Amandla: The Full Catastrophe

By: Scott Caffrey

Stepping out from behind the drum kit of a quirky major touring act and taking the frontman role in a rock-funk-soul outfit can be a daunting task. But, if anyone’s fit for the job it’s Claude Coleman Jr. and his Amandla project. Far from just a vanity side band to his day job as Ween‘s drummer, Amandla’s sophomore effort, The Full Catastrophe (Stonybrook), proves that he’s more than just serious about it – this is his love letter to life.

His music is just as diverse as what he plays in Ween but in Amandla it’s far more affecting. There are no absurd lyrics or fucked-up sounds. Instead, Coleman plays it straight with guitar rock steeped in the sublime sounds of ’70s singer-songwriters. There is a whole lot of soul here, too, and where his debut, Falling Alone, represented an unfortunately ignored DIY masterpiece, The Full Catastrophe is the masterpiece that needs to be heard by everyone.

This is the sound of a man just happy to be alive, and nothing says that more than Zorba the Greek style tale that inspired the album’s title. The psuedo-title track, “Kiss Me (The Full Catastrophe)” is a jazz-inflected jaunt that directly references Joni Mitchell’s “Help Me.” There’s glam-rock (“Respectable”), psychedelia (“Before Tomorrow”) and even a bare country ballad (“Bustop).” Then there’s “Right Mind,” a sexed-up groove that was apparently written as Coleman’s wedding proposal. Finally, not to be outdone by too much mid-tempo schmaltz, “Backdown” kicks it all out with a rave-up destined to be a set or show stopper.

Once again showing his huge range of talents, Coleman wrote and produced all the music, sang and played all the instruments, engineered and mixed the album, and even built the entire studio by hand from the ground up – wiring, carpentry, everything. When the touring band version of Amandla takes the stage, he’s the frontman who solos with the Fender. If there is a better term than “renaissance man” for Coleman I haven’t found it.

Unfortunately simpy being Jimmy Wilson does not mean Ween fans will automatically follow, and that’s a big shame. No telling why Coleman is being dissed in that circle, but those of you who are out there supporting him, you’re already being rewarded with his fantastic music.

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