By Nick DeRiso
Big Sam's Funky Nation, all brass and sass, opens its latest CD with a floor-rattling invitation to shake every thing you've got. For all of its musical prowess, that remains the one and only goal of this fun-loving, funky-butt recording by New Orleans-based trombone-playing bandleader Sammie Williams, formerly of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band.
Still, take a moment between sweaty turns around the dance floor and you hear a surprisingly complex musical vocabulary inside this party record.
King of the Party, issued by Hypersoul Records, references as much classic R&B as it does the hometown second-line tradition. Williams, like an hip-shaking sous chef, even stirs in a few crunchy sounds associated with rock music.
So, we have this hair-tousling, staccato blast of Earth, Wind and Fire-style boogie on Krunked up." Then Rage On!" slips into the edgy soul cries of Sly and the Family Stone. Straight To It" includes a nasty wah-wah turn, showcasing something that sets the Funky Nation apart from most New Orleans brass bandsits use of the electric guitar. (Williams had a pair of them, in fact, from the first iteration of this group.) Rock Yo Soul" goes deeper into the rock genre, bringing in a prog-inspired riff.
Williams, said to be the great-grandson of famed New Orleans cornetist Buddy Bolden, can't really help his roving eye. After all, he had a memorable turn as a member of the jumping horn section on the Grammy-nominated River in Reverse by Elvis Costello and Allen Toussaint, a stint that included a feature spot during Hot as a Pistol, Keen as a Blade" on the resulting concert tour DVD. He's also appeared, with the Dirty Dozen, alongside Dave Matthews, Karl Denson's Tiny Universe, Ozomatli and Widespread Panic, among others. Back then, the teen-bone phenom was famously on the road for 250 days a year, or more. It's always been difficult to slow Williams down.
In fact, the Funky Nation only pauses ever so briefly amidst a torrent of greasy groovers here, offering a bathroom-break ballad called Take 5." Then, it's back to the task at hand: Stomping. Moments later, Williams and Co. rev up the Otis Redding classic Hard to Handle," then step forward for a series of thundering blasts to begin Big Ole Booty," before a blistering blowing session follows.
As the date winds down, clarion calls from the bandstand continue: See Me Dance" boasts a beat and a self-referential lyric straight out of the 1950s rockabilly aesthetic. Work It" weaves a complex horn signature that recalls early-period Chicago. Finally, the Funky Nation brings in more modern sounds with Dance Floor" (channeling the mechanized 1980s dance music of Midnight Star) and an unnamed bonus track that shimmy-shakes with the wild abandon of Parliment-Funkadelic.
The feel is funkier than your average brass band, and brassier than your average funk band. It's a good time, to be sure. But King of the Party is that rare dance record that stands up to repeated listenings.
Of course, don't be surprised if you end up jumping and jiving anyway. There's a reason they don't call this the Hang Out On Your Couch And Enjoy The Intriguing Arrangement Nation.
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