The Funky Elephant Returns!
Anyone who grooved to a funky little tune called “Dream on Dreamer” during the summer of 1994 knows the significance of an elephant. It’s the logo for The Brand New Heavies, a group who helped pioneer the trans-continental acid jazz movement of the early ‘90s. Well, BNH acolytes rejoice—the funky elephant is back!
The Brand New Heavies’ career spans more than 20 years yet it’s the 1994 incarnation that many fans treasure most: vocalist N’Dea Davenport, guitarist Simon Bartholomew, drummer/keyboardist Jan Kincaid, and bassist Andrew Love Levy. Brother Sister, which featured this line up, was an indispensable album upon its release in 1994 and kept club turntables warm on both sides of the Atlantic. Rather than build on the momentum generated by the album’s critical acclaim, Davenport exited the band to pursue solo projects while Kincaid, Levy, and Bartholomew carried on with vocalists Siedah Garrett and Nicole Russo. (Davenport briefly rejoined her band mates in 2000 for one song, “Finish What You Started”.) Though subsequent releases by the Brand New Heavies were enjoyable and competent efforts, the three stars sparkling around the elephant in the BNH logo lost their luster without Davenport.
Within the first five seconds of the opening track, “We’ve Got”, there’s no denying that Get Used to It unequivocally reignites the sparkle in those stars. A succinct assessment: Get Used to It is uniformly excellent. This is the album destined to earn the Brand New Heavies a new legion of fans. Their brand of jazz-tinged funk sears on “We’ve Got”—Levy’s muscular bass supports the track with a strong backbone and Bartholomew’s blistering guitar solo adds a dose of rock to the mix. After this scintillating start, the Brand New Heavies sway their tusk towards 1960s soul and rework a Stevie Wonder hit from For Once in My Life (1968). Like their ‘94 cover of Maria Muldaur’s “Midnight at the Oasis”, the band pumps adrenaline into Wonder’s “I Don’t Know Why (I Love You)”, nearly eclipsing the original version. Here is a group that is clearly confident in their grooves.
The remaining 11 cuts are all original compositions, save for the Wonder track. “Let’s Do It Again” is not a cover of The Staple Singers’ 1975 chart-topper, though it owes its musical DNA to that era. Bartholomew’s guitar work on this cut is akin to the style of Chic’s Nile Rodgers yet it is not derivative, merely a ploy to get thee on the dance floor! If Bartholomew has his moment in the spotlight on “Let’s Do It Again” then “I Just Realized” could be subtitled “The Jan Kincaid Show”. The drummer’s dexterity on the skins is reason enough to skip ahead to the middle of the album just to hear how he maneuvers the beat… but then you’d miss “Sex God”.
Davenport sings the part of a siren on “Sex God”, an intoxicating production that throbs on a stripped-down groove of drums and bass. Levy’s hypnotizing riff moves like a wave of poppy perfume under Davenport’s coy command to “Hurry up and make a play for me”. A single guitar chord shifts the groove and magisterial horns announce the chorus. Sonic details like these make each track on Get Used to It a thrill ride.
The last two cuts, “Love Is” and “I’ve Been Touched”, ensure that Get Used to It ends as strongly as it begins. The former features an ingenious sample of Minnie Riperton’s “Lovin’ You” as performed by the Swingle Singers. Listen carefully to the chorus and you’ll here the “la-la-la-la-las” interpolated with the lead vocals. The sample adds a dreamlike quality to the band’s buoyant melody instead of dominating the track. “I’ve Been Touched” begins with a subdued four-note chord pattern and explodes into a funk rock feast when Bartholomew’s incendiary guitar gives way to Davenport’s sassy phrasing of “What ‘cha gonna do?”. While many albums seem to lose their fire towards the last third of the running time, the pyrotechnics in “I’ve Been Touched” make Get Used to It the exception to this rule.
Earlier on the album, N’Dea Davenport issues the order to “Bring back the funk in music/Put back the funk back in music”. After spending time with Get Used to It, it’s more than apparent that the Brand New Heavies have done just that. All hail the tusk!
The Brand New Heavies - I Don’t Know Why (I Love You) [Live]