Elevate is one of those albums that hits you hard and you instantly like from the first note, first song to the end, on first listen. But then again, if you’re an avid Lettuce fan (like me), you’ve heard nearly all of the songs before as several have been played live by the band for more than two years. For that reason and more, the album is both familiar and fresh. It has a couple of covers including Tears for Fears “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” and Cold Blood’s “Ready to Live.” The compilation really shows off Lettuce’s roots in 70s funk and harkens back to some of their influences including Tower of Power, Parliament/Funkadelic and even soulful sounds like Reverend Al Green and Frankie Beverly and Maze. Listen to the album on Spotify here – ELEVATE.
Despite all its history, Elevate sounds brand new and it certainly is an uplifting disc end to end. It brings the group to new heights throughout and while they certainly excel as a unite, each individual’s playing is highlighted with some excellent solo efforts on each tune. So, without further delay let’s hit some of the highlights track by track:
1. Trapezoid – The opening synth laced sax with handclap is as distinctive an opening as any we’ve heard and sets the overall tone for the disc – ominous and eerie but playful at the same time. Lettuce has the knack for making a tune sound like you should be dancing on your tip toes (as Jesus usually does during shows anyway). The horns coming in sound like the royal procession should be entering the hall at any moment. And the build up is like a damn explosion! The bass drop is like thunder and with the Shmeeans plinking is a terrific low-high balance. The horn chorus is incredibly regal. Benny Bloom’s solo is gorgeous. This song always takes me back to front center at the Amphitheatre Stage at Spirit of Suwannee during Hulaween at midnight. It’s awesome!
2. Royal Highness – The guitar opener sets a great base for the funk to come and the audible voices at the beginning make you feel like you just stepped into a house party. The bass + horn line makes it impossible not to twitch to this funk feast. Nigel’s swirling synth work punctuates each verse along with Jesus’ thump and bump bass. Gotta say, I love the cowbell/perc solo as well which leads into such a damn awesome Zoid sax solo, so funky on the horn and the ghost notes. and comes to a fantastic abrupt ending. Here’s a recent live version from the Suwannee Rising festival, I was fortunate to catch – Royal Highness Live.
3. Krewe – Beautiful synth opening followed by the Shady Horns lead breaking to some nice guitar licks from Shmeeans and then back to the horns really punching out hard. Again, this one has a great Zoidis solo, less synthy than Royal Highness, but just as funky and wonderful tone. Deitch is perfect with the back beat here (as usual) setting up and rolling with the solo and horn segue.
4. Shmink Dabby – Here’s another one with a “spooky” opening sounding like you’re walking into a haunted house. The main melody sounds like a trek into some big unknown adventure, perhaps a dream sequence? The bridge guitar solo makes me think Shmeeans went into a dream and channeled Carlos Santana and it’s perhaps the best solo I’ve heard from this master. When the horns come in, it makes this song an instant classic.
5. Everybody Wants to Rule the World – How do you take a song that everyone knows and make it better? Have Lettuce cover it as a showcase for Nigel’s silky smooth vocals — it’s soooo damn lush and smooth, it’s really gorgeous. He really puts his mark on this one.
6. Gang Ten – This one starts like a children’s lullaby and that guitar-drum back drop is such a great foundation for the horns to enter on. And the horn licks on this tune are perhaps the most memorable of the whole album. The verse is replaying in my brain day and night. The sounds on the break are straight ethereal jungle music. The bass line is heart pounding. This one is a super funk opus. Check out this live version from the Suwannee Rising Festival and do listen on the album as well.
7. Ready to Live – This cover of the Cold Blood tune from the seventies is much more horn driven (if you can believe that) and faster tempo than the original. Again it’s a heater showcasing Nigel’s range. The horn-synth combo at the beginning brings memories of Tower of Power’s golden era with Chester “CT” Thompson on B3. The bass line could be Francis “Rocco” Prestia reincarnate so natch I love this take. Benny takes a solo here and it’s smooth throughout with some great “razz” and altissimo parts.
8. Larimar – Heavy bass intro feeds into main line Shady Horns and they blast this one out. Benny has another fine solo early on in this tune. The staccato horn line is dramatic and impactful on this live favorite. Love the closeout on this track a nice extended Zoid solo perhaps more jazzy than almost any other slice of the disc.
9. Love Is Too Strong – It’s impossible for me not to think of Reverend Al Green and the Memphis sound on the intro of this one with the terrific guitar intro. Of course when the vocals start, it’s Marcus King, the terrific young bluesman out of South Carolina. This one could be a classic from the 70s with fine female backing vocals and a nice Robert Cray-like solo from Marcus of course. Man does he sound older than his years and looking forward to great things from him for a long time. This is a wonderful collaboration.
10. Purple Cabbage – PC opens with a trancelike dream sequence and then a smashing bass/drum hit. The horn verses yield to another dream like bridge midway with some great bass work driving forward. Can’t help but see Jesus bouncing to this one as the horns reenter stage left. It’s just dripping funkiness all over.
11. Trapezoid Dub – A fitting closer for the album, this dub version of Trapezoid somehow sounds completely unique. Again the synth sax from Ryan couples nicely with the Jesus-Shmeeans bass-guitar line and then Benny comes in as well with a syncopated mash up of Trap with Bob Marley. Jesus is really dropping bombs here and it’s pounding. The bass-drum closeout is magic. Here’s a lesson in how to take a great tune and open and close the album with i!
Do yourself a favor and buy ELEVATE and then listen over and over and over like must of us freaks did this past weekend!