Canada’s Shuffle Demons have been digging in for over 25 years, touring their home and native land (as well as Europe, Asia, India, and Australia) extensively. With ClusterFunk, their first album of new stuff in close to 20 years, these little sprites are laying down some seriously funky grooves laced with clever lyrics and blasts of scorching jazz.
ClusterFunk sounds like an old school supper club gig set to album format, only the guests are working-class stiffs as opposed to highbrow clientele with Romney predispositions and the wait staff is grooving right along with the band.
Featuring Richard Underhill (alto saxophone, vocals), Perry White (tenor saxophone, baritone saxophone, vocals), Kelly Jefferson (tenor saxophone, vocals), George Koller (electric bass, acoustic bass, vocals), and Stich Wynston (drums, percussion, vocals), the Shuffle Demons have emerged a whole unit from a 1995 break that saw Underhill release an Juno-winning debut and Koller tour with Holly Cole.
With the hooligans back together, the only course of action was to blast off with new music. That makes ClusterFunk a bit of a rarity in its field, boasting a dozen original songs.
The album opens with the unflinching horns of “Sell Me This,” a cutting gust of heat against lavish consumerism. The Underhill-penned track is unfathomably funky and packs a poetic punch: “Last stop, disaster! Bring your wallets!” “Shanghai Shuffle” covers related ground, with an impressive intro that finds Wynston on fire and all three horn players swinging for the fences. The lyrics, delivered with toothy scorn, come from the standpoint of a sweatshop worker: “This 12-hour shift ain’t gonna be fun, but I’ll fill your big box store.”
The Shuffle Demons, despite entertaining and blowing the khakis off audiences around the world, really shine when it comes to setting the tone. ClusterFunk, with a song (“Fukushima”) dedicated to victims of the Japanese nuclear disaster, is at its best when it offers harsh but hip critiques and levels a series of cutting attacks right where they belong without sacrificing the groove.
Crowd-pleasing jams like “Strollin’” and comical joints like “He’s the Drummer” also pad the Demons’ stats, but the real Canadian spirit lays in their disobedient friskiness … and their dubious wardrobe choices.
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