The Bamboos: Medicine Man

The Bamboos
Medicine Man
Tru Thoughts

Since their beginnings, the Bamboos have developed their soul and funk skills, retaining the authentic feel of New Orleans funk — think the Meters — while developing a contemporary soul sound that sits alongside the likes of The Dap-Kings, Charles Bradley or the recent Quantic and Alice Russell album Look Around The Corner. They quickly reached a level of praise from the more esoteric tastemakers and DJs on the soul and funk scene — the likes of Gilles Peterson and Adrian Gibson in the UK spring to mind — and could be guaranteed to fill the floor in both live and club settings. What the Bamboos never really had was a settled or regular vocalist that would fit their style of music. Russell provided two great cuts on their debut album, but it was their second album, Rawville, that would consolidate their approach and broaden their sound and appeal.

On Rawville, the Bamboos used vocalists for six of the 10 songs on the album with the likes of Russell, Ohmega Watts and crucially, fellow Aussie Kylie Auldist. The result was a more rounded sound which provided a cutting edge to the music and resulted in Auldist going onto become a mainstay on vocals for the next couple albums. On Medicine Man, Auldist contributes vocals to four songs and is joined by the likes of Aloe Blacc and Daniel Merriweather and another new great Australian female vocalist, Ella Thompson.

The Aloe Blacc track, “Where Does The Time Go” kicks off the album. Aloe has one of those voices that you either love or hate. It is slightly tremulous while slightly flat with not a great deal of variation in which to pitch him against the current crop of great soul singers.

I happen to love his voice. It’s a warm, friendly, almost comfortable voice that belongs to the 1970s. “What I Know” is classic Bamboos — stabbed organ, funk driven drum and bass and Auldlist’s soul drenched vocals, and then the horn section giving it some. “The Wilhem Scream” features Megan Washington’s stunning vocal delivery that recalls Motown and is accompanied by a gorgeous, serene and stately backing track. This is end of the night, last opportunity, grab that boy or girl of your dreams and whisk them off for a long slow dance. It’s now or never! I can’t stop playing this track and a highlight of what is a fantastic album.

“I Never”, the Daniel Merriweather track, is the weakest song on the album because of it being out of step with the rest of the tracks. It seems too light and to close to his Mark Ronson cuts. A good song, but on the wrong album. It sounds even more out of place when compared with the next track, the Stax-sounding “Midnight”, although again the vocal here, by Bobby Flynn, doesn’t quite carry the heavyweight musicianship that the Bamboos bring to the party. The Bamboos do what they do brilliantly. Whether you’re a fan or new to the band, there is much is discover and enjoy on this album and it is almost a guarantee this will be one of the soundtracks to your summer.

RATING 7 / 10
Call for essays, reviews, interviews, and list features for publication consideration with PopMatters.
Call for essays, reviews, interviews, and list features.