Toss in the sardonic observations and mélange of jazz and rock of Steely Dan
, and then spice it up with the sweaty funk and Latin pulse of Earth, Wind & Fire
. The resulting dish? None other than the Minnesota band High Brow and the Shades. In an age of gimmicky, computer-controlled dance acts, High Brow flash back to the ‘70s and ‘80s, when R&B stations actually played beat-driven artists with real soul and hot-shot instrumentation.
On their latest album, Dancin’ Shoes
, High Brow shuffle multiple vocalists and musical styles with a surgeon’s efficiency and the explosive charge of dynamite. “Heartbeats and Imagination” opens the album with effervescent funk. The musicianship is top-notch, led by the tight chemistry between guitarist Ray Evangelista, bassist Mark Stevens, and drummer James Gutzman. The horn section of saxophonists Greg Keel and Layne Bender and trumpeter Peter Davis smokes like a junior Tower of Power
One of High Brow’s strengths is in their ability to shift genres effortlessly. “Nothin’ Fancy” echoes the group’s jazzy side while “Morning, Noon and Night” recalls the adult rock of latter-period Pretenders. The most potent cut on the record is the one that features its lyrically devastating statement. “Recession Depression Blues,” currently a hit on Adult Album Alternative radio stations, is a smack to the face of Congress, its upbeat, humorous vibe nearly disguising the wicked sting of its words: “Oatmeal for dinner/We’re getting thinner.”