I know very little going into this one, and that's totally fine. These are the moments you get to just appreciate the music in itself, without getting caught up in what you know about the band. There's no skewing of judgement in anyway, there's just the ability to enjoy things for how they sound.
Only thing we need to know going in is that this band has taken on the task of covering Sly and the Family Stone, home of some of the best mainstream soul and funk ever.
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The first song, "Stand," gives us about three minutes or so of just smooth jazz, then we're joined by the voices of Vernon Reid, Bernie Worrell, and Sandra St. Victor. The song builds, but not jarringly. It's perfect in the blend of lyrics and music, as the point is made clearly to get up and live for what you want. It's sung and portrayed instrumentally so beautifully, you feel like there's a live band really pushing you for it. Yet, even with the punches of music together, the song maintains a great light
I can't help but giggle when the bajo starts in on "Sly Notions." See, my roommate just discovered that Steven Martin has a band and fronts it with a banjo. It was a delightful moment. Anywhos, this song has really got something to it. The combination of banjo with what I believe to be clarinet, or some similar woodwind, and the other horns just giving the backing beat, is unexpectedly amazing. It's got the groove of the Saturday Night Live band, with the soul of Sly, all brought together by Steven.
"Que Sera, Sera" with Martha Wainwright is unlike anything you've ever experienced - this I guarantee. The whole thing is approached so lightly and lovely that you can't help but understand that this was truly the way the song was meant to be heard. In a tough time, you sometimes need to give in to the sadder music, but this provides a message of hope as well, as is classic here. Seriously, close your eyes and lay your head back. Mhmm.
Things pick up a bit for "M'Lady," featuring Dean Bowman, who I can only describe as a lower-toned James Brown on first listen. He's got the horns backing him up whenever his words aren't happening. There's also this bass that keeps the song moving. This is a dance number in the show, for sure - we can get funky here.
Shilpa Ray comes on for "Everyday People." The song barely registers at first, just giving some odd background sounds, almost like the band is warming up instead of playing from their sheets. The voice that eventually comes in is ghostly, having a lot of echo effect applied. This a soul-based version of Florence. It's a different adaptation of the song we're probably more familiar with, but there's elements of reminders there, even if it's just in the catch of the lyrics from here to there.
Bernie Worrell takes on "Bernie Interlude" so quickly (0:42) with an organ that you'd almost miss it, like I did, if you were caught up for even a moment elsewhere. I guess it does it's job.
Sandra St. Victor is back for "Skin I'm In," and she's bringing in the funky voice you'd have to expect from Sly and the Family Stone. This is probably the closest in-mind rendition so far. There's not a ton of sense to the singing sections of the song - it's more structured in the background vocals that Sandra's take on the song. It's just a generally good funk song though, providing a nice track for the album's overall concept.
"Sly Notions 2/Fun" is exactly what it promises. The old group from the first rendition is back together, strings and banjo and all. They're together for another song, but even loser this time around, enjoying the freedom of their instruments for only a few minutes while they can. I've been reading Mockingjay between this, so everything in my head is filtered through the scenes there. Dean Bowman's providing some odd vocal cadences though that do take us out of whatever world I was placing it all in.
The last set of vocal appearances are made for "Time" and they include Dean Bowman and Vernon Reid. It's a slow, bluesy kind of jam, with not much more to give as we've been so meticulously putting these songs together. They find the strength though, and give more soul till the end than we've experienced yet. It's passionate. It's also nine minutes long, leaving me plenty of time to brush my teeth before heading into the final leg of this thing.
"Thank You For Takin' Me To Africa ((Bill Laswell remix))" comes out next, and there's definitely an R&B feel to this one unlike the rest. Maybe that's where we're expected to consider this a remix? It's certainly not along the lines of anything I've ever heard labeled as such, but that's the beauty of music - defy expectations. There's just a good steady beat going, giving something to tap your foot too as the rest of the horns take control of the melody portion of things, easing us along.
The final track on the album is "Life." It's only a minute long, but plays us out in this odd little way that I would have never thought an album based on this group ever would - at least not from the start. It's cute though, in a way.
- "Sly Notions"
- "Que Sera, Sera"