The term super group can be misleading. Several musicians can team up, and they may all be famous or successful, the leaders of other groups with impressive credentials. But that doesn’t guarantee super results. And sometimes dubbing something a “super group” buries a band under a pile of unrealistic expectations. The band Dumpstaphunk is close to a super group, but if they are feeling any extra pressure on their new album, they don’t show it. Dirty Word is full of potent, self-assured funk.
D-phunk includes Ivan and Ian Neville, the sons of Aaron and Art Neville respectively. Those two dads had a hand in many of the foundational soul and funk recordings that came out of New Orleans in the ’60s and ’70s, and their sons are following in this rich tradition. (Ivan has played with a slew of stars, including Keith Richards and Rufus; Ian cut his teeth playing in the Neville Brothers band.) The D-phunk drummer Nikki Glaspie made up for her lack of famous parentage by manning the drums for an up-and-comer by the name of Beyonce. The two bassists, Nick Daniels and Tony Hall, have plenty of high-level experience as well. And, in case the Dumpsta gang were feeling a lack of star power in the studio, they invited guests like Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea, Ani Difanco, and Art Neville himself to contribute to the album.
Dirty Word draws on all the tools of funk and uses them for maximum (super?) power. The organ lurches and shivers, while coils of wah-wah guitar keep tightening until they explode. Plus there’s that extra dose of bass. “Dumpsta” implies something big and weighty—that thing is the beat. There’s no glide and shimmy in this music. The drums strut and swagger with a heavy tread and a lot of crashing cymbals.
Since the men and women in Dumpstaphunk have such strong connections to the sounds of their ancestors, they fill their music with references to previous funk groups. The guitar tones on “Dancin’ To The Truth” channel Sly Stone — as does the sentiment expressed in the song’s title — and of course there are passages that sound like the Meters, and a fondness for group-sing that would make George Clinton proud. The band covers Betty Davis’s hard-hitting “If I’m In Luck I Just Might Get Picked Up” from 1973, and Graham Central Station’s “Water” from 1975 (which also brings to mind the old Stax hit “You Don’t Miss Your Water”).
So Dumpstaphunk contains talented musicians, and they’re adept at funk — no surprises there. But the song “They Don’t Care” is different, opening with an introduction that could work for a piece of radio rock, before incorporating some trademark New Orleans percussion as it winds down. And “I Know You Know” plays like another muscular romp before it turns a sudden corner into the album’s sweetest hook. “I know you cheated,” sings Ivan Neville, but it’s D-phunk who seem to have cheated and sneaked their way into that chorus. Sometimes, super happens when you look to escape what you and your fans already know.