Tower of Power, funk and soul legends, greatest horn band ever, 52-year veterans Step Up again with their latest album to be released on March 14, 2020. This album is another beauty, following on the heels of 2018’s Soul Side of Town which was recorded at the same time. In that respect, it again follows one of ToP’s original recipes with some new twists as well. As with SSoT, it opens and closes with a split funky ride, this time East Bay! All the Way! coupled with East Bay! Oaktown All the Way! These bookend tunes are always fun to frame the album and were used effectively as far back as the Back to Oakland album (1974).
Step Up‘s production values are strong, with full orchestration and backup singers to accompany Tower’s super tight and funky horns, excellent lyrics and masterful rhythm section anchored by David Garibaldi on skins. The album is a nice mix of funk, soul, and ballads and overall brings back that old school soulful sound. Here’s a track-by-track rundown.
East Bay! All the Way! – This one starts with a classic Garibaldi tom roll with thumping bass and then hits with the title line chorus. The fadeout is a nice trumpet solo continued on the closing bookend.
Step Up – Title track starts with a nice chorus and then of course some spicy horn licks. It’s one of the more upbeat, funky tunes on the disc as expected. Ray Greene is the lead vocalist here and and can be both smooth and gravelly in the same song. This one will be on repeat for a while. Check out the YouTube audio here.
The Story of You and I – Let’s open with a rippin’ guitar / horn riff and then Marcus Scott comes in with some burnin’ vocals with the sweet, sweet female background vox. The horn bridge with short solos by Jerry Cortez on guitar and Tom E. Politzer on tenor is terrific. This one is like an express train and cruises end to end.
Who Would Have Thought? – This one is a classic bluesy, ballad in the vein of Willing to Learn (Urban Renewal, 1974). The opening has a riff reminiscent of The Stylistics (You are Everything) and Ray Greene’s vocals are right on point. Tom hits out with a hot sax solo with the horn section popping punctuation.
Addicted to You – Addicted to You highlights the soulful sound of the group carried by Ray Greene’s vocals with great background vocals. Garibaldi’s propulsion of the tune is classic and the strings are out in full force. This is definitely a highlight song and it brings all of ToP’s great elements together – strong vocals and background vocals, string and horn arrangements and a great rhythm tie together perfectly.
Look in My Eyes – The opening is reminiscent of On the Serious Side (In the Slot, 1976). It’s the Emilio lead vocal song on this album, although there’s strong background vox here. Emilio opens his trick bag with some scatting accompanied by Tom on sax – this is something, I’ve never heard from him! Roger Smith has a cool keys solo, a standout for this tune). The closeout here is bumpin’ some horn interplay that only ToP could produce. Here’s Tower’s first music video in 30 years for Look in my Eyes.
You da One – This one shocked a bit – Roger Smith on lead vocals — I had to double check the liner notes. It’s so damn syrupy, sexy that I just wanna rock out on the dance floor. Of course, it’s rippled with some cool rolling organ from Roger. You da One is super bouncy and perhaps the most fun on the whole album.
Sleeping with You Baby – ToP reaches back again for that ’70s sound and that’s a good thing. Their sound is original like a fingerprint and holds up as well today as it ever did. Marcus takes on a journey here, back and forth with the horns and background vocals. This one could fit on any ToP record from the 1970s to today. Tom P takes a nice, if somewhat short, solo near the end and the Adolpho Acosta closes out with a nice flugelhorn solo.
If It’s Tea Give Me Coffee – ToP occasionally writes a socially conscious song – think Only So Much Oil in the Ground (Urban Renewal, 1974) and this is this album’s version. The theme is the divide of the country with oppositional ideas all over. A split of ideas never sounded so good.
Beyond My Wildest Dreams – Nice opening of soaring sax by Tom segues into some silky smooth vocals punctuated by that big band horn sound that only ToP can produce. Always love hearing Emilio on background vocals as well. Cortez takes another solo 2/3 through this one before the crew comes back full force. Tom E. Politzer comes back with a nice solo before a rollicking solo from Roger Smith on B3 closes it out.
Any Excuse Will Do – Another Emilio lead vocals and another social conscious number. The lyric references xenophobia, religious prejudice and general fear of ‘others’. Again, it’s a energetic tune with punchy vocals and horn riffs. Tom takes another flowing sax solo midway. ‘More than enough, plenty of blame to go around’ is a call for unity and is followed by some of the best horn work on the album.
If You Wanna Be a Winner – Garibaldi’s kick drum pounds on the opener and this one is as close as ToP gets to New Orleans style funk. Bounce to the ounce is high here and the funk is drippin’ here.
Let’s Celebrate Our Love – Man, the opener here for me echoes The Stylistics, I’ll Be There. Marcus hits full stride early on this one and the background vocals and horn melodic background is terrific. Tom takes a more extended sax solo and it’s on point. The group’s collective writing and blending is on display here. You can check out Let’s Celebrate Our Love audio here.
East Bay! Oaktown All the Way! – ….picks up where the opener leaves off, including the trumpet solo, the vocal chorus, and a nice guitar solo. The final close out is straight up Oakland Stroke ’74!