MENAHAN STREET BAND: Make The Road By Walking (Label: Dunham)

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MENAHAN STREET BAND: Make The Road By Walking

Here’s a real leftfielder which again proves that there’s much, much, more to soul and jazz and funk than the casual critics would have us believe. First off, I know nothing about the Menahan Street Band save that they record for the Dunham label. The fact that Dunham is a subsidiary of the envelope-pushing Daptone set-up made me want to learn more. I discovered that the band is the brain child of Thomas Brenneck, the guitarist with the Dap-Kings. In down time from his work with the likes of Sharon Jones and Amy Winehouse, Brenneck started to cut tracks in his Brooklyn house, down on Menahan Street. Working with a large instrumental ensemble (featuring lots of brass players), his first result – this album’s title cut – was snapped up and sampled by Jay Z for his award winning ‘Roc Boys’ track. Here, hearing it in its entirety, you’ll discover a brassy, languid, lugubrious workout. It’s almost funerary but its simplicity and repetition makes it totally infectious and that’s this album’s chief attraction. It’s hard to pin down and you can’t easily define the sound, but it is totally infectious. In places it will remind you of 60s movie soundtracks; elsewhere the flavours are 70s and 80s TV themes – like the ‘A Team’. On one cut ‘Home Again’, I was reminded of the almost off-key brass riff on the Astors’ Stax classic ‘Candy’ while on ‘Montego Bay’ there’s a distinct whiff of dub reggae. On ‘The Traitor’ the chinking guitar sound betrays Brenneck’s work with Whitehouse and her influence on Duffy, yet ‘Karina’ is almost cool soul-jazz. Of course, though, the sound of the Menahan Street band is actually none of those things. Hear it at its most refined/undefined on the LP’s only cover – ‘Going The Distance’ (from the original ‘Rocky’ movie)… all the ingredients we’ve just mentioned are in there, but the end result is infectious … and unique.
(BB) 4/5