Galactic’s always been a museum exhibit. Over the course of its first two albums – Coolin’ Off (Volcano, 1996) and Crazyhorse Mongoose (Zomba, 1998) – the band trucked in dirt-hewn funk stuffs culled as much from Stax as the band’s native New Orleans. The confluence of jazz, funk, and soul wasn’t unique, but came at a time when jam-bands had worn out their intrigue. Insinuating itself into a community soon to become a multi-million dollar phenomena with Bonnaroo, an event which should be rightly understood as the precursor to huge modern indie-fests juking fools outta their money, wasn’t a difficult move. Despite the vast chasm between what Galactic and Widespread Panic played, stoners enjoyed dancing to each, the former allowing for dazed dreadlocks to claim some sort of jazz knowledge. But that was well over a decade back. Theryl de Clouet no longer croaks lyrics for the band and each player is engaged with a wealth of side-projects – and rightly so. That’s what jazzbos do. Continuing on with the Galactic franchise then becomes stable income as opposed to a wild creative outlet.
As a bookend to We Love ‘Em Tonight: Live at Tipitina’s (Volcano, 2001), The Other Side of Midnight: Live in New Orleans collects a handful of offerings which feature a litany of local talent. Trombone Shorty contributes a bit, as does the Soul Rebels Brass Band and Freedia. Most impressive, though, are vocal cuts counting one-time Meter Cyril Neville. The musical connection between Galactic and that earlier NOLA funk outfit doesn’t need any strengthening. But Neville’s willingness to perform alongside an ensemble mining his back catalog points to Galactic’s ability to do it convincingly.
First appearing on “You Don’t Know,” Neville sounds vital enough for it to be the early 1970s again. Opening with a swell of horns, the band falls in line behind his lithe lines detailing another relationship rife with problems. Musically and lyrically, there’s nothing here approaching drastic revisionism. It’s just a solid soul track with a well rehearsed group punching out the melody when Neville takes a few bars off. “Heart of Steel,” the singer’s other effort, gets further into blues territory, almost approximating another NOLA citizen, Dr. John. Still funky, the track’s drastically more swampy with an eerie instrumental break capable of calling up alligators from the bayou. Thing is, reaching back to those albums with de Clouet being featured could have summoned a similar listening experience.
Sure, the Tower of Power still tours, but fans return to 1972’s Bump City (Warner Bros.), not 2003’s Oakland Zone (Or. Music). So, maybe Crazyhorse is more representative of what Galactic was at its peak. But part of that’s related to how we all understand music in time, appreciating a work for the memories it conjures as opposed to what we’re actually listening to. So, if Galactic helps listeners recall past evenings of entertainment, live or otherwise, continue picking up the band’s newest work. Stanton Moore’s solo discs might hold a bit more appeal, but that’s just opinion.Visit: Galactic | Anti-
Purchase: Insound | eMusic