The Menahan Street Band’s new album “The Crossing,” released Oct. 30, is a sepia-toned set of instrumental jazz-soul tracks that feel fresh out of the 1970s.
The album marks the band’s latest studio release since backing Charles Bradley’s vocal soul debut.
The Brooklyn, N.Y.-area band gets credit for the wide range of moods on the album. From the sound effects and calling dobro on “Seven is the Wind,” to the hip and uptempo jive on “Sleight of Hand,” the album paints with a broad brush, leaving a listener with what stands as a exploration of various soul grooves. On some tracks, it’s like listening to the Temptations, minus the actual Temptations.
“Everyday a Dream” is a even-paced and feel-good tune. Electric and acoustic guitars, an organ, and the horn line all make an appearance in a song whose structure and instrumentation is vaguely reminiscent of vintage Chicago. “Ivory and Blue” examines similar ideas, with the same easygoing ideas through the horns.
One of the key points on “Everyday” is the genuine 1960s feel — whether it’s the leveling on the acoustic guitar, the slight lack of intonation in the horn line, or some kind of postproduction filter, the album absolutely nails a sense of vintage soul.
“Three Faces” is where the band’s power really shines. Beginning with a horn-driven riff in a ballad-tempo minor key, the percussion and horn articulation pick up as the song slowly picks up a Latin-flavored edge. The band brings out percussion breaks and a vibraphone to round out the stylistic flavor of the track, before closing it all off with a trumpet solo and a return to the opening groove.
“Seven is the Wind” is one of the band’s more bizarre grooves, featuring a dobro over wind-like sound effects. “Driftwood” is a similar deviation from an expected theme of soul ideas, featuring steel guitar and a set of ideas shot through with a folk-rock feel.
Overall, the album isn’t so much a set of stand-alone pieces as much as a set of soul/jazz grooves that by and large force a listener to search for a contour and a melody. That’s good, as long as you enjoy Menahan’s particular brand of instrumental soul.
However, due to the groove feel of the album, many of the tracks demand a listener search overly hard for a melody and a contour to follow, and can oftentimes lay flat. If the men of Menahan wanted listeners to feel their music more strongly, it would have been nice to hear a more readily recognizable structure, or perhaps some intermittent vocals and soloing to guide their new listeners through their material.
What’s more, Menahan’s musicianship doesn’t support the album as much as it could. The comparison a listener wants to draw is to the 1970s funk/soul powerhouse Tower of Power, but the band’s current album sounds a bit like a diet version of ToP’s older hits— it fails to dig in hard and make a listener tap their foot along.
Nonetheless, tracks like “Three Faces” and “Sleight of Hand” demand that listeners sit up and listen. Though, “The Crossing” could have packed more punch, The Menahan Street Band stands out as a creative soul/jazz outfit with a big set of stories to tell.
Rating: 2.5 out of five stars.