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Published: 1998/10/15

Live at the Sweetwater

Picture what a pigeon looks like when it walks. You know how its head just sort of bobs back and forth uncontrollably? That’s what Vinyl’s latest album, “Live at the Sweetwater” does to me. My roommate and I have a long-standing debate regarding musical originality. He claims that when it comes to song writing, the possibilities are infinite. I see his point, but also feel that as the years go by, it becomes harder and harder for artists to create absolutely ground breaking music.

As brilliant as the Beatles were, critics didn’t have anyone to compare them to. Thirty years later, new bands are constantly being compared to their predecessors. That being said, Vinyl’s funk does sound reminiscent of Maceo Parker, Herbie Hancock and Tower of Power. But it’s not their fault. Their sound is genuine. Does the fact that it’s already been done diminish it’s sincerity? Of course not. Music to me is an expression. I would much rather have a band play the way they feel straight from the heart, than bend over backwards to force something new. “Live at the Sweetwater” grabbed me right away. When I first put it on, I didn’t really have time to listen to it, I just wanted to get an idea of their sound. After the first few notes, I cranked it up and called a few of my friends into the room. Immediately, we were all doing “the pigeon.” The first track, “Morse Code” is an in-your-face funk groove that just makes your body move. I particularly enjoy Sean Onorato’s percussion. When you want to boogie down, throw in this tune. It reminds me of the old car chases on CHIPS. “Night Ride” comes next and features mellow funk mixed in with some reggae. The thing that strikes me about this song is bassist, Geoff Vaughan’s ability to not over play. When it comes to funk, it’s all about subtlety and Vaughan masters it on this album. A lot of bass players these days feel the need to play a lot of notes while the rest of the band is really cranking. Not Vaughan. He’s unselfish enough to just lay down the foundation for the rest of the band to build off of; very impressive. There are two general types of drummers as far as I’m concerned. There are drummers that play strictly rhythm and then there are drummers that play melodically. These drummers play their kit like it’s a musical instrument. Vinyl drummer, Alexis Razon falls into the latter category. On the album’s fourth track, “Always There/Bobo Orgy”, Razon actually trades eights with keyboard player, Jonathan Korty. As Korty sheds the Hammond, Razon answers with a slew of fills that really dazzle me. This is by far my favorite track on the album. The song is very upbeat and when Razon finally settles into a funk groove, Onorato’s compliments it with a Latin Polyrhythm that adds a lot of texture. There are some low points on the album. Funk gets a bit repetitive to me unless it’s very high-energy. “Monkey Wrench” and “Strataskank” had me looking at my watch. There is only so much you can do with funk, so it’s hard to maintain the flow to an album without throwing in some mellower tracks. I was a bit bored at times. “Last Camel to Vegas” in contrast, has an interesting Middle Eastern-funk thing going on. I really dig it. It is perhaps the most well-composed song on the album and stays away from the traditional funk-vamps. The composed horn lines really work well. There’s a section of double-time that catches you off guard and then really cooks. “Gravity Car” is another high-energy track that will get any party going. There’s some great organ work and although the guitar solo is not overly impressive, it doesn’t really need to be within the context of this band. Again, the methodical bass line of Vaughan carries the tune.

“Percussion Jam” is appropriately named and is a joy to listen to. It’s so complex, I had to listen to it a couple of times to fully appreciate it. Razon and Onorato’s communicate very well and stay in the pocket through out the jam. I couldn’t stop grooving this one. I’m always a sucker for polyrhythms. Overall, I recommend this album. It’s what I call a “situation album”. Some albums are great any time of day. Others, like “Live at the Sweetwater” are better-suited specific occasions. If you’re waking up and need a little jump-start, this is the album for you. If it’s Friday night and the party needs a little energy, this is the one. I can’t wait to see Vinyl in concert. If I was this impressed with their album, I’m sure they’ll blow me away in a live setting.

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