm of ‘Hey Pocky A-Way’ – sound like they could have been on one of their earliest records, except that these songs feature singing.

At other times, ‘Rejuvenation’ features the band leaning heavily towards more contemporary funk. Opening track ‘People Say’ has a suprisingly propulsive, stomping beat that nods strongly towards the harder funk that was gaining popularity at the time, while ‘Just Kissed My Baby’ is as close as The Meters ever came to the slinky, sexy grooves of the Ohio Players. ‘Jungle Man’ and the excellent closing track ‘Africa’ are great examples of the band adapting the sparse, prominent grooves of Sly & The Family Stone to their New Orleans background and bridging the gap between several types of funk in the process.

The album’s centerpiece, however, is the massive, 12 minute track ‘It Ain’t No Use’. This masterpiece of a song starts out like a blues track with some excellent stinging guitar fills by Leo Nocentelli, which are strongly reminiscent of Clapton during his best days in Cream. Art Neville’s passionate vocals are incredible as well. After the more song-oriented part is out of the way, a long, inspired funk jam starts, during which every member gets a chance to shine. Especially the rhythm section of drummer Ziggy Modeliste and bassist extraordinaire George Porter Jr. is beyond incredible here. Its jamtastic nature makes it stand out from the relatively concise material on ‘Rejuvenation’, but that’s not a problem.

‘Rejuvenation’ is the ultimate proof that The Meters could handle any kind of funk. As such, it is one of the most versatile and varied funk records released to date, as its styles range from the highly poppy ‘Loving You Is On My Mind’ all the way to the hard driving ‘Africa’. And The Meters tackle all of these styles with equal enthusiasm and inspiration. The album is definitely where the musicianship and the songcraft of The Meters is in perfect balance. Which is great, because as much as I love their contributions to the records of all these New Orleans legends, making their own music is really what The Meters do best.

Recommended tracks: ‘It Ain’t No Use’, ‘Africa’, ‘Jungle Man’


Album of the Week 48-2015: Allen Toussaint – Southern Nights

Two and a half weeks ago, one of the few true legends of music still alive passed away. Allen Toussaint almost single-handedly created New Orleans’ R&B sound and though he is primarily known as a composer, arranger and producer, he made a couple of excellent records under his own name. The two records he released when signed to Reprise, ‘Life, Love And Faith’ and ‘Southern Nights’, are nothing short of spectacular. The latter is sort of a mission statement for Toussaint. And a masterpiece of masterfully crafted, laidback, Jazzy New Orleans Funk. A record that belongs in any music collection.

As if the music itself wasn’t enough, one look at the credits reveals an all-star cast of New Orleans’ finest musicians. Most notably: The Meters. Not that the horns have no significance to the sound on ‘Southern Nights’, but the rhythmic backing of The Meters really brings the laidback Funk groove in Toussaint’s compositions to life. The master’s own piano playing and surprisingly understated – for a genre known for its outrageousness – vocal performance confirm the distinct Toussaint signature of the compositions. Even when he experiments with keyboards or effects, there’s no mistaking who we’re dealing with here.

Of course, the key moment on ‘Southern Nights’ is its title track. It would become a hit for Glen Campbell not much later, but the original with its lush keyboard arrangement and flanged vocals is the ultimate version. The atmosphere is unparallelled. It’s also interesting to hear how the song slowly reveals itself through several interludes before it actually begins. The slow reveal is part of the entire album’s charm: you’ll have to hear the seemingly simple Funk of opening track ‘Last Train’ a couple of times before you actually realize how complex the song really is.

In a way, ‘Southern Nights’ is quintessentially seventies: R&B records used to be collections of singles in the sixties, but this album has a few deep cuts that are even more impressive than its better known inclusions. ‘You Will Not Lose’, for instance, which builds upon a jumpy melody and bass line that truly enforces the positive message of the song. Closing track ‘Cruel Way To Go Down’ is extremely moving with its slow groove and desperate Blues feel, while ‘Worldwide’ stands out due to its Funky stomp, Boogie feel and awesome dual lead vocals. ‘Country John’ and ‘Basic Lady’ are nice and funky, while ‘Back In Baby’s Arms’ is a lesson in how to work toward a climax.

Everyone who is interested in Toussaint’s work as a producer and songwriter will have to listen to ‘Southern Nights’ and ‘Life, Love And Faith’ at least once in their lives. The – very pleasant – risk is that you’ll end up listening to it more than once, because both in terms of performance and composition, this is top notch material. ‘Southern Nights’ is a work of art by someone who has found a style of his own that he’s very comfortable with and has set out to make the best possible work within that style. It doesn’t matter if you like Jazz, Soul, Blues or Funk: they’re all represented here in an irresistible manner.

Recommended tracks: ‘Southern Nights’, ‘You Will Not Lose’, ‘Worldwide’, ‘Cruel Way To Go Down’