The Menahan Street Band: The Crossing

The Menahan Street Band continue to pump out tight grooves.

The Menahan Street Band

The Crossing

Label: Dunham
US Release Date: 2012-10-30
UK Release Date: 2012-10-29

The Menahan Street Band are a part of the Daptone family, which usually means a band is a force to be reckoned with. The Daptone label is based in Brooklyn, and it supports a group of musicians who love soul, funk, Afrobeat, and anything that combines all those things and grooves. Sharon Jones and her immaculately-dressed Dap Kings are probably the label's best-known act, and several current and former Dap Kings make up the Menahan Street Band, an instrumental soul-funk group. Their first album, Make the Road By Walking, came out on Dunham records, a Daptone imprint started by Sharon Jones’ former lead guitarist Tommy “TNT” Brenneck in 2008. Though the Menahan Street Band has looser rules than the Dap Kings concerning attire -- they usually don't wear tuxes, though once when I saw them live, Mr. Brenneck was wearing an enviable green velvet blazer -– they are also capable of creating extremely tight grooves.

So tight, in fact, that Jay-Z sampled the title track from their debut for his track “Roc Boys (and the Winner is…)”. Until recently, the Menahan Street Band also backed Daptone’s “Screamin’ Eagle of Soul”, Charles Bradley, laying down big, bluesy vamps behind Bradley’s powerful vocals. (Bradley now has a new unit, which still includes some of the Menahan Band’s members). After four years, the group has released their second solo album, The Crossing, which once again shows their talent at creating tight instrumental funk.

Everything on The Crossing is buoyed by firm backbeats and highly synchronized horn section. The brass almost always plays as a unit, rarely allowing single horns to spiral off into self-indulgent displays of virtuosity. The horn playing can sound vaguely Middle Eastern, reminiscent of something that might drift out of a café in the score of an old black and white movie set in an exotic foreign locale. Brenneck, the guitarist, picks thin notes, often high and acoustic sounding, or sends out shivers of thick blues modulated by a wah-wah pedal. The bass is lithe and expressive but heavy, like a battering ram. The pace feels a little slower on The Crossing than it was on their first record, and the new album is about six minutes shorter too; the band knows exactly what it wants to do, does it, and does nothing more. The precision of the guitar, power of the bass, tight cohesion of the horns, and crispness of the percussion all combine to give the music a slight feeling of controlled threat. There is a military-like level of discipline that hides remarkable and dangerous power beneath this music’s shiny, funky surface.

Due to their clear level of command and control, the Menahan gang is capable of some marvelous surprises. When they let down their hair down, their music can have a totally different impact. On their debut, this was most visible on the song “Home Again”, which rode cheery, cascading horns and a gently descending guitar line. It was all bounce and relaxed vigor, a sashay down the sidewalk rather than a powerful swagger. The Crossing has a similar killer track, the vaguely melancholy “Everyday a Dream”. The brass duels with the organ, battling to play sweet little runs, and two guitars take turns articulating a similar progression. The drums blow along, completely unconcerned with the action taking place around them. It’s compact, danger-free, streamlined, and impossible to dislike.

The Menahan Street Band are a stellar group of musicians who successfully and seemingly effortlessly combine individual flair into a highly cohesive approach. They are adept playing behind singers or creating their own simmering grooves; they’re also excellent live performers. You can’t ask for much more than that.







Greta Gerwig's Adaptation of Loneliness in Louisa May Alcott's 'Little Women'

Greta Gerwig's film adaptation of Louisa May Alcott's classic novel Little Women strays from the dominating theme of existential loneliness.


The Band's Discontented Third LP, 1970's 'Stage Fright', Represented a World Braving Calamity

Released 50 years ago this month, the Band's Stage Fright remains a marker of cultural unrest not yet remedied.


Natalie Schlabs Starts Living the Lifetime Dream With "That Early Love" (premiere + interview)

Unleashing the power of love with a new single and music video premiere, Natalie Schlabs is hoping to spread the word while letting her striking voice be heard ahead of Don't Look Too Close, the full-length album she will release in October.


Rufus Wainwright Makes a Welcome Return to Pop with 'Unfollow the Rules'

Rufus Wainwright has done Judy Garland, Shakespeare, and opera, so now it's time for Rufus to rediscover Rufus on Unfollow the Rules.


Jazz's Denny Zeitlin and Trio Get Adventurous on 'Live at Mezzrow'

West Coast pianist Denny Zeitlin creates a classic and adventurous live set with his long-standing trio featuring Buster Williams and Matt Wilson on Live at Mezzrow.


The Inescapable Violence in Netflix's I'm No Longer Here (Ya no estoy aqui)

Fernando Frías de la Parra's I'm No Longer Here (Ya no estoy aqui) is part of a growing body of Latin American social realist films that show how creativity can serve a means of survival in tough circumstances.


Arlo McKinley's Confessional Country/Folk Is Superb on 'Die Midwestern'

Country/folk singer-songwriter Arlo McKinley's debut Die Midwestern marries painful honesty with solid melodies and strong arrangements.


Viserra Combine Guitar Heroics and Female Vocals on 'Siren Star'

If you ever thought 2000s hard rock needed more guitar leads and solos, Viserra have you covered with Siren Star.


Ryan Hamilton & The Harlequin Ghosts Honor Their Favorite Songs With "Oh No" (premiere)

Ryan Hamilton's "Oh No" features guest vocals from Kay Hanley of Letters to Cleo, and appears on Nowhere to Go But Everywhere out 18 September.


Songwriter Shelly Peiken Revisits "Bitch" for '2.0' Album (premiere)

A monster hit for Meredith Brooks in the late 1990s, "Bitch" gets a new lease on life from its co-creator, Shelly Peiken. "It's a bit moodier than the original but it touts the same universal message," she says.


Leila Sunier Delivers Stunning Preface to New EP via "Sober/Without" (premiere)

With influences ranging from Angel Olsen to Joni Mitchell and Perfume Genius, Leila Sunier demonstrates her compositional prowess on the new single, "Sober/Without".


Speed the Plough Members Team with Mayssa Jallad for "Rush Hour" (premiere)

Caught in a pandemic, Speed the Plough's Baumgartners turned to a faraway musical friend for a collaboration on "Rush Hour" that speaks to the strife and circumstance of our time.


Great Peacock Stares Down Mortality With "High Wind" (premiere + interview)

Southern rock's Great Peacock offer up a tune that vocalist Andrew Nelson says encompasses their upcoming LP's themes. "You are going to die one day. You can't stop the negative things life throws at you from happening. But, you can make the most of it."


The 80 Best Albums of 2015

Travel back five years ago when the release calendar was rife with stellar albums. 2015 offered such an embarrassment of musical riches, that we selected 80 albums as best of the year.


Buridan's Ass and the Problem of Free Will in John Sturges' 'The Great Escape'

Escape in John Sturge's The Great Escape is a tactical mission, a way to remain in the war despite having been taken out of it. Free Will is complicated.


The Redemption of Elton John's 'Blue Moves'

Once reviled as bloated and pretentious, Elton John's 1976 album Blue Moves, is one of his masterpieces, argues author Matthew Restall in the latest installment of the 33 1/3 series.


Whitney Take a Master Class on 'Candid'

Although covers albums are usually signs of trouble, Whitney's Candid is a surprisingly inspired release, with a song selection that's eclectic and often obscure.


King Buzzo Continues His Reign with 'Gift of Sacrifice'

King Buzzo's collaboration with Mr. Bungle/Fantômas bassist Trevor Dunn expands the sound of Buzz Osborne's solo oeuvre on Gift of Sacrifice.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.