[15 October 2013]
PopMatters Music Reviews Editor
Ahhhh, the curious case of Troy Andrews. One minute, the guy better known as Trombone Shorty is inviting Kid Rock in for a head-scratching collaboration (For True); the next, he’s chillin’ with Allen Toussaint, taking a stab at the New Orleans legend’s “On Your Way Down” (Backatown). It’s like he can’t decide if he wants gumbo from Chef Link’s Herbsaint for dinner or if he was thinking about settling for a No. 3 from McDonald’s. Why a Double Quarter Pounder with cheese would even be an option when you have such fantastic gourmet cuisine at your fingertips is a mystery of nonsensical proportion.
The good news for Shorty fans? Say This to Say That, his R&B-ish most recent Verve Records LP, suggests that extra value menus are no longer on his radar. Coupled with producer extraordinaire Raphael Saadiq, the 10 tracks that paint this set are revelatory in their groovy simplicity, a decidedly less-shiny effort that makes up for its lack of gloss with some undeniable feels and understated pop sensibility. It’s not so much surprising as it is welcomed, essentially making the case that Say This could inevitably end up being the moment Shorty Got His Groove Back.
The splashiest move comes in the form of “Be My Lady”, the 1970s Meters classic that features an actual reunited Meters covering themselves behind Andrews’ crooning. Nobody really adds anything to its original conception, of course, but again: These are the actual Meters. Outside a few sparse moments over the last 35 years, nobody has been able to get these guys together to create music with one another again on any consistent basis. For that achievement alone, Say This to Say That should be given a Nobel Peace Prize, despite the lack of creativity that ultimately lands underneath re-creating this smooth ballad that first found its way onto the legendary group’s New Directions about two Trombone Shorties ago.
As for the more concealed reasons this record works ... well, that can be found almost entirely in Saadiq’s subliminal presence. As it goes, the producer brought the set’s best track, “Long Weekend”, to the table as the first song the pair worked on together and boy, does it show. The thing could easily be mistaken for the B-Side to Bruno Mars’ “Treasure” and it’s not out of line to suggest comparisons with an early Michael Jackson, post-Jackon-5/pre-Black-and-White era. Backed by a disco-funk rhythm, there’s no reason this can’t serve as Your New Favorite Weekend Anthem for months to come. Loverboy’s got nothing on these guys.
Other highlights include “Get the Picture”, which legitimately echoes James Brown-type funk, its murky-hot guitar line providing all the authenticity it needs. Drummer Joey Peebles plays his cards perfectly as well, offering up a lazy, somewhat subdued snare drum performance that slinks in step with the slithering snake the tune is. “Dream On” and “You and I (Outta This Place)”, meanwhile, keep the tempos up and the intricacies tighter than they’ve been in the past. It comes as no shock that Andrews’ vocal performance mimics that of his one-time mentor, Lenny Kravitz, and at least on the latter, the similarities are especially uncanny. It all fits perfectly.
A bit surprisingly, what may amount to the most revelatory moments are the ones where his band, Orleans Avenue, is asked to steer the ship without vocals. Even fringe fans know this isn’t a particularly new approach for Shorty records, but the added intrigue here comes in the form of the former Tony! Toni! Toné! member’s production presence. “Sunrise” is subdued and wonderful. A should-be favorite of the Weather Channel, the song’s horns are bright, jazzy and prominent while the rest of the players sit back and lightly provide background chatter, single-handedly cooking up Sunday morning brunch after a long Saturday night. “Vieux Carre” is much more Shorty-like as the combination of underused percussive sounds and his loud, pop-funk horns embody his NOLA roots in a blend only he knows how to present. Without words, it needs his unique touch to survive and not only is the track living, but it also feels alive.
Actually, it’s that precise invigorating palpability that makes Say This to Say That one of Trombone Shorty’s most well-rounded sets to date. Gone is the rushed expectation that served as a fatal flaw for his last few records and in is a fuller sense of self, a confidence bred by sheer patience that allows everyone involved to feel the security of an idea completely realized. The Shaadiq/Andrews tandem is one of unlimited potential and, at least in this case, exciting success.
They also create an energy that in no fathomable way could be fueled by the strength of mere McNuggets or McFlurries. These guys, rather, are akin to the most savory blend of jambalaya the bayou could possibly offer. Eat up.