Here’s the deal: Lettuce is this time around’s version of The Meters. And that’s the truth.
I’m talking that same ability to build a groove around a hook that’ll nail you first pass through and embed itself so deep into your rhythm lobes that you’ll think it’s been there for years.
I‘m talking that same ability to use the aforementioned groove as a launch pad to explore the far reaches of a tune’s melodic galaxy.
And I’m talking – above all else – that same ability to keep it funky as hell, no matter what flavor the jam takes on. Apeshit psychedelic to get-on-the-good-foot funk – Lettuce does it all on their latest offering, Fly.
If you’ve missed out on the band’s 20-year history and two previous albums, here’s the quick run-down of who’s doing what: Adam Smirnoff and Eric Krasno share guitar duties; Neal Evans’ keys straddle the melodic side of things and the bottom end. Bassist Erick Coomes feeds the rhythm furnace along with Adam Deitch, Lettuce’s drummer and chief songwriter. For Fly, the band’s core hornmen – Rashawn Ross (trumpet) and Ryan Zoidis (saxes) – are joined by trombonist Brian Thomas and Cochemea Gastelum on sax and flute. Charles Haynes contributes some tasty percussion and Nigel Hall guests on keys and vocals. The result is a monster of an album that would probably go on the “funk” shelf if it had to go somewhere – but there’s more to it than that.
Right off the bat, the title track touches down amidst dubby vapors of keys and flute before beginning its cool, laid-back strut. “Ziggowatt” is a showcase for Dietch’s drumming (a fitting tribute to Meters’ drummer Zigaboo Modeliste). Guest Hall weaves his soul-soaked vocals around the nasty chikka-wump of “Do It Like You Do”. The horns punch out the cool melody of “Bowler” while the guitars blend Brian Stoltz-style funk with Steve Cropper cool. “Crusher” lives up to its name: 4-minutes-and-twenty-eight-seconds’-worth of funky lurchstomp that stays on course no matter how much the guitars and horns tear up the turf around it. “Madison Square” comes off the line big and bold – a theme song just waiting for the movie to start. The multi-layered groove of the first couple of minutes or so of “Jack Flask” is deep enough to get totally lost in before the drums begin to tumble and sheets of guitar squall descend upon the land. And the horns lead the way on Lettuce’s cover of the War classic “Slippin’ Into Darkness” with a bit of thick and gooey wah guitar filling in the middle.
More than a side project or a chance for some killer players to strut their stuff outside of their main gigs, Lettuce is an ever-evolving band – a core band of old friends who inspire each other. This is more than something to do; this is music that needs to be played. And lucky for us, the tape was rolling.