I can’t really say I knew much about the group Menahan Street Band a couple months ago. Their elusiveness could be the reason that their neo-funk soul filled music is so enticing. That, or maybe it’s the fact that the group is comprised of heralded soul, funk and jazz artists who already have a full repertoire of singles and albums with their respective groups, to the point where they’ve supported the renowned “Screaming Eagle of Soul” a.k.a Charles Bradley. You’ve got Menahan Street Band co-founder Homer Steinweiss working with bassist Nick Movshon, saxophonist Leon Michels trumpeter Dave Guy, and Toby Pazner (also from the group El Michels Affair), all from Sharon Jones and The Dap-Kings. Add in keyboardist Victor Axelrod playing the organ and Aaron Johnson from the group Antibalas and you’ve got a pretty impressive lineup of musicians. As if the roster wasn’t stacked enough there’s also pianist Mike Deller and Daniel Fodder from Budos Band. The group was formed in Manhattan by producer Thomas Brenneck into one futuristic, funktastic multi-instrumentalist, trumpet blowin’, mandelin pluckin’ soul band. Only on their second studio album since Make the Road by Walking in 2008, The Menahan Street Band have been sampled by some of the largest names in Hip-Hop, from Jay Z’s grammy winning “Roc Boys (And the Winner Is)….” to vitamin water name bearing 50 Cent and Kid Cudi.
With a legacy like that, it’s hard not to have your next album sought upon. After 4 years in the studio, the Menahan Street Band’s LP The Crossing was released for public viewing, and it’s beautiful. In my opinion, an afro-beat funk and jazz album is exactly what needs to be highlighted in this day and age, with love for electronic music on the rise. There’s something inherent in the spirit of this album , a wholehearted sense of freedom and expression that you can’t get without live collaboration.
As you start to listen to the album, make sure you’re comfortable. Recorded at the all analogue Dunham Sound Studio in Brooklyn, The Crossing has a huge sweeping and expansive vibe. Starting off with the album’s namesake, ‘The Crossing’ begins with billowing drums, mandelin plucks, and warm horns which alltogether describes the force of this superb album. The organ in the back keeps the trumpets and saxophones in check while the plucked strings add a dream-like atmosphere. ‘The Crossing’ fully encompasses their mixture of jazz, soul and funk with a rising and falling action that sends a powerful vibe through the listener.
Up next, ‘Lights Out’ is a darker rendition of their sound that’s purely anthemic, as horns and slide guitars feed off one another’s energies. It’s rising and falling animation makes it one of my favorites on the album and the horn section ending is a perfect. Menahan Street Band just released the video for ‘Lights Out’, showcasing video clips of past boxing matches, giving you an inkling as to what this song portrays. By the end of the track, you’ll feel triumphant and ready to start again, as the horns slowly fade away.
The 4th song on The Crossing ‘Three Faces’ takes the cake for being one of the most dynamic tracks on the album. Starting off with slow pounding percussion and a cautious vibe, the melody by the piano is shortly joined by a band of horns. Then the rhythm hits, and you’re left shocked as your cautious vibe shifts energetically. A brief funky clap-focused interlude prompts a new section where an artist blessed with the art of soul displays his sorrow through his instrument. This track comes with it’s own sensation.
Seriously, every one of the songs on this album is gold. While each song has some of the same qualities, they each carry their own mood and story to tell. ‘Sleight of Hand’, while not being the most adventurous, has an exciting upbeat tempo that carries excitement and anxiousness. “Everyday A Dream’ is one to listen to while sippin’ a piña colada on the Carribean beach, or if it’s just a sunny day outside your house. My favorite song on the album, it just makes you happier to be alive. Driftwood, while it carries a feeling of being lost in the unknown, it’s optimistic development presented by the guitar and organ midway through the song, presents a solution.
Bottom line, the album is incredibly good and excites me because of my love for soul, funk, and jazz. I’ve been waiting for a modern rendition of soul in the 21st century and just like their first studio album Make the Road by Walking, Menahan Street Band proves that the natural funk, jazz, and soul inherent in our plethora of genres today, will never die.
I urge you all to see these guys if you have the chance so i’ll post their tour dates here below. For everyone reading this that’s in San Francisco, do yourself a favor and go to that show. Your ears and heart will thank you.
Nov 28: Santa Barbara, CA – UC Santa Barbara Campbell Hall +
Nov 29: Los Angeles, CA – UCLA Royce Hall +
Nov 30: San Francisco, CA – Great American Music Hall +
Dec 01: Davis, CA – UC Davis +
Dec 03: Arcata, CA – Humboldt State +
Dec 05: Portland, OR – Aladdin Theater +
Dec 06: – Seattle, WA – Neumos +
Dec 07: – Bellingham, WA – Wild Buffalo +
+ indicates show with Charles Bradley