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07/09/13

The Greyboy Allstars
Inland Emperor
Knowledge Room

The Greyboy Allstars traverse the entire expanse of ’70s funk, soul and acid-jazz on Inland Emperor, their first album since 2007’s outstanding What Happened to Television? Saxophonist Karl Denson, keyboardist Robert Walter, guitarist Michael Andrews, bassist Chris Stillwell and drummer Aaron Redfield are at it again, doing their best to make sure we don’t forget the music that got parties started four decades ago.

They begin with “Profundo Grosso,” a taste of psychedelic funk-rock that could have come off an eight-track in your dad’s VW Microbus, anchored by Walter’s swirling, circular patterns on an organ set to “All Skate.” Tunes like “Multiplier” and “Bomb Pop” distill the best of old-school funk—a snatch of the JBs here, a flicker of the Ohio Players there. “Better Get a Jump on It,” marked by Denson’s cool, popping flute, updates the unison-vocals approach of bands such as Parliament-Funkadelic with electronic keys and processing. Respect for individualism peeks through now and again, especially when Denson solos; he is at his best on “Multiplier,” playing smoothly when he supports, growing feisty when he takes the lead.

One of the group’s hallmarks is its predilection for stop-start, herky-jerky rhythms, and they are in full use; Redfield’s aggressive drumming is the perfect foil for Walter’s bluesy solo on “Breaking Blood” as well as the staccato guitar and bass of the title track. The ghost of Stevie Wonder’s past materializes occasionally, with at least two tunes—“Wandering” and “Bitch Inside Me”—directly evoking his early ’70s records, the latter even employing Wonder’s signature clavinet sound. The one song that’s out of character is the abrasive closer, “Trashtruck,” whose descending chord progression, full-stop organ attack, harsh guitar and nearly squawking saxophone create a “Monster Mash” madness. But it’s still kind of awesome.

Originally published in June 2013
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