Sharps & Flats

Galactic's swampy funk melds Meters-style riffs, acid-jazz grooves and jam-band spontaneity.

Published March 31, 2000 5:00PM (EST)

A funny thing happened on the way to "Late for the Future," the third and most infectious disc yet from young New Orleans funksters Galactic. The sextet is best known for its sweaty, exhausting live shows, which have been recorded on hundreds of tapes and traded among dedicated fans. But with all those live sets floating around, nobody really wanted or needed a record that sounded like a concert. So, instead, Galactic settled into Kingsway Studios, a renovated 1800s mansion in the Fauborg Marigny district of New Orleans, hoping that producer Nick Sansano (Sonic Youth, Grassy Knoll) and the studio itself would become a virtual seventh bandmate.

You can hear the strategy pay off on the first tune, a remake of the group's "Black-eyed Pea," and then throughout the rest of the album. On "Pea," Jeff Raines' gritty guitar lick starts off organically, then recycles into a sample that joins juicy B-3 melody and percolating rhythms. Sticky drum loops cue the start of "Two Clowns," which eventually wanders into experimental noise and free jazz. "Bobski 2000" allies thrashing drums with Ben Ellman's nasty harmonica attack. And Raines' woozy slide work meets multiple syncopated Moore tracks on "Jeffe 2000," a page torn from bluesman R.L. Burnside's book.

Here's the irony: "Late for the Future," even more than "Crazyhorse" (1998) or the group's independently released 1996 debut, conveys a real sense of Galactic's irresistible meld of Meters-style riffs, acid-jazz grooves and jam-band spontaneity. The key to the band's success might just be the quality of the performances -- regardless of the studio bells and whistles. Ringer singer Theryl "Houseman" de Clouet lends a sense of impassioned urgency to the project, beginning with the sexual frenzy churned up on "Thrill." A veteran of jams with Allen Toussaint and the Neville Brothers, he belts, whispers and talks his way through throaty intimations of carnal pleasures: "You bring out the freak in me."

De Clouet pushes hard again on the slow-grooving "Century City" and "Action Speaks Louder Than Words," a gospel-funk tune borrowed from late-'70s band Chocolate Milk. Those tracks, and "Thrill," benefit from the rich background vocals of Hollygrove, de Clouet's longtime a cappella group. The evocative, angst-spiked "Running Man" also features the singer, as does the slinky "Vilified," pumped up with a soaring, wordless vocal counterline provided by Swedish-born singer Theresa Andersson, formerly with the Anders Osborne Orchestra.

Galactic might best be described as a band torn between four lovers -- the lean lines and deep-fried-gumbo grooves of the Meters, the old-school soul approach of their flexible, seasoned singer, multiple jazzy directions and, particularly onstage, wide-open improvisational freedom. It's the kind of mix no studio can contain.

By Philip Booth

Philip Booth is a freelance writer in Tampa, Fla.

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