Funk music is a tough egg to break into. Actually, it isn't but as far as a genre goes, it is tough to step into the shoes filled by Parliament, The Isley Brothers, and Bootsy to name a few. For me, I want funk to have elements of soul, pain, sweat, and stank that only the genre can embody. Great funk isn't formulaic nor is it safe.
Listening to the new album from Houston's Bayou City Funk, it just felt too safe to me. They're not a bad band, and what they do is actual funk music, but it didn't hit the grooves or emotions I expect from what I'd call solid funk. In six songs, Down To Funk brings plenty of traditional funk vibes, but doesn't get to the heart of raw sexuality that funk has become known for.
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It's hard to believe that a nine piece outfit can't get those emotions going, but a great example is the album's opener, "Pile Driver." All of the instruments sound solid together, but if you're listening for them to actually break past the definition of funk, that's not going to happen. In many ways, the band sounds like session players who are performing without that dark place in the alley where you see something go down, or that head space that leads someone to do something downright naughty. These guys are seasoned players, you can tell that, but they never break the formula that sounds like they watched a how to video on starting a funk band.
This continues on "Talkin' Jive," where the opening guitar could have a little more swagger, but falls flat. With a solid vocal complete with group backing vocals, it would sound like this song is going to get funkay and freaky. It doesn't. It never goes to 11, and it doesn't actually ever go beyond the basics of funk's definition. On the song, "Down To Funk," the band does get a little out of their comfort zone with some solid funky keys, but there's something about the how the horns sound like they were stamped on the track that makes it never really take hold. Even those keys let you down later when they start to sound formulaic. It's a shame, as these guys could get down and dirty if they wanted to, but that doesn't materialize.
This continues until the last song, "Thick n' Sticky." While the song doesn't get thick nor does it get sticky, it is the most solid track on the album. That's not to say that it doesn't get to that space where it's so funky that you feel like you caught a scent that you can't shake, but it is more of that soulful funk that I was hoping for than any of the other tracks.
To be fair, Bayou City Funk isn't a bad band, nor are they not worth lending an ear to, they just weren't what I wanted to hear. With this many talented artists in a group, I hoped that they would stretch their wings, break the mold, and place their mark on the genre.I haven't caught them live before, so maybe they change things up in a live setting. You can stream the album in all of the usual spaces, or purchase a vinyl from any shop throughout Houston. You can catch them in person on June 9 at Saint Arnold's Brewery, as part of the brand's 24th anniversary blowout. The 21 & up event will host sets from Tomar & the FC's, John Egan, Arthur Yoria, Wild Moccasins and more. Doors at 4 p.m.; tickets $10 to $35.