Ever since Free Radicals invaded the Houston music scene in 1996, the continually evolving collective has been ballyhooed as "the most unique" band in Space City. And as clichéd as that sounds, there is no better way to describe this innovative group and its eclectic fusion of jazz, funk, ska, reggae, African and Indian music, and Latin jazz.
Front man Nick Cooper founded the horn-heavy hodgepodge of musicians with both experimentation and a high level of musicality in mind.
Our Lady meets both his goals. With influences ranging from Charles Mingus to the Skatalites, Free Rads' second CD, Our Lady of Eternal Sunny Delights, is a treasure chest filled with 31 gems.
To keep the music fresh, over 50 players lend their talents to this CD. Songs like "Killer Bee Honey" and "The Planets" show that Free Radicals isn't afraid to keep things real. These groove-drenched cuts are so funky, the body wants to get up and move something -- right down to the atomic level where the protons and neutrons are doing some finger-snappin' and toe-tappin' of their own. Other "how the hell did they put those sounds together" cuts include the Asian-influenced "Musafir Wapas" and the James Brown-style "Skillets."
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Free Radicals' strident political voice rings through loudest on "Nyamezela Kwedini," a tribal ode that puts the listener right in the middle of African tradition and ritual. This is definitely the kind of music one would expect from a group who once delivered a nonstop 24-hour benefit concert for community and political progress. Free Rads has always been less about the kind of change you find in your pocket than the kind you effect with placards and ballots.
Overall, this trippy Lady seems like one of the more hallucinatory characters in Alice in Wonderland. Somehow, though, Free Radicals' superb blend of genre-jumping rhythms and riffs has managed to make sense out of what would seem to be a recipe for improvisational chaos. Expect a wild and seductive ride.
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