SPEAK LOW: Hands Up! (Label: Lovemonk)

SPEAK LOW: Hands Up!

2009’s not been a bad year for funk. The followers have had much to enjoy – and some of the best has come from unusual sources. I’m thinking, of course, of Aussie band, Cooking On Three Burners; now, from maybe an odder source, comes another blistering funk album. Speak Low hail from Spain’s capital, Madrid – a city not known for funkiness …till now that is. ‘Hands Up’ is a big, unrelenting slab of Hammond-led funk from the six piece combo whose personnel were pulled from more traditional Spanish groups like Muchachito Bombo, Inferno and Sunday Drivers. But what Speak Low offer is as far from the usual flavours of Spain as you could imagine… think Muscle Shoals rather than La Mancha. The group stamp their template right from the start with ‘I Don’t Need No … What’ – a full-on Hammond attack with gritty, scratchy authentic funk guitar. ‘I Want My Money Back’ offers more of the same – though beefed up with brass and including a quasi-spoken vocal. There’s a rough vocal on ‘This Letter’ too while the tight brass riffing on ‘Unusual Tatami’ will recall prime time Average White Band; the track eventually takes off into something much looser however. ‘ Take Your Time’ is loose too – almost free form in places while ‘Soul Is What You Got’ is the most focused cut on offer … and for that it’s the quickest to connect with. Even that’s not an easy listen though. Like all nine cuts, it’s full of energy and attack and in some ways that’s the album’s chief drawback. I said up top the music’s “unrelenting”… it is. There’s little light or shade and nowhere to hide from the funk – though a patient listen will reveal a hidden track at the end, that’s just a touch lighter … a kind of swinging, big band affair – just a little different. Overall though, hard-bitten funk followers will find little to complain about here.
(BB) 3/5