The Upshot: One of the year’s best albums, near-flawless in fact, simultaneously hypnotic and danceable raw funk, sinewy soul, and steamy Afro-beat.
BY FRED MILLS
Brooklyn funkateers Ikebe Shakedown first pinged the national radar in 2009 with the Hard Steppin’ mini album, a sinewy, sultry Afro-beat dance party that also featured some of the like-minded Budos Band gang. As an introductory statement, it was as revelatory as similarly-positioned arrivals, including debuts by the Dap-Kings, Antibalas, and the aforementioned Budos. Since then, the instrumental outfit has released two more albums (Ikebe Shakedown, in 2011, and Stone By Stone, in 2014) and a number of 7” singles, now arriving with The Way Home. It marks a reunion of sorts between the band and the Midwest funk/soul devotees at Colemine Records, which had released the debut (and, last year, reissued it as a numbered/colored vinyl limited edition); for albums two and three, the Ubiquity label did the honors.
The alliance is apt, for Colemine has been knocking ‘em out of the park this past year with amazing albums from Orgone, the Sure Fire Soul Ensemble, Soul Scratch, and Durand Jones & the Indications. The Way Home finds Ikebe Shakedown having not so much shed, as simply dialed back, some of the West African influences in favor of a more broadly defined funk and soul aesthetic. Horns remain prominent, of course, and when saxman Mike Buckley steps up for his solos, the Fela comparisons can’t be avoided; one track, “Assassin,” also brings in key rhythmic elements from African highlife. But overall it seems that the way Ikebe now integrates its horn arrangements (sax, flute, trumpet, trombone) with the percussion, keys, and guitar makes it closer to the classic Stax/Volt model, at times also conjuring images of vintage Motown and Muscle Shoals setups.
Indeed, “Penny the Snitch” could be from a long-lost Blaxploitation soundtrack by Isaac Hayes, from Robin Schmidt’s chicken-pickin’ guitar and wah-wah flourishes to Dave Bourla’s percussion (bongos and congas?). Likewise, on “Blue Giant” we’re in pure Curtis Mayfield territory, Schmidt’s guitar slipping between bluesy riffs and more wah-wah, while Buckley’s flute and Bourla’s percussion lend a cinematic, chase scene-like vibe. Speaking of the movies, “Brushfire” pulls off the impressive trick of sounding like a psychedelic spaghetti western overture, but with funk horns instead of mariachis; you don’t hear a lot of funk in the desert, but damned if Ikebe doesn’t make it a reality.
Seriously, this is one of the best albums you’ll hear all year, and not just within the band’s chosen genre. It’s simultaneously hypnotic and danceable, and it gets better with every spin, too. Initial copies from Colemine are pressed on crystal clear vinyl and arrive in a deluxe gatefold sleeve (thick tip-on style) with each copy individually numbered. Download code included as well, a touch that a lot of labels overlook. Colemine consistently goes the extra mile, and they should be saluted for that—one of my favorite labels these days, period.
DOWNLOAD: “Blue Giant,” “Brushfire,” “Shifting Sands”