On its first album in a decade the Sugarman 3 sounds as fresh as the moment of its debut.
It’s not like the Sugarman 3 and their compatriots have been clerking at the local Shell station in the decade that’s passed since the soul masters last released an album. Neal Sugarman’s been honking his sax with Al Green, Mark Ronson, Steve Cropper, and Amy Winehouse, and running the Daptone label all while serving as a fulltime member of Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings beside Dave Guy, Fernando Velez, Joe Crispiano, and Bosco Mann, all of whom appear beside S3 veterans Rudy Albin and Adam Scone.
So, how’s the music? In short? Soulful. Just fine. Tight. Smooth. You know, what you’d expect from these soul-soaked funksters. The in-house material -- pieces such as “Rudy’s Intervention” and “Jealous Moon”––perfectly exemplify the sass of the Mann-Albin rhythm section, the fried freakiness of Scone’s organ lines, and the holy holiness of the horns that blaze with beauty throughout.
These are as solid as the covers that populate the rest of the release. And about those: It’s true that we’ve all heard “But It’s Alright” probably twice a day since five years before we were conceived but hearing that familiar number here makes us realize that it’s as necessary as “Yesterday” or “Long Tall Sally”. Burt Bacharach and Hal David’s “What the World Needs Now” gets a deluxe remodeling, akin to your local trailer house being transformed into a penthouse. The Dapettes (Saundra Williams, Starr Duncan) turn up and add a little something-something to the track, making it all the more appealing with their sparse but deft touches.
Oddly or not, S3’s treatment of E.C. Cobb’s “Dirty Water” (the hit for the Standells) sounds more like a hit from the ‘60s on this recording than when it was a hit in the ‘60s. (Moreover, Sugarman demonstrates why he’s become such a sought-after player in recent times.) Mann’s “Brother T” might at first come off as underwhelming but it’s all the more powerful for its subtle touches and right powerful horn and organ turns. “Mellow Meeting” isn’t all that mellow, and “Love Went Away” will probably never leave you alone, the same as “Your Friendly Neighborhood Sugarman” and “Witch’s Boogaloo” casts their spell with aplomb.
No doubt there are voices crying that the neo-soul scene may have outlived its welcome -- though such voices are ill informed. This isn’t a trend, it’s the birth of a new era, one that is purer in its intentions than most contemporary blues records. Moreover, the return of Sugarman and his cohorts will send many a wise soul into the record bins of the past, seeking out the early chapters of a story that’s still only just begun to unfold.
The wait for the new Sugarman 3 record has decidedly been worth it and for good reason -- like virtually all the material Daptone has issued in its lifetime, this material is unpretentious, relaxed, and unconcerned with niche. It’s music, through and through, to hell with the marketing department and promo men. So why not sit back, enjoy it, and slide this one somewhere between your favorite King Curtis and Jimmy Smith albums?