The New Mastersounds are one of my perennial favorites both live and recorded and this year’s The Nashville Session brings the best of both together. It’s a fresh spin on some old (and new) tunes and that is one that defines their sound which I call retro funk. The Nashville Session last year and was released on vinyl only in April and then digitally in October 2016. The album was recorded live in studio and mixed down to quarter-inch stereo tape and then cut direct to vinyl lacquers with no overdubs (Jambase).
The album is a compilation of 9 retakes on previous tunes from throughout their now 17 year history and two new tracks as well (see chart below). It’s a great retrospective disc but listening to each of the previous takes followed by the latest gives great perspective on how truly nouveau masterful this group really is. Here, I’ll try to break down the differences in each track in my lengthiest review yet. Bottom line: The Nashville Session is a nominee for one of the first FunkCity “Funkys” for 2016 Album of the Year.
“One Note Brown” is a great tune to kick off since it was first recording on their debut album Keb Darge Presents the New Mastersounds (2001). The current first starts with a classic Eddie Roberts riff and shows that for NMS timing is everything, as it should be. The interjection of Simon, Pete and Joe immediately follows and it takes off on a nice ramble before bouncing back and forth from Eddie’s tasty licks to Joe’s syrupy organ glides. NMS derives beauty from the clarity of sound and separation of the four voices while the simultaneous synchronicity of glides through the tune. Going back to the 2001 version, it sounds faster, slightly grittier and raw. Definitely hard grooving and portends greatness to come! The BBC6 Live 2003 version is a treat – it adds horns, presumably the Haggis Horns, and it sounds like a deeper bass line. The organ solo in the middle is definitely a treat with the horns spicing it up a bit. The 2006 version is probably the closest to the current one, again with a spacey organ solo midway. The Re::Mixed versions are always interesting because as the album name implies, it puts a new twist on past tracks. This version has a more electronic, hip-hop, acid feel, reminiscent of The Brand New Heavies. Bass lines are at the forefront and the keys track is definitely more spacey, along with some added background vocals. Each version of this song is worth a listen and exemplary of why I’ll continually support this group.
“Coming Up Roses” is a burner from the get go with Eddie leading the route. The breaks, with the rest of the team , stopping and starting on a dime show how in tune these guys are with each other. Eddie’s sixteenth note picking is exceptional as always and Joe’s organ solo around the 2;40 mark is a nice showcase for him. The breaks in the song da, da, chugga, chugga, chugga are a highlight for me. The original 2003 version from Be Yourself is a slower paced version and immediately marked by the tambourine, missing from the current issue. It brings back vivid memories of many of my early shows with NMS when Eddie masterfully played foot tambourine.
“Burnt Back” is a new tune as far as I can tell and has the feel of an old Stax tune perhaps right out of the Booker T & the M.G.’s playbook. Definitely gives Joe a chance to stretch on organ and he dances up and down the keys. Brings that southern soul feel throughout.
“Drop It Down” has a drum intro to start the groove and immediately seems darker in tone than the rest of the album, with some deep bass and spooky organ fills building with some slick picking on guitar. The body of the song is an organ lead by Joe with a great overall syrupy feel great for driving and day (or night) dreaming. The original from the NMS debut album is similar, shorter and less expansive. The Re::Mixed version is actually brighter, heavier and leans more to the Rock & Roll (Led Zep?) sound with the guitar emphasized equal to the organ. The multi-channel effect on the keys is effective in bringing the tune forward and giving it more of a psychedelic feel.
“The Minx” has a classic funk guitar wah-wah feel. Eddie’s solo in the middle is a highlight. It really shows that Eddie Roberts is a masterful with machine gun notes reminiscent of Dick Dale, king of the surf guitar. The original This Is What We Do (2005) version has a little heavier bass and the guitar line feels slightly more bluesy. The Live at La Cova version a year later is nearly a cross between the original and current.
“102%” has a solid riff throughout the first half. At almost exactly the midpoint, it breaks into a short, tight drum groove followed by a nice organ solo. The highlight of the tune for me is the close out with my favorite, funkiest bass solo by Pete on the whole album. The original on the 102% album (2007) of the same name has a heavy, distinctive organ swirl to open the song and excellent interplay between the guitar and keys leads and also features the bass solo to the fadeout.
“Carrot Juice” is perhaps one of the best for hearing each voice individually and collectively. As with many NMS tunes, it starts with some great playing by Eddie, with Joe jumping in with some long held key notes. I always enjoy Pete playing note for note with Eddie as he does in the middle here or with Simon on Drums as he does often, and in the second half of the tune. Eddie’s solo reminds me of a George Benson riff but much faster and distinct in mixing chords and notes – amazing to listen to and to watch. Nice close out by Simon. The original from 102% (2007) starts out lower in volume with a flute solo and abruptly increases volume and speed. The lead is actually a keys lead as opposed to the guitar for a good portion of the tune and switches back and forth between the two. The outro again drops volume and resumes/closes with a flute solo — super sweet! Love it!
“Vandenburg Suite” is team effort with perfect timing. Simon’s short solo at the 2 minute mark leads into a organ session with the team backing Joe on a nice jaunt. The stop and go effect is nice as the pace stalls and kicks back in unison. The This is What We Do (2005) version is immediately distinct with the tambourine again as a fifth wheel. Again, the organ solo is featured in the middle but the version is much shorter at 3:38 than the current 5:29.
“Made For Pleasure” one of the newest tunes on the disc and is definitely a catchy riff with a nice, but short drum solo toward the end. Interestingly, the new version just one year after the original has a brighter, clearer sound even if the note-for-note line is very similar.
“In the Middle” is one of my favorite cuts on the album, with Eddie starting with a nice groove, subsequently matched by Pete note for note, then joined by Simon. Joe’s placing some nice fills as Eddie showing his chickin, pickin sound throughout. Thumping bass and speed guitar make this a sweet funky sounding vibe like only NMS can produce. Definitely a showcase for Eddie. Love the bass solo as usual.
“Make Me Proud!” is one of my favorites to see live especially because it always gets the crowd interacting with some “Pow” chants and shouts. This one is so fun to closeout the disc as the change of speed to the breaks is subtle but slick. A great example of each member taking a turn to shine and really shows the depth of their playing. This is a vehicle that is fine tuned and super listenable. The original from Ten Years On (2009) seems to start with a deeper bass-organ groove with the guitar coming in over the top. Definitely love the bass-guitar duopoly at the 2 minute mark and the organ solo at 4 minutes with that hard driving bass, so damn funky!
The New Mastersounds will be co-headlining with Turkuaz at Terminal West on December 15th. Get your tickets early – it will sell out and you don’t want to miss this!