Who says New Orleans isn’t the greatest North American music city? Its pedigree is rich, filled with countless legendary acts ranging from all walks of musical life. From jazz great Louis Armstrong to the unfathomably influential the Meters; latter-day legends such as Allen Toussaint and Irma Thomas to such modern day standouts as Kermit Ruffins and Trombone Shorty; from the elegant sounds of jazz music and Wynton Marsalis to the inarguable soul rock of the Neville brothers; New Orleans has it all. It’s like a musical mecca for anyone who claims to have good taste.
One of the most overlooked treasures buried deep within the Big Easy’s musical lore is Galactic, the brainchild of star drummer Stanton Moore that fuses a blend of funk, jazz, R&B, blues and rock in a way that is both transcendent and infectious. The group’s latest release, The Other Side of Midnight, proves its place among the best current day New Orleans artists by capturing the quintet in its best light: A live setting. Recorded at the legendary Tipitina’s in October of 2010, the effort features countless guest appearances, aggressively tight funk and more sweat than a 110 degree August night in the middle of the French Quarter.
The best moments come when Cyril Neville, a former Meter himself, lends his vocal talents to tracks spread throughout the record. “Heart of Steel” and “You Don’t Know” are the two clear-cut finest performances The Other Side of Midnight offers. Neville’s take on Irma Thomas’ vocals during “Heart of Steel” is both raw and sincere. The repeated “I should have known better” line that launches each couplet of each verse is so soulful, any listener may forget to pay attention to the emotional “Deep down inside / I got a heart of steel / I’ll take the pain / Turn it into something real / Deep down inside / I got a heart of gold / It’s too late / To change the past / I’ll be the first to admit / I shoulda left well enough alone” chorus.
“You Don’t Know”, on the other hand, is just as fiery, though in a completely different manner. The upbeat funk that drives the track complements the R&B groove that slithers its way through “Heart of Steel” like a snake through the Honey Island Swamp. Both tracks maintain their own identity while still displaying the undercurrent of musical intensity this October night clearly provided. It’s atmosphere is hot. The people who paint it are sweaty. The elements that form the melting pot of musical influences combine to form an incredibly delicious result fit for any music fan.
The other Neville collaboration, “Gossip”, begins the night with fury as well, proving that the predominantly instrumental outfit should seriously consider hiring the singer full-time. The track features an inspired Moore’s extended drum solo packaged perfectly in between groove-heavy verses and even funkier choruses. It’s exactly what any fan of New Orleans music would expect from a night in New Orleans.
Other guest spots paint the album with a flare that bleeds gumbo and jambalaya. Trombone Shorty joins the group for the powerful “Cineramascope”, a five-minute romp that accentuates the true power a horn section can provide to any musical group, let alone one that calls New Orleans its home. The Soul Rebels Brass Band drops by for the memorable “Boe Money” and “From the Corner to the Block” to remind fans of the amount of difference a brass section can make as it lends a catchy hook that refuses to leave any listener’s brain hours after pressing the stop button. And the queen diva of bounce music, Big Freedia, hops on stage for “Double It”, a rousing end-of-the-night jam that caps a party-filled evening with a promise that the actual party itself is nowhere near ending, regardless of if the band is still plugged in.
In reality, that’s exactly what makes The Other Side of Midnight so great. It’s an event. Sure, the band has done this before with 2001’s We Love ‘Em Tonight, but this effort showcases why the group has been able to weather enough storms to still come out on top, almost 20 years after it began its existence. Simply put, Galactic is persistent. They continue to truck along — horns, organs, drums and guitars in tow — no matter the obstacles, no matter the mishaps, no matter the complications. Kind of sounds like a certain city by the bayou, now doesn’t it?