The New Mastersounds - 102% CD

The New Mastersounds are four chaps with some serious funk chops. Hailing from Leeds in the UK, they revel in the soulful music that has long been all the rage in Northern England. Having rightfully gained a reputation for out-Metering The Meters, their latest effort, 102% is another retro-fueled funkathon that sees the band expanding its range into previously unexplored territory.
Of course, funk is still the bread and butter of this band, and 102% delivers a heavy diet of it. A serious groove is laid down in "33 (A Fine Year to Die)," with Bob Birch dropping in the perfect accents on his bubbling Hammond B-3. Pete Shand's nimble bassline locks in perfectly with Eddie Roberts' greasy guitar to give "Give Me a Minute (Pt 2)" the nastiness it needs. And the title track delivers the killer Meters-like strut we've come to expect from The New Mastersounds. Similar sentiments are also echoed by the deep pocket of "Return to Gijon," which relies heavily upon Simon Allen's pulsating backbeat to create an intoxicating rhythm that will have hips grinding and appendages flailing. Not content to stay stuck in the funk zone, 102% dips its toes into a couple of other related pools. On the prime souljazz of "Carrot Juice," Roberts' ripping guitar would make Grant Green, Jr. blush, while Shand's nimble bass and Allen's superkinetic drums combine for a rock solid rhythm section. Toss in some hyperactive organ from Birch and you got yourself one of the best tracks on the album. The dance party continues with hip-shaking aplomb on "Talk Is Cheap," a jazzy number that employs some excellent breakbeats and cool sax solos from guest Rob Lavers. Afrobeat filtered through a lens of Curtis Mayfield is on the docket as "Hey Fela!" pays tribute to Fela Kuti while sounding as if the tune belonged on the soundtrack to a 1970s blaxploitation film. The album concludes with two space-age, trippy numbers, "L.A. Root Down (Dub Side of The Pier)" and "Paranoid (Is It Any Wonder?)" The former is a chilled-out bopper that features Birch experimenting with off-kilter effects and figures on his Fender Rhodes, and the latter is an intense head-spinner that swirls with washes and plenty of weirdness. Most of the tracks on 102% are upbeat cuts with very danceable grooves, making this an excellent party album. Even the more experimental songs still have a familiar and addictive beat, and it's on these numbers that The New Mastersounds set themselves apart from other bands. While many would be content to crank out discs full of mere retrofunk, The New Mastersounds are not interested in re-creating the past; rather they are taking vintage sounds and attitudes and merging them with modern ideas. The result is an addictive blend that has one foot in the past, one foot in the present, and both eyes on the future. - by Brian Ferdman