The Brand New Heavies – Forward (2013)

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Last month we got a taste of UK acid jazzers The Brand New Heavies’ first release since 2006’s Get Used To It, and the advance single “Sunlight” signaled a pretty decent return. Their strength has been in the retro, late 70s soul-disco sonic sentiment, and the more they stick to that, the better they sound. That’s why I’ve been hoping that the new disc, Forward, goes backwards.

For the most part, it does, too.

The BNH’s still hand make music with a real band on Forward, which is kind of a funny way to describe a classic disco/funk sound with plenty of strings and horns augmenting the basic trio of Jan Kincaid (drums, keyboards), Simon Bartholomew (guitar) and Andrew Levy (bass), but they come up with their own material and play actual instruments. When staying true to the spirit of the mirror ball, there’s no other way to do it.

But The Brand New Heavies are nothing without quality female lead vocals and longtime frontwoman N’Dea Davenport returns again to reprise that role for three tracks, including that dancefloor thumper “Sunlight.” A newcomer Dawn Joseph takes over the mike for three tracks herself, and Kincaid and Bartholomew take on a few songs of their own.

Like their UK peers Incognito and Jamiroquai, the Heavies mine many hues of the retro style. The only two instrumentals “Forward” and “Itzine” are fueled by punchy horns, although the former is funkier and the latter one jazzier. Shades of the Brothers Johnson, one could swear that the 1980 version of Quincy Jones is behind the soundboard for “Do You Remember,” and “The Way It Goes” makes a strong nod toward Sly Stone’s way.

“A Little Funk In Your Pocket,” sung by Joseph, has a slippery, syncopated beat that’s irresistible, as does “Lights.” “Spice of Life” is a delightful change-up in the form of reggae-pop. The fare ends with not a ballad, which are apparently banned on this party record, but rather, the jazz-inflected mid-tempo soul number “One More For The Road.”

“On The One” has one of the few obvious nods to current times, as Kincaid’s vocal is Autotuned, but on the chorus only, and “Lifestyle” has a little hip-hop-ness slipped into it. Neither of those toe-dips into the 21st century is likely to startle die-hard fans of the old school RnB, however. Forward gives fans of the retro’ed up acid jazz what they crave. The Brand New Heavies are back with more of what made them a hit in Great Britain, by shrewdly mining the rich veins of classic American funk and soul.

Forward is set for release May 21, by Shanachie Entertainment. Visit The Brand New Heavies’ webiste for more info.

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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 svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron
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