Funk is the most egalitarian of the musical genres that have emerged since the dawning of rock and roll. This is manifested in the relationship between vocalists and the members of the funk band. Musicians have pretty much been an afterthought in much of the public’s mind since Frank Sinatra joined Tommy Dorsey’s band. That situation was often untenable in a democratic genre such as jazz, but rock and R&B were both tailor made for a talented and charismatic vocalist to be elevated over the band and even other singers.
In the cases where a musician – usually a guitar player – managed to reach superstardom, then he or she usually sang as well. Funk bands are the one rock era outfit in which the band members received some level of respect. That was the case even with artists such James Brown and Sly Stone. Both gave their sidemen and women ample space to create, and musicians such as Maceo Parker and Larry Graham became stars themselves. That is “power of many” is what listeners hear on Relentless, the new CD by the Charles Walker Band.
The 10 songs on Relentless are the musical playground where sultry vocalist Porshe Carmon and the band members show that they can play well together. Carmon is a versatile vocalist who can move from serious songs such as “Momma’s Burden,” a tune that finds her having a conversation with a troubled and often neglectful mother, and the high tempo and brassy “Sold,” a track that serves as a protest of the bill of goods that the rich and powerful sell the middle class and poor, to fun and funky dance numbers.
The band does not shy away from addressing social issues. In addition to “Momma’s Burden” and “Sold,” the album includes the inspirational “Hope.” However, the group aims to get hips shaking on the dance floor, and Relentless has plenty of offerings on that score. Tunes like “Soul Deep” sport lyrics that invite dancers to shake their collective moneymakers while serving as a platform for Walker to display his skills on the keyboard and saxophone.
I watched the group’s perform “Higher” in a video posted on their website, with Walker impressively moving from a call and response with Carmon on keyboards to a call and response with the vocalist while playing the saxophone. Watching footage of Charles Walker Band performance is probably the best way to get a measure of the act. This is a band that is best enjoyed live, which is probably the best compliment that you can give a funk band. However, unless you’re in Milwaukee or Illinois it’s unlikely that you will see them live. In that case, Relentless is more than an adequate substitute. Recommended
By Howard Dukes