Saturday, January 15, 2022

The Heavyweights Brass Band: “Stir Crazy” (2021) CD Review

As the omicron variant runs rampant through the country, some fear another lockdown might be in the cards. So what could be more suitable than an album titled Stir Crazy? This new album from The Heavyweights Brass Band was recorded in March of 2020, just as everything was beginning to shut down. Remember that? It feels like ten years ago, and yet here we still are. Fortunately, we have groups like The Heavyweights Brass Band to provide some energy and joy to us in these bizarre times. Stir Crazy features mostly original material, composed by three different members of the band, along with a few interesting choices of covers, including “Black Hole Sun.”  The group is made up of John Pittman on trumpet; Paul Metcalfe on saxophone; RJ Satchithananthan on trombone; Tom Richards on tuba, trombone and keys; and Lowell Whitty on drums.  Joel Visentin and Aline Morales join them on organ and triangle respectively. These guys are based in Toronto, but a good deal of their soul resides in New Orleans. If you’re looking for a fun album to raise your spirits, Stir Crazy is just the thing for you.

The album gets off to a great, hopping start with “Sweet Pauly’s Boogaloo,” written by Paul Metcalfe. It has a delicious groove, a familiar and swinging vibe, and features a wonderful lead on organ by Joel Visentin, as well as some seriously energetic work on saxophone. It all works to get us off our seats, and to bring a dance back into our steps. Listening to music like this, it seems completely realistic for people to be dancing as they make their way down the streets. Then we get the first of the album’s three covers, a cool rendition of “Feel Like Makin’ Love,” the song originally recorded by Roberta Flack in the mid-1970s. Just before the two-minute mark, this rendition really starts getting good. That’s when these musicians make this song their own, when the horns get loose, straying from that main theme, and from there, it just gets better and better. The arrangement is by RJ Satchithananthan. They take things in a different direction with the lively dance song “Skank You Very Much.” If you’re feeling stir crazy, this track will undoubtedly help release some tension. It was written by Paul Metcalfe.

As “Manipogo” begins, you get the sense of a large creature waking, stretching, beginning to move, beginning to groove. The horns then call to it, celebrate it. There is a bit of funk to this one, and it soon becomes one of the most interesting and exciting tracks of the album, with a style all its own, somewhat playful in nature. It was written by Paul Metcalfe, and is my personal favorite on this album. That’s followed by “Rehab Intro,” which is just some crowd sounds, with a nice bit of organ playing over that. That’s Joel Visentin again on organ. That is then followed, naturally, by the album’s second cover, Amy Winehouse’s “Rehab,” a song that is a perfect fit for a brass band, the arrangement here by Tom Richards. It’s difficult to keep from singing “They tried to make me go to rehab/But I said, no, no, no.” Is there is something twisted, almost morbid, in the joy of those lines, considering the way Amy Winehouse died? Joel Visentin plays organ on this track too.

“Stir Crazy,” the album’s title track, is totally fun. I especially love the work on drums on this track, a beat to help you shake off any cares or worries that might be plaguing you. And that is only part of the delicious energy of this tune, this track featuring some lively and excellent leads on saxophone and trumpet. This one was written by John Pittman, and it’s all over much too soon. Things then get funky again with “Georgia Pine,” written by Tom Richards. I love when a funky bass line is actually delivered by a tuba. Seriously, how is that not a bass guitar? Tom Richards also plays keyboard on this track. That’s followed by “Manipogo’s Revenge.” Ah yes, the creature is back. It’s interesting that two different members of the group took inspiration from the Manipogo when compositing material for this album. This one is by Tom Richards, and it has a great, loose vibe. Here the creature seems to have left the lake and is stalking the streets, strutting down them, really, in shades and carrying a cane with a hidden blade. Watch out! This is the track to feature Aline Morales on triangle. And yeah, I mentioned that these guys cover Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun” on this album, and that’s the track that wraps things up. I never saw Soundgarden in concert, but I did get to see Chris Cornell sing “Wild World” with Cat Stevens once. Anyway, “Black Hole Sun” might seem an odd choice to conclude an album that is largely a lot of fun, but The Heavyweights Brass Band delivers a strong rendition.

CD Track List

  1. Sweet Pauly’s Boogaloo
  2. Feel Like Makin’ Love
  3. Skank You Very Much
  4. Manipogo
  5. Rehab Intro
  6. Rehab
  7. Stir Crazy
  8. Georgia Pine
  9. Manipogo’s Revenge
  10. Black Hole Sun

Stir Crazy was released on November 5, 2021.

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