New Orleans-based jazz/funk collective Galactic have been around long enough for their career to approach the double-edged status of “legendary”. Typically, when a band has slogging around for more their 20 years, talks about their careers take up the form of a rough draft for a Behind the Music episode. Galactic, on the other hand, never lost sight of the fun. When guitarist Jeff Rains, drummer Stanton Moore, bassist Robert Mercurio, saxophonist Ben Ellman, and organist Rich Vogel joined forces in the ’90s, it’s possible that they did not have longevity on the brain, only good times. If so, it’s to their advantage. The star-speckled release Into the Deep may not hurl a whole lot of challenges to the listener but it still brings truckloads of all the simple joys that tightly played R&B can bring.
Since Into the Deep features so many noteworthy vocalists, Galactic opts for it to be a more song-oriented album. The jams are still here, though. In fact the album opens with an absolute barn-burner called “Sugar Doosie”. “Long Live the Borgne” is short, but still sounds like a Medeski, Scofield, Martin and Wood clone went back in time to drop a little controlled substance (the octave bends are the trip here). “Buck 77” is probably the darkest thing here, slowing the tempo and atmosphere to near-trip hop levels. The lengthiest jam is saved for last as “Today’s Blues” wraps up Into the Deep in the style of vocal-less gospel.
The guest roster is something to behold considering that Galactic made personal connections with these people over the years. JJ Grey projects the loudest on the updated soul number “Higher and Higher” by commanding you to “shout it from the highest peak.” A little less intense but no less driving is “Dolla Dive” with David Shaw and Maggie Koerner. Here, a refined form of ’70s funk is a backdrop for a more modern urban sing/rap from Shaw. Brushy One String’s “Chicken in the Corn” doesn’t sound so much like a musical collaboration but more of a remix job, as in, “What if Galactic grafted some electronic jazz onto southern blues?” If you prefer something more laid back, there’s always “Does It Really Make a Difference” where Mavis Staples sings overtop something that could easily pass for that family band of old. Ryan Montbleau’s soulful voice on “Domino” doesn’t draw too much attention to itself, helping the song stay rooted in some easygoing sidewalk funk.
The album’s centerpiece is the title track, the one song that you can’t help but hum even after listening to it once. Macy Gray’s squeaky croak courts the mid-tempo urban anthem through mentions of hopscotch and double dutch and , regrettably, the “darkest before the dawn”. The chorus, in all its catchy glory, is layer upon layer of vocals, giving you your own personal choir calling out “Into the deep we go!” You just need to ignore lyrics like “You’re the keys to all my churches / Open up the door” and you’ll be just fine.
And so Galactic continues to fly, not into uncharted territory but to the territories that we found before, explored, had fun, left, and sort of forgot about for a while. Bands like Galactic are good for this sort of thing: reviving yesterday’s sounds without the gimmicks.