When classic ’60s soul was rediscovered after the turn of the millennium, the heart of that movement beat in Brooklyn, New-York City. The independent label Daptone Records stood for authenticity and great analogue musicianship. Its artists like Sharon Jones and Charles Bradley became stars, while they did not copy the funk and soul music of the 60s, but carried it forward and lived it.
Behind these great voices were musicians who helped define how a real soul record should sound today. In 2008, Thomas Brenneck (Budos Band, The Expressions, Los Yesterdays), brought together an all-star collective consisting of the renowned musicians Dave Guy (The Roots, Late Night House Band, The Dap-Kings), Nick Movshon (Lee Fields and the Expressions, The Black Keys, The Avalanches), Leon Michels (Big Crown Records, El Michels Affair, The Black Keys) and Homer Steinweiss (The Dap-Kings, Holy-Hive, Lee Fields and the Expressions) while living in an apartment on Menahan St. in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Bushwick – the band name was found.
All members brought their musical backgrounds and preferences, making the group a melting pot of diverse musical genres – from soul and funk to Afrobeat and hip-hop sounds. The collective pushed the boundaries of instrumental soul and funk music in the 2000s and explored new sonic territories.
Their 2008 debut album, “Make the Road by Walking,” is still a must-have for any decent contemporary soul record collection and has been a prolific goldmine of hip hop samples for nearly a decade, from which stars like Eminem, Jay-Z, Kendrick Lamar, Travis Scott and 50 Cent have drawn.
After their second album “The Crossing” from 2012, it became quiet around the band. With the deaths of Sharon Jones in 2016 and Charles Bradley in 2017, the Daptone family was hit by two hard blows.
At the end of February their third album “The Exciting Sounds of Menahan Street Band” will be released, a hardly expected sign of life from this all-star group. The new album was produced by Thomas Brenneck at the collective’s Diamond Mine Studios in Long Island City, NY, and it fully lives up to the promise of its name: new exciting sounds that, while experimental, always sound unmistakably like the Menahan Street Band.
As in the past, their music has a strong cinematic quality, sometimes reminiscent of Marvin Gaye’s “Trouble Man”, Quentin Tarantino soundtracks or the masters of library music. It’s always about getting the listener into a special mood or atmosphere.
The opening track “Midnight Morning” congenially fuses elements of funk, R&B and rock, while in the background a certain dreaminess can be sensed, almost reminiscent of Air. Their new single, the driving “The Starchaser” would also have cut a fine figure on Isaac Hayes’ blaxplitation soundtrack “Three Tough Guys”. “Rising Dawn” enchants with its mood reminiscent of The Dramatics’ classic “In the Rain.” The shimmering psychedelic funk of “The Duke”, a track originally intended for Charles Bradley’s album “Victim of Love”, makes its well-deserved instrumental debut on the album. With the elegant “There Was a Man,” the group shifts down a gear for the finale and takes a bow to the classic soul of the ’60s.
Overall, the collective has succeeded in creating an experimental soul-funk cocktail worth listening to, drawing its fire from the carefully selected further ingredients of Latin, psychedelic, rock and hip-hop. “The Exciting Sounds of Menahan Street Band” shows us with what timeless rhythmic and melodic sophistication this group still plays. Hopefully we won’t have to wait another nine years for a new masterpiece.
Photo: Shervin Lainez