Your Album of the Day, Galactic Features Macy Gray, Others
Galactic is the long running multicultural funk band out of New Orleans, playing a fusion of rock, R&B, rap, and a stiff dose of funky polyphonic grooves since 1994. On their latest album, Into the Deep, Galactic digs deep into their roots in R&B and New Orleans funk and offers up a strong, if, at times, uneven set, rife with strong guest appearances and danceable jams.
Since 2003’s excellent Ruckus, Galactic has acted as much like a house band to the carnival of guest performers and vocalists who add flavors and layers to their sound. 2007’s From the Corner to the Block, saw the band using primarily guest rappers. On 2012’s Carnivale Electricos, the band focused more on tribal dance beats and world music guests in an homage to Mardi Gras.
The biggest name in this set is Macy Gray, and she gives one of her most memorable recent performance on the title track “Into the Deep.” Her silky and indistinguishable voice fits over piano, guitars, and descending bass lines with rhythmic breeziness of “Hopscotch, double dutch, goin’ fishin’ / It don’t matter if you’re playin’ or wishin.” While Gray is front and center on the song, it’s also notable that guitarist Jeff Raines and drummer Stanton Moore shine with complementary fills and understated lead lines.
Other impressive guest slots are J.J. Grey on the spirited “Higher and Higher” and legendary Soul Queen Mavis Staples on the soulful and brassy “Does it Really Make a Difference.” However, the highlight of the album is on the instrumental “Buck 77” which showcases the band’s ability to write epic and concise compositions. Utilizing an almost John Bonham-like drum beat, and a psychedelic assortment of synth and guitar sounds (mixed with some brass), the song is a heavy jam and almost head-bang worthy.
While it stands out as my favorite song on the set, “Buck 77” also doesn’t sound like anything else on Into the Deep – tonally or instrumentally. This is the biggest weakness on the album. On one hand, you have a band that takes a back seat to the guests that guide the album’s tone and song structures in a more nostalgic funk, in line with Amy Winehouse (see: “Right On” [Ms. Charm Taylor]) the organ heavy jazz of Medeski Martin and Wood (see: “Long Live the Borges”), or The Meters send up (“Domino” [ft. Ryan Montblue]). On the other hand, songs like “Buck 77” showcase a band that fuses interesting heavy rock elements with their ever present funkiness.
It’s all strong but the album doesn’t mesh as a singular product. It comes across as a hodgepodge of influences that are slightly disorienting when played back to back. Unlike On the Corner or Carnivales Electricos, which had conceptual focus guiding the albums with genre specificity, Into the Deep tries to play to all of their audience and the album, as a whole, suffers as a result.
That being said, the songs on Into the Deep, by themselves, are all at a consistently high quality, and some of the guest performances – particularly Macy Gray, J.J. Grey, and Mavis Staple – make this a worthwhile listen for those funkateers who need something to pick them up on a rainy afternoon.
3.5 / 5