By: Dennis Cook
Pass the peas and gimme some more! This is the kinda together yet deliciously loose (largely) instrument soul-jazz that turns a DJ's fingers black and sends him driving around the countryside to search backwater vinyl depots and rummage sales. But, this is a livin', breathin' today band, making this funky sound in real time and without the stink of nostalgia or homage. Plug & Play (One Note Records) shows The New Mastersounds, joined by powerhouse singer Dionne Charles on four cuts, would have been a perfect fit for James Brown's People Records stable – slinky, forward arching, mounted on the good foot. Like Fred Wesley & The New JB's, Bobby Byrd, Marva Whitney or Maceo & The Macks in their day, the Mastersounds know groove and furrow it out like hogs on truffles.
It isn't work to be swept away by the wah-wah addled seduction of "Thermal Bad" or the organ splash of "Altitude," but even better, they never let things fall into a same-y pocket, varying their funkin' with smart, flexible songwriting and playing touched by a churchly fervor. "Kuna Matata," with Fela-like vocalizing from guest Troy Howe, suggests a merger of Kuti and early '70s Stevie Wonder. So tasty! Both Charles and the band miraculously recall Lyn "The Female Preacher" Collins of "Think (About It)" fame on "Looking for an Answer." To, in any way, bring to mind one of the great soul singles is a massive testament to the depth and energy of The New Mastersounds, and further, their instincts in adding Charles to the mix this time.
Many instrumental acts falter, often completely, when they screw with their formula. What Plug & Play reveals is these guys have a general vibe but eschew any formulas. There's the potential for an Apollo rockin' revue within these eleven tracks, a true show that embraces soul music in a global sense. Eddie Roberts (guitar, tambourine), Simon Allen (drums), Pete Shand (bass) and Joe Tatton (organ, piano) play with the vigor and apostolic passion of '60s soul pioneers like Sly Stone, Ike Turner and Brown as well as the early Acid Jazz Records gang (there's nice echoes of the instrumental side of Mother Earth here, particularly in Roberts' sometimes Matt Deighton-esque riffing). The New Mastersounds do tribute to both inspirational streams while pulling off the rare feat of making a funky studio album that doesn't seem like a pale imitation of their gangbuster concerts. Nicely done, gents.
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