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08/04/12

The Soul Rebels
Unlock Your Mind
Rounder

Some New Orleans brass bands have tradition on their side, and some have youth, audacity and seemingly boundless energy. The Soul Rebels fall into the latter category, reveling in a party mix of funk, jazz, pop, rock, R&B, hip-hop, rap, dance hall, bounce, Caribbean and marching-band sounds. Unlock Your Mind isn’t merely the title of the group’s national debut release, it’s a mission statement.

Sure, the Rebels’ obvious crossover appeal will seem more than a tad calculated to some, but this Crescent City octet isn’t inclined to pay much mind. Indeed, the Soul Rebels are nothing if not zealous in their pursuit of a good time, stoked by an unusually wide array of influences. When the band chants “We Gon’ Take Your Body,” it ain’t just whistlin’ “Dixie,” and when it riffs on tunes composed by Allen Toussaint (“Night People”), Stevie Wonder (“Living for the City”) and the Meters’ Leo Nocentelli (“Say Na Hey”), the performances are similarly persuasive.

Of course, it doesn’t hurt that “Say Na Hey” provides a showcase for its composer, or that fellow guest Trombone Shorty helps charge the album’s opening salvo, “504.” The title track is another standout, thanks largely to guest vocalist Cyril Neville. The Rebels have plenty of talent within their own ranks, however, including percussionists (and group co-founders) Lumar LeBlanc and Derrick Moss, trumpeter Julian Gosin, tenor saxophonist Erion Williams and sousaphonist Edward Lee Jr.

Like all New Orleans brass ensembles, especially those well versed in marching-band traditions, this one has to be experienced live to be fully appreciated. But listening to Unlock Your Mind has one distinct advantage: You can adjust the volume.

Originally published in July/August 2012
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