Lettuce is a very special band. They blaze new trails in funk yet never forget their roots and pay homage to all their funk forefathers. Unify is their latest album, the third in the trilogy following Elevate and Resonate and it may be their best yet. Each song is an advance on their past, super groovy and distinctive yet frequently echoing some of their funk predecessors. In this album’s case they actually had the chance to collaborate with some of their mentors and idols including Bootsy Collins (James Brown, Parliament/Funkadelic, Bootsy’s Rubber Band) and Nick Daniels (Dumpstaphunk).
The album is eminently listenable, instantly relatable and always deep in the pocket thanks to the power pulses from Erick “Jesus” Coomes on bass and Adam Deitch on the skins and all other rattling things. Adam “Shmeeans” Smirnoff (guitar) and Nigel Hall (keys and vocals) bring harmonic depth and clarity and Nigel’s vocals are probably his best ever here. And no Lettuce tune or album could have that fingerprint without the amazing duo of Eric “Benny” Bloom on trumpet and Ryan Zoidis on sax. The duo have no peers when it comes to sonic effects and their sound incredibly inevitably sounds like a bigger horn section. The solos in each tune are amazing and this really is a cohesive and anthemic consolidation from six superstars blended as one. It’s definitely a Top Album of 2022!
Track By Track
RVA Dance shouts out to me “James Brown” right from the first stanza. The key sequence from Nigel sets the stage for the monstrous bass line from Jesus and the Deitch pocket is perfect. The horns take the lead voice and play some tag back and forth with the rhythm. Shmeeans puts out a classic funk chang-a-lang before the horns rejoin and the main theme returns. Zoidis hits next with an amazing solo bouncing back and forth between the low and upper registers sounding like two players at once. It’s masterful and harkens back to Lenny Pickett of Tower of Power (and SNL fame – one of my all time favorite saxophonists. Benny’s up next with a sonic trumpet solo with some effects making it sound very airy. They come back to the main Nigel-Jesus-Deitch theme once again cruising right up to the finish.
Keep That Funk Alive (KTFA) features the funk legend William “Bootsy” Collins aka Bootzilla on vocals and extra funky bass. His distinctive vocal injections blend with the Lett Krewe so smoothly of course. This band was built for exactly this type of funk banging. Shmeeans has a funked up short solo with and Bootsy calls for the band to hit it. It feels like just rolling down the funk highway. Toward the end there’s a particularly funky space jam capped off by another super-charged Zoid trip. Super shout out for the funky end Babu.
Waffles go ‘boom’ right from the get go with some seemingly impossible badass low end bass. Then the horns come on hard playing touch and go with the rhythm. Nigel is trippin on a space walk intermingling with the triumphant horn line. The repeat pattern of horns, rhythm, guitar is hypnotic. Nigel’s synth floats over the top at the break and takes me to a very relaxing place just pass the midpoint. The separation of each line is clear and yet the intertwining is sweet.
Everything’s Gonna Be Allright starts with a classic guitar/drum riff joined by the horns and bass on high and low end. This is the first Nigel vocal tune and it’s a powerhouse. It has that old school music with a message feel of Dumpstaphunk ‘s Justice, naturally since that band’s Nick Daniels provides additional vocals on the tune. The hopeful lyrics are optimistic despite a divisive world right now and perhaps most closely reflect the album’s title and a call to Unify. On top of all that it’s super funky in the vein of some old Gap Band tunes with some slick bass work from Jesus and some jazzy keys from Nigel.
Lude 1 is the first of three short segues to set the table of what’s to come. This one is a little dark riff leading in to the next ominous tune Hawk’s Claw.
Hawk’s Claw is in the style of a dark, old spaghetti western theme. There’s two bands on the scene that put out this type of tune, Lettuce and The Budos Band, two personal favorites. The main guitar theme with the horn punctuation gets so deep in my head. It’s a horntastic tune with more of an afrobeat feel than pure funk. Midway Nigel joins the horn punctuation before playing the main theme directly and the anthemic horn line and guitar head embed in your brain.
The Lock is another tune that gives me that JBs feel and features Jeffrey Lockhart on this tune (naturally). I really did the horn transition into more of a chorus. Benny takes a wicked hard trumpet solo in this one and blasts to the stratosphere with great aplomb. The solo handoff to synth is amazing and the fade is very trippy. Definitely one that I look forward to seeing live (again).
Vámonos is the favorite all time Lettuce track of Bee Getz, my friend and the undisputable greatest Lettuce fan and historian (other than the band). He explains the lineage of the song from J. Dilla (Purple Cabbage/Gang Ten, Phyllis, and Mr. Yancey), and elements of West Coast Dr. Dre/DJ Quick (Trillogy/Gang Ten) and Atlanta Trap (Trapezoid). It’s possible that it could become the band’s “signature” song, similar to Shofukan or Lingus for Snarky Puppy.
For me, it’s an astounding piece with incredible bass and bass drum power. The main theme with Shmeeans dosing it out and the horns tight and fast with the sting of Muhammad Ali’s fist. Then they all combine with this sledgehammer chorus. The blast off sequence of the synth giving way to bass and drums is wild. Deitch sounds like a whole damn percussion session. The rest of the band chiming in with jungle like sounds take you to another place and time. I’m most looking forward to seeing this one live in one of the many shows I have coming up this year starting with Red Rocks in about 3 weeks.
Change the World is an ode to Earth, Wind and Fire right from the opening guitar lick, marimba sounds and anthemic horn. Nigel channels Maurice White and this is a another terrific meaningful message song with beautiful lyrics and instrumentation. It’s also hella danceable. The background chorus is perfect and memorable. Zoidis captures the essence on a flashback soprano solo. The closeout is a spiritual trip.
Lude 2 is classic Lettuce palate cleanser setting up the next couple of tunes.
Gravy Train starts with a guitar/drum pairing with Jesus entering on a bass repeat and the horns lead rounding out the main entrée. Nigel takes over with a jazzy passage and every time I listen I hear a hint of Bing Crosby’s Swinging on a Star – sorry kids, I’m old. Shmeeans brings a another classic solo before the return to the main theme. Throughout Nigel stirs the pot with distinctive fills and swirls. Zoidis has another tasty solo ride up to the end.
Shine‘s opening gives me that smooth, cool vibe like Kool and the Gang’s Summer Madness. The acid jazz aspect of the tune with the horn lead and the unexpected blank breaks give me more of a Down to the Bone (U.K.) feel – very warm and comfortable in the main theme. Benny’s chill trumpet solo dominates the second half of the tune. The synth vibe to the close feels so good.
Get It Together has a church-like organ intro but quickly goes into a syncopated horn and rhythm section beat. It unmistakingly echoes Tower of Power, especially the the title invoked lyrics. The background vocals and injection of the title suggests the album title, a call to Unify. This is definitely a Nigel tune as he takes a fine organ solo in the second half dancing all over the keys before stretching to some sustained bars. The organ to horn closeout is classic.
Lude 3 fades in, and out, with an eerie vibe and is a real quick interlude to the final two tunes.
Let The World Know feels like a Bootsy influence with some deep bass funk, swirling organ, and sound roundhouse horn punches to set the table. It’s a funk standoff as all the players square up before the title chant. Zoidis jumps in with an soaring alto solo that melts right into Benny’s blasting trumpet solo. And at long last Jesus has a little bass solo rolling along with Deitch before we ride the chorus into a Deitch solo and on out.
Insta-Classic opens with a haunting guitar-keys into bass plus horns passage. It turns into a Shmeeans + Nigel opus with a super-catchy head. The horns primarily accent in this one. Midway the horns construct a bridge to the other side with a spaghetti western feel. Nearly two thirds through there’s a transition to a more psychedelic feel that brings the horns to more prominence before a time and space warp close.
Adam Deitch (drums, percussion)
Adam ‘Shmeeans’ Smirnoff (guitar)
Erick ‘Jesus’ Coomes (bass)
Ryan Zoidis (alto, baritone, tenor sax, Korg X-911)
Eric ‘Benny’ Bloom (trumpet)
Nigel Hall (vocals, Hammond B-3, Rhodes, clavinet, keyboards)
Additional Bass and Vocals by Bootsy Collins on KTFA
Additional Vocals by Lenesha Randolph on KTFA
Additional Vocals by Nick Daniels on Everything’s Gonna Be Alright
Additional Guitar by Jeffrey Lockhart on The Lock