Tightly Outfitted Debut LP Will Remind Some of Early 70’s Soul-Funk-Brass Bands
At first, I was propelled back to the tight nifty pop-soul brass music of the 70’s bands. You know, if you’re an older music listener, the Average White Band, Rare Earth, some Sly and the Family Stone, Ballin’ Jack, the Australian band SCRA (the Southern Contemporary Rock Assembly) – never heard of them? Well, SCRA were on Atlantic Records — major label — and released more than one album. But, an LP called The Ship Album had a fiery, wonderful tune “Midnight,” (on YouTube) that did air on some FM stations. This song could be played today alongside anything by the talented West Coast Feed. They may even be cousins.
Now, I’m not suggesting any of these bands influenced The West Coast Feed’s debut album but WCF is following in their respective steps. Its possible none of these fine musicians probably ever heard of some of these bands. However, a courtesy earful to any and bits and pieces of influence would surface as you tap your toe to this tight new ensemble. Is it a good thing? Probably. Because what’s valuable here is that West Coast Feed is focusing on a whole new generation of listeners who haven’t heard those vintage bands. Maybe they will stir up renewed interest in them as well.
The first track from their self-titled debut ten-track album is “You Know You Want It,” – a tightly percussive and upbeat funk song that incorporates a little of each of the above old bands. I hear Ballin’ Jack’s “Hold On,” but what is lacking in West Coast Feed’s showcase is an in your face signature sound. For me, on “Hold On,” (available on YouTube), the arrangement and the hook were undeniable. West Coast Feed has a similar guitar sound. But what I am trying to convey is that when Ballin’ Jack went into their instrumental break following the guitar solo the sound and way their trombone was recorded grabbed everyone’s ear. It was fantastic at the time because even Blood, Sweat and Tears and Chicago didn’t have that momentary brass effect. And, those two bands wrote the book on jazz-rock of the ’70s. Someone knew what they were doing.
The song itself was a great funky tune with brass and the late Luther Rabb’s vocal was infectious. He had that performance style of Otis Redding and played with the audience through wonderful mike expertise. West Coast Feed doesn’t suffer in the vocal department. They have the goods in that area. While “You Know You Want It,” has grit like the Ides of March’s brief “Vehicle,” and that too had that solid drumming. However, Ides of March were clearly imitating David Clayton-Thomas of Blood, Sweat and Tears – and they had a hit, but didn’t last very long with that approach. Not when they were pursued by David’s muscular “Lucretia McEvil,” and “Go Down Gamblin’” which was overwhelming stuff.
But West Coast Feed has some brilliant little elements of these bands and they do project their own style and precision.
Jesse Butterworth’s lead vocals are pristine and soulful. If the 70’s style suits them then they should go for it. But it is retro – pop with a little-accentuated brass, good tight arrangements, and a hefty groove. No doubt. Catchy. And that’s all that really matters right? There’s a moment where we revisit the feel of early Santana, which is always a delight, and the excitement in their performance does come through your house speakers. Butterworth lets loose with high energy singing and he is into it, and that alone could lead you into it.
The band look is retro 50’s with the early 70’s pop-funk sound. Jesse Butterworth looks like he’s channeling Ohio rocker Donnie Iris with the glasses and colorful suit. (See the video for “You Belong To Me”), If he could play harmonica, he could probably get a gig as well with The Fabulous Thunderbirds – and he would be good. But he’d have to push Kim Wilson out of the spotlight first.
Track two is more pop-ish also in an early 70’s tradition. This is not a rockabilly band or oldies circuit group. They are originals. This has a good melody, catchy and sweet. Butterworth continues with a typical 70’s male lead vocal. It’s a shame because these first two tracks could have been great hits in the mid-’70s. Today? I’m not so sure. “Sky Pines,” is a driving song with Cuban-style trumpets blaring with solid notes. Miles Davis? No. Doc Severinsen? Nah. Herb Alpert? Well, maybe this has a little more muscle than Herb. Al Hirt? Not as melodic and smooth. Chet Baker? No. What is it then? It’s just a good feeling blast, good time, foot stomping brass and melody that is expertly played. And sometimes that’s all we really want or need. Toward the finale, the unified choir of singers is inspiring. This song is closely in the soul of SCRA – and that song I cited “Midnight.” Chad Elrod’s solid steady no-frills beats fill the order nicely. You could probably dance to this, but you will need a margarita afterward.
More soulful vocals spill from Butterworth’s throat and “Strung Along,” is an enticing track that could’ve been a hit for The Temptations at one time. Very Motown in tradition and done well. No imitation. If you are need of soul music in the mold of the late 60’s early 70’s this will satisfy that appetite. It has it all. The groove, the soulful Steve Cropper-style guitar notes, backup singers and Butterworth are up to the task vocally. Forget I ever said The Temptations (they have had enough big hits in their career, ha) – this version is the definitive one. Somewhat in regards to The Soul Mission’s beautiful “Table in the Wilderness,” (on YouTube).
Up the ante in the groove department — “The Devil Overplays His Hand,” is tight as a lug nut on an old car wheel. The brass and drums are a little-mixed back, but you can hear them. They’re laying down some marvelous notes and funk. Jesse Butterworth vocals continue to radiate like an old steam radiator. Great performance. It has a gospel-spiritual feel and to a degree, they have left behind the retro-70’s brass band approach for this dynamic showcase. Well-played.
Slowing things down and just at the right time too – “Sound of an Echo,” maintains a cool guitar sound over Jesse’s warm but gritty vocal. Somewhat now in a John Hiatt tradition. The strings may be laid down a little thick but because it gives The West Coast Feed more diversification in their performance, I’ll dismiss it. The song is stirring and it has a warmth that even Chad’s drums capture with the steady thuds and tinkle on the hi-hat or tambourine. Hard to tell. Nice saxophone solo (Matt Simmons) really captures the soul of the song. If I were a disc jockey, I’d play this song with The Soul Mission’s “Table in the Wilderness,” (written by Russ Taff, Darrell Brown & David Batteau) — because they both just seem to mesh.
Rock and roll personified and cooked al dente. “You Belong to Me,” is a fiery brass inflected rocker and Butterworth’s in high gear. Here, they sound like themselves. This is a showstopper and they prove they can rock as well as be funky. Nice horn charts move the song along with a tempo that grabs and holds dancing feet. Nice handclapping break – I like it when a band surprises like that. Fast lyrics and tumbling drums on the floor toms, wonderful. I like many of the songs on this album, but this is the song I will be playing in 2019.
Pacing is everything on an album and “August Peach,” is the perfect fit for track 7. This comes in vocally like a Van Morrison toss off. It works though. Butterworth seems to be channeling Morrison’s lyrical pronunciation with a little more verve in his voice. The brass is in a Van Morrison groove and it’s arranged in a manner that it remains West Coast Feed style. Butterworth asserts himself vocally. I like his starch. He has that Belfast soul going on even if he doesn’t know it. They are from Seattle, WA after all, and they are rocking like Van the Man.
Good solid intro brings the Eddie Vedder/Stone Gossard cover “Alive,” into focus. It chugs along with blasts of brass, and Butterworth is up to the chore. It’s a good rocker – not, like “You Belong to Me,” but it has that Vedder grit and punch. This works. Good cover for the perfect voice and band. Vedder, of course, has gone from Pearl Jam to a wonderful solo album that is more Americana and he has started to appeal to me even more. It’s all about the song and the key it’s in. I think Vedder does himself justice by performing in that genre. Pearl Jam was great, and probably still pull in a generous audience, but an artist needs to spread wings. Vedder did so. Hope he continues to. Jesse Butterworth proves it by covering their song and giving it an additional lift.
A slow, serious ballad with excellent sound and sonics. “Not Giving In,” is beautiful. Drums by Chad and percussion from Matt Woll – the tune unravels dramatically, not pompous at all. This may be Butterworth’s finest vocal. This is a well-constructed song and the vocals are in that Jim Morrison (The Doors) take no prisoners vein. I like the build, the wall of sound and kudos to the engineer and producer for their production efforts here. This is a marvelous aural experience with headphones. Reminds me a lot of The Call’s late Michael Been – who had that type of voice on virtually every song he did.
“Set Me on Fire,” closes the album with a jaunty upbeat arrangement. A little more echo on Jesse’s voice that I think is needed, but I can understand the effect. The song is a steady rocker with blaring dark-toned trumpets and saxes. Chad Elrod’s drums snake around and under with precision. This is another exciting track – say what you want about the band — they do know how to take a melody and run with it. They must kill in a live performance. This song has another soaring Matt Simmons sax solo.
The 39-minute album was produced by Jesse Butterworth (Lead vocals, electric guitar, and background vocals) and recorded in Bellevue, Seattle, and Shoreline, WA.
Along with Jesse, the band includes: Matt Woll (percussion), Kyle Frank (Electric guitar and background vocals), Tim Oas (Bass), Chad Elrod (Drums), DJ Park (Violin and string arrangements), Matt Simmonds (Saxophone, Horn arrangements, background vocals), Matt Collins (Trumpet), Phil Dean (Trombone) and Aaron Sternke (additional vocals and percussion).
The CD package is plain white lettering on black background four-panel designed by Rationale/Sean Wolcott. Next time, a few photos would be nice.
I seldom read PR before writing a review because I don’t want to be swayed or influenced by what has been written or interpreted by others before. It gives me a chance to give the musicians a different perspective on their work. So, it is not that I disagree with what has been created on behalf of the band. I’ve listened to music since the early ’60s and have heard lots of stuff. The only way I can be honest is to avoid promotional writing. What I do is go back after I’ve written the review to see where I’ve seen the artists differently, or where their history coincides with my interpretation. I think it helps them to mature or maintain their intended direction.
There is nothing new under the sun – but, that doesn’t mean a new ingredient can’t be added to improve the flavor.
The West Coast Feed is a viable band with new flavors – despite their retro style — and deserve attention.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this review/commentary are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of No Depression. All photography is owned by the respective photographers and is their copyrighted image; credited where photographer’s name was known & being used here solely as a reference and will be removed on request. YouTube images are standard YouTube license.
John Apice / No Depression / January 2019