I might have given up on Soul Biscuits, the new recording by Randy Muller’s funk-hop collective the Brooklyn Soul Biscuits, after the second song if I wasn’t reviewing the album. However, I had to hang in there until the end. Soul Biscuits started out with a nice instrumental smooth jazz cut called “Beautiful Day.” The record also closes with a more percussive and brassier, Young Holt Unlimited styled version of the same song. The second version is stronger, but the former version is cool.
The second track, “Bring Me Down” did just that. The main problem with “Bring Me Down” is a very awkward sounding rap. This piece might have sounded cutting edge if it had been including in a non hip-hop song in 1983, but this is 2013.
The funny thing is that Soul Biscuits includes a couple of solid tracks where a rapper spits some lyrics – the most notable is “Emotional." This track is a duet between vocalist Lydia Caesar and rapper Flo Blitz. The lyrics form a conversation between them, and that is what makes this cut so effective – besides an absolutely infectious musical arrangement. Caesar wants to hang on to a man who is slipping from her grasp while Flo Blitz, who has delivery that is in sync with the current rap sound, lets his counterpart know that he entered the arrangement reluctantly: “You know who chose who to go steady/and you know who told who they wasn’t ready/this ain’t a frat/I ain’t crossed into it/I was forced into it/bossed into it/deep sea loving/I was tossed into it/no inner tube/no intro/no interlude/now I’m sounding all ruthless/making excuses/throwing up deuces/I’m out."
That’s track 11 on this 14-song album. Fortunately, I didn’t have to wait that long to realize that “Bring Me Down” was not representative. “Strange Things” is one of several where Muller leads Brooklyn Soul Biscuits back to the danceable, night club funk of salad days of working with Skyy in the late 1970s and early 80s. On that cut, Muller finds pleasure in the dual facets of his lady’s personality. There is girl next-door persona that the lady dons for public consumption. Then there is behind closed doors lady who works her sensual powers.
Caesar again steps to center stage on “Off the Ground.” Actually, bassist Kevin Scott joins her in the on this funky, up-tempo ballad. Scott drives the song forward with his plunking and thumping bass player that will give fans of 70s era funk warm memories of legends such as Larry Graham and Louis Johnson.
Mueller finds ample time to return to his roots with Brass Construction and BT Express, two groups that mastered the tragically underappreciated art form of the R&B instrumental. “The Worm” is both fast paced and sparse number moved by Muller’s imaginative keyboard soloing. The aptly named “Funky Like That” features Muller’s gospel tinged Hammond B3, Mike Cirincione’s wah wah guitar, the James Brown tinged horns and Muller’s channeling of Bobby Byrd’s vocals.
Muller is a funk survivor. He can wear that title because it seems that funk fans regularly say goodbye to some of the pioneers. Muller uses the album to delivery a history lesson. He reminds us that great funk begins with the instrumentation. Jazz’s younger cousin simply must have musicians who can play with skill without sacrificing that thing that gets hips wiggling. Great funk also features tight lyrics, or at the very least hooks that worm their way into the listener’s mind. Muller and the Brooklyn Soul Biscuits largely manage to hit all of the items on their funky checklist. Recommended
By Howard Dukes