[9 August 2007]
The Budos Band’s sophomore album, The Budos Band II, is an instrumental prizefighter: bristling and burly, a hulking freight of Afrobeat-tinged funk that blends dark-alley noir with housequaking groove. OK, so maybe the Budos Band doesn’t float like a butterfly, but no doubt it stings just like that prelude-to-a-strike scorpion on the record’s cover.
The 11-piece band, hailing from New York’s Staten Island and anchored by the husky baritone saxophone of Jared Tankel, is a natural fit for the Daptone label, home to likeminded acts like Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings. Both bands favor R&B/funk classicism, from the hard-angled attack of the rhythm sections to the archetypal sound of the recordings themselves, and circumvent the orbits of modernization and neo-soul simply by recasting the past.
This is hardly a novel approach (soul music in the 21st century is immersing itself deeper and deeper into all things vintage, and, coincidentally, perhaps, this year is also the year of Stax Records’ much-celebrated revival), but it’s one that acknowledges the unrepeatable peak of soul’s evolution as its best template. While the Dap-Kings and Budos Band share an aesthetic, a producer (Bosco Mann), and a couple of musicians (guitarist Tommy “TNT” Brenneck and trumpeter Dave Guy), the Budos Band has a more heavyset gait and stockier groove-sense, yet what really sets it apart are the Afrobeat hints: the electric organ, the rapid-fire horn lines, the superabundant percussion.
The group keeps its songs short, however, and its musical statements curt and sweetly wicked—guitars ride the rut of the upstroke while those hot-shocked horns trigger mini-landslides of gravel. Tracks like “Chicago Falcon” borrow their strut from Saturday Night Fever-era Bee Gees, but boast the incendiary sensation of funk-specked dance music on the verge of disco. “Ride or Die” opens with alarming, exclamatory chords that quickly disintegrate into a simmering stovetop rhythm, the kind that beckons even the shyest of self-expressionists. The blinds are parted on “King Cobra” and “Origin of Man”, the former marked by paranoia and skepticism and the latter wandering somewhere between a vintage television spy show theme and bebop navigating molasses. And on “Deep in the Sand”, Tankel’s bari sends out a deep mating call, to which the band nimbly replies with soul music at the ready, swarming in with vine-like tenacity.
This, then, is the Budos Band’s overwhelming strength: tirelessness. They answer to the groove, and remain tucked deep into the pocket of soul and funk prototypes. The Budos Band II may not be a brave new world, but it’s a familiar world—and here, that which is most common yields the greatest pleasure.