I like everything about this album – from the title Renewable Energy, to the cover art, to the track titles, to the personnel, to the multiple styles of music presented by the tunes, the broad span of skills that New Mastersounds show, and the span of time I hear from end to end. It’s like the talented foursome from Leeds, England brought the full range of their collective experience together in one disc. It’s got stuff from the nearly 50 year old Funk 49 cover (featuring Eddie Roberts on lead vox) to the super 21st century Stash that sounds like it could be on a Snarky Puppy album along with Beep Box.
The horn work by the West Coast Horns – Mike Olmos on trumpet and Joe Cohen on tenor sax – is reminiscent of some of NMS early work with Keb Darge. Of course, that horn work was handled by the Haggis Horns. Olmos and Cohen had previously played on NMS albums Out on the Faultline and Made for Pleasure.
The vocals by the wonderfully talented Adryon de León (Orgone, Matador Soul Sounds) brings back to mind some of the great collaborations NMS had with Corinne Bailey Rae. So let’s jump into a track by track review:
This song starts with a brief Eddie solo a fitting NMS intro before the horns come slow rolling in with a greasy lick. That sets the stage for the running melodic theme – an interplay between keys and horns that will keep you rolling. Towards the end, a short but signature solo by Simon and another excellent riff by Joe are featured. The final close out is a fade out solo by Cohen.
Tantalus starts like a classic NMS song with a nice intro by Eddie but then rolls into a piano groove by Joe and this interplay rocks back and forth for most of the song. Joe really shines with a solo at around the 1:30 mark. Pete and Simon hold down the groove throughout as only they can. Overall Joe dominates this tune.
Gonna Be Just Me (Featuring Adryon De León)
This tune is a hot blistering soul song featuring Adryon who conjures up memories of Sharon Jones here. It’s super funky and features some excellent horn work and Joe’s organ work at the back end is a fitting way to close it out.
Pudding & Pie
Solid opening groove builds to a haunting horn chorus reminiscent of The Crusaders, a cool, relaxing swim in the pool.
Green Was Beautiful
This is a fitting tribute to Grant Green, who NMS have followed and admired for a long time and I believe have paid homage to live many times. Featuring some great guitar work by Eddie, and a classic Simon/Pete rhythm, the spice added by the horns make it a great add to the portfolio.
This tune, originally recorded by The James Gang in 1970 shows how much NMS follows historical threads and brings them forward to today. It’s the first time (that I know of) that Eddie carries lead vocals (as opposed to team vocals) and he kills it. The whole band shines on this one.
Yokacoka is probably the most “classic” NMS tune on the album, and it’s great. It starts with a great bass-guitar riff that shows how adept Pete and Eddie are at mirroring each other. Then, it goes into full Eddie mastery and back to the bass-guitar riff and nice keys solo at the 2 minute mark (and again more prominently at 4 minutes). But the star of the song is Eddie’s pickin’ backed by the tightest rhythm section in the business. This has NMS fingerprint on it instantly and it’s a classic.
Living That Jazz Life
OK, this one brings me straight to The Crusaders with a little Booker T mixed in. It’s got a great horn lead but a kind of Memphis slow groove. It’s different for NMS with guitar and bass taking somewhat of a back seat to the horns. Nice solo work by Mike Olmos on trumpet followed by a trading session with Joe Cohen on sax to close it out.
Stash is the most out of place, but most progressive tune on this album. If Funk 49 takes us back 50 years, Stash takes us forward another 10. It lays down an opening reminscent of some psychedelic funk along the lines of Shaft theme, Ball of Confusion or 2001 Space Odyssey. It then launches into a nice lead bass line by Pete who carries the tune with Eddie and Joe mostly laying down funky, spacey, animal/jungle background sounds. At about the 4:20 mark, Eddie begins a conversation on guitar where it sounds like he’s talking to those around him. It closes out with sounds like dusk is upon us. Very cool.
Groovin’ on the Groomers
I dig this – the intro sounds like it’s right off a 1970s game show (you can figure which one) but then jumps into a cool groove a la the Whistle Song from the Therapy album. It takes on a nice flow with Eddie’s guitar work mid way. Gotta mention the “scratchy” percussion instrument throughout sticks in my head as solidifying the groove. Just love the crew gliding though this with Eddie strumming the melody which makes you bounce along for the ride.
Hip City is probably the jazziest tune of the set (some of my co-listeners didn’t recognize it as NMS at all). It’s got a little of everything, a solid bass-drum line, excellent horn work, and ethereal keys from Joe. The instrument lines diverge and converge. It’s laid back and lush.
Swimming With My Fishies
Beautiful opening from Eddie followed by great horn chorus and solo from Joe Cohen who really shines on this one. I get a vibe like Harlem River Drive from Bobbi Humphrey. This is a groove that belongs on your car sound system when you’re cruising around town on Saturday night. Nice key work from Joe throughout with injections of that haunting opening by Eddie. This is s gorgeous way to close out the disc.
Check out the The New Mastersounds when they come to Atlanta’s Terminal West on June 7th. They have been kind enough to upload the disc playlist on YouTube here –
Renewable Energy – The New Mastersounds
Nice breakdown of the tunes! Looking forward to hearing them tonight!
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