Fake Plastic Funk
The British press has made Little Barrie out to be some new-fangled conglomeration of pub rock, funk, and soul, like the Faces covering the Meters and Jimi Hendrix. Collective deep breath: let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
Listening to Little Barrie’s four-song EP (a precursor to the full-length We Are Little Barrie, recently released in the UK), one can hear where the profusely confident allusions are drawn from. “Burned Out” sounds like a barnyard rendition of an unwieldy Stax groove, or: as the guitars chafe like rusty chains, picture a young Steve Winwood in overalls sweating through a white, British version of the JBs, hollering, “Tell ya what I mean!” There’s a confident funk strut embedded somewhere within “Be the One”, or perhaps it’s just an illusory effect caused by the restless Noel Redding-esque bass vamp. For a band composed of three English boys, Little Barrie gets infectiously excited about the chunky grooves it sows. Though they can’t hold a candle to any American funk or soul heavyweight (insert your choice here), they’re awarded a gold star for effort.
So OK, gold stars are as good as a feigned smile. We all know that. Let’s get down to the real nitty-gritty, then: Little Barrie’s EP isn’t exactly formidable enough to make an overwhelming impression, but it is a brief, fun slice of rock ‘n’ roll. It’s got a loose, rickety vibe, courtesy of the band’s slackened posture and Edwyn Collins’s shellacked production. Collins recorded the band’s full-length (from which three of EP‘s four songs are taken) in his London studio, seemingly nailing that sort of retro-yet-untraceable sound that defines the band. The drums occasionally distort from overexcitement in “Be the One”; meanwhile, “Thinking on the Mind” smacks of a vision altered by paisley-tinted sunglasses.
Lead singer and guitarist Barrie Cadogan, who has been tapped by both sides of the Smiths’ divide (performing for Johnny Marr’s Healers and Morrissey’s live shows), coaxes hearty lumps of rigid sweetness from his guitar. He sneaks some oily licks into the rough-hewn “Burned Out”, barks out some fuzzy stutters in “Be the One”, and shades the instrumental “Mud Sticks” without the utmost subtlety. More impressive are Cadogan’s periodic electrical sparks emitted in “Free Salute”, the lead-off track from We Are Little Barrie (not included here). On first listen, the song appears to make good on the bits of potential promised by EP. It locks into a groove more weathered and undeniable than any offered on this teaser, which leads me to believe that better offerings are yet to come.