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(Independent release As broadcast on WVIA-FM 5/28/2014)
Retro music seems to be getting more ubiquitous these days outside of the commercial music scene. There are plenty of younger and emerging bands who are making music in styles that in many cases was popular before they were born. Different groups take different approaches, from highly authentic recreations, to music that just hints of its influence pedigree. And within those subgenres, like anything else in art, the quality can be highly variable. One particular facet of music from decades ago has gotten the attention of younger groups is soul and funk. And this week, we have one of the best revival albums in that style in quite a while. It's by a group with the unlikely name of Mingo Fishtrap. And their new CD is called On Time.
Mingo Fishtrap is a large eight-member ensemble from Austin, Texas, complete with a horn section. They do soul and funk varieties that include Memphis sounds, as well as a healthy dose of Motown, and bit of a tendency toward jazz influence. There is occasional solo work on horns that conjures legit jazz. Mingo Fishtrap have been together since 1996 and releases five previous albums, though not with very wide distribution. They have grown into a very tight musical unit with some great arrangements and first-rate soulful vocals by group leader Roger Blevins.
The group formed in Denton, Texas, during Blevins' years at the University of North Texas in their jazz studies program. He got together with classmates and started the group as a kind of loose jam band covering Otis Redding, Tower of Power and other soul groups. After graduation, Blevins decided to continue the band and they eventually moved to Austin, but not before Blevins recruited his father Roger Blevins, Sr. as bassist. The elder Blevins had played bass for a number of soul groups around New Orleans.
They have been active ever since, touring widely, including in Europe and more regionally, at the Bethlehem Musikfest.
According to leader Blevins, Jr., the album was taking shape when there were a number of changes occuring such as new members, new business relationships and heavy touring, so the album was recorded in different venues, including at a studio in Mississippi, as well as the band's home base of Austin.
The result is a solid album with first-rate original material that is both respectfully authentic to the soul sounds of the 1960s, and with the group's own original contributions. The musicianship is absolutely top-notch. It's apparent that the band has been playing the music on the road and getting very tight before they came into the studio. It all has a very natural organic sound that in every way evokes like the real thing, rather than some young bunch of musicians trying to copy old records. The horn arrangements are particularly well-done, being a kind of hybrid of the Stax-Volt Memphis sound and the slicker Motown sound. The lyrics are on topics that have all been explored before many times, but Blevins and company avoid the obvious cliches and the words are still one of the album's strengths.
The CD opens perhaps surprisingly with a song called The End of the World. The sound is a mix of Memphis soul with some rock & roll. It's an all-around strong track with its excellent arrangement featuring different song sections. <<>>
More lighthearted lyrically is a tune called Mason Jar, with another appealing mix of Memphis and Motown styles. <<>>
Somewhat bluesy in mood is Things Ain't What They Was. There is a guest guitarist, Dave Scher who plays the bluesy lead part. <<>>
Evoking the sound of early Stevie Wonder is a tune called Sugadoo which is one of those songs with the kind of musical hook that will have you humming it for days. <<>>
The title track On Time is pure Motown in its sound, and shows that Mingo Fishtrap really "gets it." <<>>
Too Far Gone takes on a kind of Tower of Power sound with the horns being prominent, and it's another track that has a lot going for it. <<>>
One of my favorite pieces on this very appealing album is called Movin.' It's thoroughly danceable with a kind of New Orleans groove. <<>>
The CD ends with a more laid-back, classic soul-styled song called Fireproof with a guest lead vocalist, Treson Scipio, who co-wrote the song with Blevins. Once again, this band succeeds well with just about everything they try. <<>>
On Time the new CD from the Austin, Texas, based soul, funk and blues influenced group called Mingo Fishtrap -- whose name, by the way, came from a crossroads in North Texas -- is one of the best retro soul revival recordings I've heard in quite a while, in a period where there are a lot of good bands bringing back this kind of sound. The combination of the band's great writing and arranging with the horns, their excellent musicianship, and Roger Blevins' appealingly soulful vocals make this record in many ways better than the original recordings of the 1960s. They have thoroughly absorbed the musical ingredients from back then, but create their own original music that may show its influence but is not obviously derivative. The group has been together since 1996, and have clearly become a very tight musical unit over that time. That comes across on their CD, something that is often missing in other such studio albums.
Our grade for sound quality is an A minus. It's well-recorded, with decent clarity, and the recording is a bit less volume compressed than many these days. But the vocals can sound a little overdriven in spots.
If you are a fan of old soul records, or just discovering the style through the efforts of younger bands, you will definitely do well to check out Mingo Fishtrap's On Time as one of the best of the soul revival groups on the scene.
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