You may be hard pressed to hear a more vibrant, life-affirming record this year.
Daryl Easlea 2011
Described by Village Voice as the "missing link between Public Enemy and Louis Armstrong," The Soul Rebels Brass Band, as you would imagine, encapsulate a hip hop sensibility while paying full respect to the brass band tradition from which they come. Led by Lumar LeBlanc and Derrick Moss, the New Orleans-based eight-piece produce funky, horn-driven music that immediately invites the listener to party.
Formed in the mid-2000s, the patronage of southern funk legends The Meters did them no harm at all, and as a result, their support slots became more prestigious; now, Unlock Your Mind is their first, full-length studio album. Many will know them from the season finale of TV series Treme. The question after all of this is simple: how can such a joyous live act transfer onto disc?
The answer: fairly effortlessly. They clearly evoke their most obvious reference point, the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, but there are also elements of David Shire’s claustrophobic brass-heavy score from the cult 1974 film The Taking of Pelham 123. The well-chosen covers here are a great hook to ensnare the listener. Lee Dorsey’s Night People is given a good seeing to, as is the climatic and occasionally cacophonous version of Stevie Wonder’s Living for the City. There is a beautiful rendition of The Staple Singers’ Unlock Your Mind, while the novelty that will grab the curious is the inventive workout of the Eurythmics’ Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This).
They also give you originals to match the covers. When it works, it is intoxicating. I’m So Confused is built around LeBlanc and Moss’ go-go-infused drumming, while the band lock in perfectly, complete with Edward Lee Jr’s infectious sousaphone. The delirious riffing of Showtime evokes a brass-funk version of Neil Young’s Like a Hurricane, bolstered with gang vocals, yet Corey Peyton’s rap is a trifle laboured.
At times, it veers into school orchestra territory at the moment when they first learned how to play the theme from Rocky; but this is a minor quibble. Overall, this is a full-on, joyous, positive album that makes you feel like celebrating – indeed, you may be hard pressed to hear a more vibrant, life-affirming record this year.