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The Graham Weekly Album Review #1620

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Po Boyz: Country Funk
by George Graham

(Independent release As broadcast on WVIA-FM 11/17/2010)

From the late 1950s though the mid 1960s, an instrumental combination rose to prominence in jazz -- the organ combo, often just a trio with organ, guitar and drums, and sometimes with sax. Jazz organists like Jimmy Smith, Don Patterson and Jack McDuff popularized bringing the Hammond organ into jazz with a soul-influenced sound. And indeed, some of the soul and funk music of the 1960s probably owes a lot to those jazz organ combos. After falling out of favor, the organ combo made a strong comeback in the 1980s and 1990s and continues popular, despite the fact that the iconic Hammond B3 organ around which the sound revolves, has not been manufactured in that form for many years. Medesky, Martin and Wood have also become popular on the jam band scene in an organ combo framework that also includes a lot of other keyboards.

This week, we have a CD by fairly eclectic band with the instrumentation of a standard organ trio but with vocals and a style that runs from New Orleans funk to country. The group call themselves Po Boyz and their new CD is perhaps appropriately called Country Funk.

Po Boyz are from the Boston area and consist of organist Keith Hollis, who also plays some other vintage keyboards at times, guitarist Andrew Wagley and drummer Sean "Buzzy" Mannion. Hollis was part of the late soul singer Solomon Burke's band. All do vocals. Po Boyz released a CD in 2005 that was mostly instrumental, but the new recording is kind of a roots-rock and funk hybrid. While there are two instrumentals on Country Funk, including one with a kind Latin sound, most of the CD is an appealing rootsy and soul blend. All three members contribute to the compositions in various combinations. Most of the music is self-contained, played by the band and sounding essentially live. There is one added backing vocalist and, a little incongruously for a funky organ combo, a steel guitar player on one track, perhaps one inspiration for the album title Country Funk. Despite the soul, funk, jam band complexion of the recording, the group does put some effort into their lyrics. They range from a good-time invitation to groove to the music to a kind of a sad song. The band are quite good at balancing the almost conflicting stylistic currents that come together on their CD.

The opening piece is called Country Side of Life, by organist Hollis. It combines a New Orleans groove with lyrics about getting back to the simpler things. It's a nice example of the band's interesting mix of influences. <<>>

A tune by guitarist Wrigley, All I Need, involves the services of a backing vocalist. It's got a great old-time rock groove reminiscent of Traffic's Feelin' All Right. <<>>

A bit more serious lyrically is Reno Blues, a story of gambling addiction. Musically, the tune also highlights the group's rock and funk blend. <<>>

The first of the instrumentals is called Big Sur. It's an extended piece that evokes the sound of Carlos Santana. Despite its length, it's structured a lot more tightly than a typical jam band tune. <<>>

One of the good-time tunes is Bunky's Basement a kind of retro rock-soul song about getting together for the fun of playing music. <<>>

Po Boyz cover a song by Robbie Robertson and the Band, Caledonia Mission. Organ was always prominent in The Band so the song is not that far outside the box for Po Boyz. But the steel guitar is not what you would expect from an organ trio. <<>>

Another facet of Po Boyz comes out on Living Strong, and original tune by guitarist Andrew Wrigley, who plays some acoustic guitar. Lyrically it's more along the lines of a singer-songwriter than an organ jam band. <<>>

The CD ends with its other instrumental, Elmore, a joint composition by all three of the Po Boyz. Wrigley plays some slide guitar which gives the otherwise rocky piece a bluesy tinge. <<>>

Country Funk the fairly appropriately named CD by the Boston area group Po Boyz is an interesting recording and one that evokes familiar sounds from the past. The group takes the standard jazz organ combo setting, with a good old vintage Hammond B3 organ, including the pedalboard to provide the bass, plus guitar and drums and turns it into a mixture of sounds the group members have obviously absorbed, from soul and funk, to New Orleans grooves to roots rock, with a touch of Latin even some country twang. It all comes out surprisingly well, with the mixture of styles not sounding forced at all. The vocals and lyrics take the organ combo in a whole other direction that works quite well, and yet maintains a kind of timeless sound that can appeal to at a couple of generations of music fans. The band seems to avoid flashy musicianship, and they don't really get into extended jams on the CD, though one could easily imagine Po Boyz doing so while playing live.

Our grade for sound quality is an A-Minus. The band went to a well-known Hollywood studio, Sage and Sound to record with engineer Greg Ladinsky, who kept things sonically understated, avoiding both trendy studio effects and deliberate attempts to degrade the sound to emulate old recordings, which often happens with retro-sounding bands. The usual points are deducted, however, for the volume compression that was applied in the mindless quest for loudness.

It's nice when even the seemingly simplest of groups turns out to be something different from what is expected. Po Boyz' CD Country Funk does that in an easy-going manner.

(c) Copyright 2010 George D. Graham. All rights reseved.
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