Phat Phunktion – Real Life .:. High Fidelity (2011)

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Feel good music, I’ve been told
Good for your body, and it’s good for your soul

Ever since the Meters first sang that in “Hey Pocky A-Way,” one of their best all time tunes, vintage funk to me has been my “feel good music.” A good head shakin’, rump bakin’ groove, and lyrics that mix sunny messages with calls to party. And, for good measure, exclamatory blasts of brass. Who plays that kind of music anymore, anyway?

Phat Phunktion does, that’s who.

Formed in the mid-90’s by students sat the University of Wisconsin’s main campus at Madison, the nine-piece band became a big favorite in the Midwest circuit, attracting international attention following the release of their third album You And Me (2004). The basis for their sound can be found in the great 70s RnB horn bands like Tower of Power, Cameo, The Average White Band, Kool and the Gang and Earth, Wind and Fire. For those first three albums and particularly You And Me, the band’s signature sound was still evolving, and often came across as an attempt to update those influences with some doses of hip-hop. The group, revitalized by the positive reception of You And Me, especially in Japan, spent the next several years touring more heavily, adding to their following. During that time, group leaders Tim Whalen (keyboards, vocals) and Al Falaschi (saxophone, vocals) worked on new material and finally polished off enough of it to assemble into their first new studio album in seven years, Real Life .:. High Fidelity.

Real Life was a long time in the making but there’s quite a leap from their first three albums. Gone are the hip-hop passages, and the loosely-defined jams. Putting aside nearly all contemporary flourishes, the band has gone all old school and the classic sound serves them well. But the biggest improvement comes from tightly constructed original songs: every song each has unique character, strong melodies and crisp arrangements, and there no feeling that they dogged it on any of them. What hasn’t changed is a devotion to the funk, and now the funk is as organic and fresh as ever.

There can’t be a better way to start a Phat Phunktion record than with “You Want It All,” a punchy amalgamation of “Shining Star” and “What Is Hip?” It gets even better with the struttin’ “Eyes Of Mine,” boasting horn charts worthy of Chicago in its prime. Melody matters more on Real Life, and “With You” offers up the proof.

They haven’t forgotten to inject a lot of soul in the funk; The snappy, mid-tempo groove “No More” alongside Falaschi’s deep thoughts about his late wife who previously succumbed to colon cancer. “Dance In The Rain” is another personal piece from Falaschi, the album’s lone ballad replete with a light string arrangement. Nonetheless, there’s an RnB current in that song that makes it fit with the rest of the repertoire.

The best funk bands could always rock out as well as they can lay down the funk, and the Hendrix-fueled “Well Run Dry” amkes the case for Phat Phunktion. Meanwhile, the free-wheeling jamming of their live shows is present on a song built around a nasty riff, “Miss Madison” (live video below):

The album finishes as strong as it starts, ripping through a faithful rendition of one of Earth, Wind & Fire’s best tunes, “Jupiter.” All told, the polished production, improved songwriting and a truer throwback sound make Real Life .:. High Fidelity the Phat Phunktion album to get.

Real Life .:. High Fidelity self-released last July 26. Visit Phat Phunktion’s website.

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S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at [email protected] .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron
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