Menahan Street Band – Make The Road By Walking
It’s here! Make The Road By Walking, the debut LP from Menhan Street Band is out now on Dunham (an imprint of Daptone Records) and it has totally blown me away even more than I thought it would or could. 35 minutes of pure unadulterated soulful sounds have been beautifully crafted by a super-group comprising of ten members from; The Dap-Kings, El Michels Affair, Antibalas and the Budos Band, along with Thomas Brenneck (the musician/producer for Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings and Budos Band). Their pedigree is strong and the results, I’m glad to report, are even more so.
Menahan Street Band came to the forefront of social consciousness last year when Jay-Z used their track Make The Road By Walking for his hit track Roc Boys, but not as a sample, in its entirety. An infectious track that oozes soul from its very grooves, it’s plain to see why it appealed to Jay-Z. Any keen or astute follower of modern funk, particularly through the Daptone and Truth & Soul record labels, will no doubt be familiar with the artists that complete the stellar Menahan Street Band lineup and the respective sounds that they produce. An astounding blend of funk, soul and afrobeat, tinged with latin and reggae sounds, within a purely instrumental guise that is both raw, smooth and ultimately mesmerising.
01. Make The Road By Walking
02. Tired Of Fighting
03. Home Again!
04. Montego Sunset
06. The Traitor
07. The Contender
10. Going The Distance
Title track, Make The Road By Walking, initiates the proceedings. Previously heard via the aforementioned Jay-Z track, Roc Boys, and also released as a 7″ single by Daptone Records last year, it features a haunting brass undercurrent and a fierce choral melody – highly addictive indeed. Tired Of Fighting is the second track on the LP, it contains subtle parts to its stanzas that combine seamlessly with the piano melody and steady percussive arrangement to create a laid back, smooth funk-soul composition with a hint of a latin influence.
Home Again! kicks it with latin guitar, trumpet and a conga ensemble – a light, yet punchy downtempo affair with a soulful spine. It leads us into the absolutely stellar Montego Sunset, a track that makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end. It has a ragga tempo to it and masterfully combines the loose elements of early reggae with latin vibes and funky brass stabs. Add in a pinch of ragtime piano, and an infectious beat to match, and you have one incredible track indeed.
Warmth emanates from Karina, smooth brass with solid bass rolls over the guitar and piano. The melody is sincere and strong, creating an unlikely brass anthem, born from classic elements and blossoming into contemporary gold. The Traitor is one of the shorter tracks on the LP – a rich, steady affair with a distinct emphasis on the downtempo latin brass sounds. Seemingly simple, yet deep and intriguing at the same time.
The Contendor appears to carry on the melody from The Traitor, but takes it to the next level. Added layers of brass and of piano, a punchier beat, all contribute to this fantastic downtempo soul opus – a real delight with its midway guitar breakdown and latin crescendo. Starting with a latin beat and piano riff, Birds is slightly reminiscent of the Quantic Soul Orchestra’s work on Tropidelico, although there is no hiding the brass work on this track, but then with such a culmination of talented artists in one band, would it ever sound anything but incredible? Just incase you didn’t recognise that as a rhetorical question… the answer is ‘no’.
Esma is piano driven and latin in its stylings – then enters the brass, spell binding stuff. As with most the tracks on this LP, what really grabs you by the meat and two veg is the melodies, so on-point and intricate. The execution is, at most times, astounding, everything in its right place and then some. When I heard the start of the next (and penultimate) track, Going The Distance, I thought “hang on, I know this”, turns out I do. Originally written and composed by Bill Conti for the Rocky score and soundtrack, this Menahan Street Band cover is simply fantastic. Bill Conti will be wishing he had Menahan Street Band available back then for the originals it is that good. The final track is Heartbeat, a warm and slow-paced track and perfect outro material. It features some woodwind to accompany the steady brass and relaxed funk guitar – it’s the stuff sunsets are made of.
Even though I knew beforehand of the calibre this band possessed, I was still a bit taken back by the sheer quality of the final product. There isn’t a weak track on the album, it’s a totally rich, pure and exquisite aural experience. All ten instrumentalists contribute to this fine infusion of flavours, nothing sounds out of place or overdone. Everything is there for a relevant musical reason and not just for the sake of it. Alas, these are the words of someone who is a big soul and funk fan, hence if you aren’t a fan of such sounds then this LP will either win you over… or pass you by. If, however, you are a soul and/or funk fan, this will blow your mind, no doubt.