For their debut album, New Jersey duo Solid Bronze embrace the greats of 1970s funk and soul. Produced by Chris Hartford and Mickey “Dean Ween” Melchiondo, The Fruit Basket draws heavily from the likes of Curtis Mayfield, Sly Stone, Archie Sheep, and the more electric period of Miles Davis, while hints of early psychedelia and R&B bleed into its sound. Boasting a healthy contribution of notable artists – including Parliament/Funkadelic guitarist Michael “Kidd Funkadelic” Hampton, Morphine saxophonist Dana Colley, and Ween keyboardist Glenn McClelland – Solid Bronze produce a debut album that supersedes the quality implied by their name; one which demonstrates their talent as musicians and aficionados of their genre.
Opening track “Papa’s Bug” sets the general tone, immediately launching into an energized funky drum beat, punchy bassline, bright staccato clavinet chords, and tasteful guitar licks. Gentle, stacked vocals take the song to a soulful, almost gospel, chorus, and a short guitar solo. Tracks like “Hard to Keep the Faith” maintain this animated feel, resting on melodic horn interjections and a pithy vocal refrain, later shifting to a restrained, but stylish, drum solo. “Midnite Goose” is certainly the standout track as Solid Bronze make their best P-Funk impression. Replete with amusing lyrics – “Pass me the juice it’s the midnite goose”; “Ya’ll got any golden eggs for a goose like me” – comical spoken word and heavily pitch-manipulated vocals, Solid Bronze don’t sacrifice the funk to deliver a song both engaging and endearing.
At other times, the duo take the album in a more relaxed direction. Single “The Invisible Man” sees guest artist CLEW singing languidly, although with perhaps unnecessary Auto-Tune, over a subdued rhythm section. Meanwhile, “The Critter Walk” has saxophone and vocals croon over a simple beat. These tracks add a welcomed variety to the album while also maintaining an engagingness of their own. Closing track “Like that Ol’ Saying Goes” operates as a laid-back extended jam, as a guitar solo rooted in the tone and licks of 1960s psychedelia leisurely moves over a gentle organ. Vocals pick up in the middle of the song, and later a synth lead, seemingly extracted from a 1950s sci-fi flick, comes in to abruptly close the track just as you’re expecting it to kick into gear.
This problem is unfortunately shared with the album’s instrumental tracks. On “Paradise Lounge” flute, guitar and horns play countermelodies over a shuffling drum groove that, although adeptly arranged, becomes stagnant by the song’s end. Similarly, “Mumbo Jumbo”, the longest track of the album, comes across as overly indulgent as a pervading, but somewhat underwhelming, guitar solo plays out over six minutes of interspersed horn licks that fail to warrant the track’s length. “Bronze Magic” is, fortunately, one of the more refined tracks of the album. Although still composed of meandering melodies, it cultivates a unique ethereal tone as horns wail over a sporadic clavinet and discordant piano to create a sense of weightlessness. The song well demonstrates the power of a masterful arrangement to create ambient tones, dispensing with a heavy reliance on effects.
The Fruit Basket is a strong debut that demonstrates Solid Bronze’s talent as musicians and connoisseurs of their genre. The album well captures the sound of 1970s funk and soul, resting on solid songwriting and powerful arrangements. One will be left excited for what the duo release next.