Jeff Beck’s Blow By Blow CD is currently in rotation in my car (yes, I still play CD’s and get offa mah lawn). Listening to this fusion classic is like being a witness to lightning caught in a bottle where funk, jazz and blues-rock are coexisting in a perfect union. Sure, it’s far from being the only such record and probably wasn’t the first, but even Beck himself hadn’t been able to replicate the grit and immediacy of that record though the follow up Wired comes close.
The Healer comes close, too. That’s the newest release by the tight little funk-jazz unit from Richmond, Virginia, Butcher Brown. Remarkably consistent in delivering organic, soul-kissed jams, this latest concoction signals a change of direction for Butcher Brown, because it rocks. OK, actually, it’s a slight course adjustment not a change of direction because BB can still construct timeless grooves and these guys have always had gotten that seventies vibe down. In fact, The Healer was recorded straight to 2 inch tape and if this wasn’t recorded live in the studio, you could have fooled me.
Which gets me back to Beck’s 1975 masterpiece. The technology applied to Butcher Brown’s album was probably not that much different from the technology applied to Blow By Blow and while guitarist Morgan Burrs isn’t the next Jeff Beck, he and his bandmates DJ Harrison (producer/engineer keyboards, other instruments), Andrew Randazzo (bass), Corey Fonville (drums) and Marcus Tenney (horns) are way better than average musicians who work together like a fine-tuned machine that easily shines through the analog haze.
The first thing that happens on “Tomahawk” is a loud stomp and a bass line that’s really a rock riff. Guitars follow and it’s balls-out time for Burrs. Rich guitar and Rhodes chords caress “Dream Catcher” over a tough Randazzo/Fonville foundation. “Demolition” is founded on a blues-based repeating bass figure that Burrs and Fonville use as a springboard into a frenzied jam that ventures deeper into undiluted rock than anything Butcher has done before.
“The Healer,” the song, shows off the ability of the band to modulate mood and melody. A pleasing RnB styled mid tempo number (even as the drums remain high up in the mix) but as it rises up to its crescendo, Burrs’ guitar gets ever urgent, pushing the song into hard rockin’ territory. Situated right at the end of the record, “Moses” is the long-awaited feature for Tenney, who rips on soprano sax.
A sweetly soulful rhythm guitar progression makes “Cactus” stand out, and Harrison showers palatable electric piano notes all over it before moving over to an analog synth. Once again, the fury builds up with Burrs’ wailing guitar leading the charge. “Syd” boasts the best groove on the whole album — which is saying a lot — once it gets going with a bass/bass drums monstrosity.
As Butcher Brown has been prone to do on past releases, the end of many tracks contains about 30 or so seconds of a song fragment from a completely different idea. It’s like getting a dinner mint after each sonic meal served.
The best thing about The Healer is that in their move toward rock, none of the soul, funk or jazz isn’t sacrificed. That makes this their most complete and fully realized effort yet. You will want to pick up a copy of The Healer, and you can do so from Butcher Brown’s Bandcamp page.
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