16 September 2019 (released)
16 September 2019
Some albums take a long while to fully understand, others come to you on the first play.
I’ve been listening to this album from Uncle Nef for a few weeks, on and off, and I am finally getting to the heart of what they are about. Strange, because the music is wonderful, the problem comes in how every track seems to have a very unique identity such that it was difficult to see it as an ‘album’ rather than a collection of parts.
But it is well worth persevering with.
The music is stirring and happy-making, steeped in the best traditions of New Orleans jazz and laden with rhythms and forms from all over the last 50 years.
The core elements of Uncle Nef – Shannon Powell (drums & vocals) and Darren Hofffman (guitar & vocals) – have been working together for the last ten years or so, Powell very much the mentor of Hoffman in terms of New Orleans music and its history while Hoffman introduce Powell to modern styles and techniques and, as in the best relationships, each has been improved and stretched by the other.
Take ‘Caldonia’. Very much in the groove of New Orleans early rock & roll, it swings like a beast and has all the sass of classic ‘Nawleans’ boogie but it was created by the same team who made the album opener ‘That Was That’, a deranged early Funkadelic style Blues that cuts to your very soul before heading into deep soul territory. Or the same team who made ‘It Hurts’, a gorgeous love song, laden with strings and an echoing guitar riff that just supports the spoken vocal as though it were in mid-air.
One of my favourite tracks is Kurt Cobain’s ‘Tourette’s’ – a conversation between guitar and drums that grows in intensity almost as though the two sides were arguing and then finds a common groove. Simple, individual and completely representative of the two sides of Uncle Nef.
The only other cover on the album is a powerful version of ‘St James Infirmary Blues’. So many bands mess with this classic in an attempt to show ‘originality’ but this is honest and harsh, really cutting deep and really original while keeping to the spirit of the song.
A really terrific album, well worth investing the time to get close to.