War - Evolutionary (2014)

War
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My reaction to learning that one of the 23 tracks on Evolutionary, the first album in 20 years by the band War, was a cover of the late Edwin Starr’s protest song “War,” ranged from ‘it’s about time,’ to ‘this actually makes too much sense to work.’ Still, the match of song to band is a match made in heaven on so many levels. Of course, there is the happy coincidence that War’s first big hit, “Spill The Wine,” released as Eric Burdon and War, dropped in 1970, the same year as Starr’s classic protest song.

Protest/socially relevant cuts occupied prominent space in War’s musical catalog – ranging from the cautionary “Slipping Into Darkness” to the satirical “Why Can’t We Be Friends.” The latter, released a year after President Nixon resigned and the same year that American helicopters ferried the last Americans from Vietnam, captured the mood of a war and scandal weary nation.

My reaction to learning that one of the 23 tracks on Evolutionary, the first album in 20 years by the band War, was a cover of the late Edwin Starr’s protest song “War,” ranged from ‘it’s about time,’ to ‘this actually makes too much sense to work.’ Still, the match of song to band is a match made in heaven on so many levels. Of course, there is the happy coincidence that War’s first big hit, “Spill The Wine,” released as Eric Burdon and War, dropped in 1970, the same year as Starr’s classic protest song.

Protest/socially relevant cuts occupied prominent space in War’s musical catalog – ranging from the cautionary “Slipping Into Darkness” to the satirical “Why Can’t We Be Friends.” The latter, released a year after President Nixon resigned and the same year that American helicopters ferried the last Americans from Vietnam, captured the mood of a war and scandal weary nation.

War’s “War (A Soldier’s Story)” comes just as the nation finds itself in the same place that it occupied in the last years of the Vietnam War –skeptical of government propaganda and assurances, broken spiritually and financially and weary of foreign entanglements but all too willing to mix it up with each other. “War (A Soldier’s Story)” showcases the band’s ability to incorporate the contemporary musical language while remaining musically distinct. The instrumental arrangement combines a funky piano riff with contemporary R&B and hip-hop infused percussion. Lyrically, the song combines Starr’s memorable hook (“War, what is it good for/Absolutely nothing”) with verses rapped with an increasing sense of urgency. The stories in those verses are told from the viewpoint of a soldier going to and returning from war, as well as his family. The rapped verses reveal that genre’s ability to add power and poignancy to a story that is rarely heard in mainstream hip-hop.

“One day my daddy got deployed/Came back from war unemployed/Everything that we say to him he get annoyed/War is something we should try to avoid.”

The 12 originals on Evolutionary reveal that War still has what it takes to speak fluently in a variety of musical languages. Evolutionary is an amalgamation of funk, jazz, Latin, soul with a dash of rock and hip-hop included despite the fact that only one founding member of the band, Lonnie Jordan, remains (several other members perform separately as the Low Rider Band).

 The originals include the rock infused “Inspiration” and the reggae/Latin styled mid-tempo “Mamacita.” “Bounce” is a funky number that incorporates those modern production techniques in a cut I could easily hear blasting from those low riders with the hydraulic suspensions. Some might view the track as the “Low Rider” for the 21st Century.

War wasn’t known for its ballad work back in the day. However, Evolutionary includes the slow jams “Just Like Us” and “Outer Space” that prove War’s ability to operate at different tempo. The former combines an acoustic guitar with Latin tinged percussion and tells the story of guy who has a flash of regret after encountering people and places that remind him of his old flame. “Outer Space” has a synthy introduction that might lead the listener to think the track his heading in a star gazing direction. However the arrangement is a balance of contemporary R&B production techniques with some old school funk and a story of man willing to go beyond the bounds of earth to find that special lady.

The “Low Rider” of the 20th Century can be heard on disc 2. The second disc is a celebration of War’s musical legacy. The disc is a remastered edition of the band’s 1976 Greatest Hits album, and true to its name it contains all but one of the ground breaking group’s notable songs – the exception being “Spill The Wine.”

The band took the name War in 1969 at a time when the nation was deeply involved in Vietnam and the  anti-war movement was strong. The name signaled the band’s intent to transform their instruments and voices into weapons of reconciliation and love, and War stuck to that mission through tragedy, changes in musical tastes and personnel changes. While the battle for peace, racial harmony and economic justice continues, Evolutionary serves as War’s “mission accomplished” banner to their efforts to bring some funky fun to the game while also elevating minds. Recommended.

By Howard Dukes                                       

 
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