- The Folkadelics
- Not A Folk Album
The Folkadelics’ debut album is exactly as advertised: it is not a folk album, fo’ sho’, boys and girls. This fine and dandy brain wrap is woven from threads of reggae, ska, bursts of funk, splashes of tie-dye spaciness, ratta-tat-tat hip-hop, and stone-ground rock ‘n’ roll.
The key to The Folkadelics’ sound is that there isn’t a key. You could point to the rhythm team of drummer Tom Barraco and bassist (and trombonist!) Drew Kelly, whose catalog of beats turns the world into one big ol’ happy ‘hood; or multi-instrumentalist Sam Miller’s vocals and guitar/harmonica/beatbox/clarinet workouts; or maybe Gavin Cummings’ super-sweet mandolin playing (when he’s not playing the trumpet or singing); or the powerful, soul-slathered vocals of frontwoman Danny Faraone – you could point to any one of the above, but you’d have to point at them all. And the all is The Folkadelics, folks – a very talented band of players.
Not A Folk Album is bookended by the yin/yang of “Nice Guy Felon” and “Siraj’s Song”: the former is a total psychedelic comic book story built from turn-on-a-dime rhythm change-ups and playful group vox, while the latter is a stripped-to-its-soul lovely acoustic tribute to a fallen soldier – a friend of the band whose life ended under mysterious circumstances. (“He came back in a casket one day/and the government won’t tell us why.”)
In between, The Folkadelics pull off the fine feat of doling out an eclectic mix of sounds that never loses its focus – and always invites a closer listen. Put an ear to “Vinyl Wax” for instance, and you’ll realize that its massive wall of sound may be anchored by Kelly’s bass, but it’s Cummings’ delicate mando flutters that provide the tune’s buoyancy. “Down The Well” is way funky, but it’s Miller’s nasty-ass blues harp that bumps things over the top. (Check out the fade on that one, by the way: the jam-inviting vocal closer “And I know someday I’m gonna make it home” holds its own as a crazy/cool blanket of beat expands and contracts in the background. This ought to be a killer live.) The band is putty in Faraone’s hands as she lets loose with the s-s-s-sexy kiss-off of “Wasted”, backing her leave-me-be delivery with everything from stop-and-go dynamics to a churning down-the-road outro. “Psychobabble”’s rapped-out lyrics and wokka-wokka rhythms are mixed in the foreground, but there are some cool layers of vocals and horn lines to be found just beneath the upper crust.
The album’s biggest risk/surprise/triumph is The Folkadelics’ take on Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues”, ushered in by a reverb-and-tremolo-soaked guitar quote of the tune’s trademark riff, slowed to a crawl and trailing off into the ozone as the band settles into a big-time funky groove. Faraone tells the tale as a wah-pedaled guitar grunts and groans behind her; drummer Tom’s father Rob Barraco guests with some tasty piano; and the whole ensemble manages to turn a country classic into a total butt-bumping funkfest.
Fun? Darn tooting. Talented? Oh, yeah. A possibly-deceptive band name? Yep.
This truly is Not A Folk Album. And if The Folkadelics are a folk band, it’s of a world of their own making – which sounds like a pretty cool place to live, actually.
Brian Robbins’ world of his own making revolves around the Earth at www.brian-robbins.com