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(Above: It will sound a lot like this at the Record Bar tonight when the Budos Band make their Kansas City debut. The show starts at 10 p.m. and tickets are $10.)

By Joel Francis
The Daily Record

The covers of the three albums released by the ten-piece instrumental ensemble the Budos Band depict a volcano, scorpion and cobra. In other words, objects that are fascinating, even mesmerizing, from afar, but deadly serious up close. Like those totems, the Budos Band’s music can be appreciated, but rarely trifled with.

It is fitting, then, that the ensemble came together at the turn of the century during the Afro-beat revival lead by the New York-based combo Antibalas. Although inspired by – and sharing musicians with – Antibalas, the Budos Band developed a distinct voice.

“After a year or so of playing Afro-beat we refined our sound, brought in funk and soul influences and tightened things up,” said Jared Tankel, baritone saxophone player in the Budos Band. “That Afro-beat influence is still there, but our sound has progressed in different ways.”

While the band’s 2005 self-titled debut was a jumping off point from Afro-Beat to soul, Tankel said their second album – “Budos Band II,” released in 2007 – shows the emergence of Ethiopian jazz influences. That growth continues on this summer’s “Budos Band III.” The album’s darker and heavier undertones hint at the band’s rock and metal influences.

“It’s not explicit, but I think the undercurrent of that influence is there. It might influence our arrangements or approach,” Tankel said. “It’s still heavy funk and soul, but there is a darker influence.”

Although the textures and arrangements vary, Budos Band songs come together in a pretty straightforward process. Guitarist Tom Brenneck or bass player Dan Foder come in with a rhythm bed, or Tankel and trumpet player Andrew Greene develop a melodic horn line.

“Tom and Dan are in lockstep communication at a very high level,” Tankel said. “Whether they are coming up with something or building off it, a lot of ideas come from those guys.”

After the quartet refines the idea, it goes into rehearsal, where drummer Brian Profilio listens to the parts, suggests transitions and helps develop an arrangement. The song is then presented to the other half of the band – the percussion section.

“They really know how to keep in the pocket of the song,” Tankel said. “They’ve been playing together for so long they can really fall in together and give it the texture that makes it a Budos Band song.”

Just don’t expect that process to include a vocalist any time soon.

“That’s something a lot of people ask, but I feel we’re big enough with 10 guys (in the band),” Tankel said. “I feel this third album is our truest voice of what we have going on right now. I’m not sure a vocalist would fit. We’re having too much fun right now visiting all these exciting places musically on our own.”

Like every other album released on the Daptone label, all of the Budos Band’s output was recorded at the label’s House of Soul studio/headquarters in Brooklyn, N.Y. and produced by Gabriel Roth, aka Bosco Mann, leader of the Dap-Kings. As the band behind Amy Winehouse’s “Back to Black” and Daptone flagship artist Sharon Jones, the Dap-Kings have become a hot commodity.

“There is some competition between us and the Dap-Tones, but what we each do is different enough that the competition is somewhat limited,” Tankel said. “They’re on the path to stardom. We kind of enjoy being the scrappy little brother, still playing smaller size clubs and bars.”

The true competitive spirit lies in the band’s roots with Antibalas. The groups’ shared musicians over the years have lead to a healthy level of one-upmanship.

“At this point I don’t know if there are any shared musicians simply because both bands have become busy enough guys have had to decide,” Tankel said. “We’ll definitely hear something great Antibalas or the Dap-Kings come up with and want do it even better.”

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Review Roundup – Rakim, Dodos, Naomi Shelton, Blakroc and Daptone Gold

Open wide for Mouth

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(Above: The title song from Naomi Shelton’s debut album.)

By Joel Francis
The Daily Record

The first month of 2010 is almost in the history books. Fortunately, there’s still time to take one last look at some overlooked releases from the final quarter of 2009.

The Dodos – “Time to Die”

The Dodos third album isn’t a major departure from 2007’s “Visiter.” Several subtle elements, however, make “Time to Die” an improvement. First off, the San Francisco-based indie duo has added vibraphonist Keaton Snyder to their ranks. His playing adds new textures and new rhythms to the songs. Like Vampire Weekend, the Dodos add elements of African music to their arrangements. Unlike Vampire Weekend, though, the Dodos don’t use world music as a template. They incorporate its ingredient into already solid songs. At times the album recalls a more sophisticated Shins. “Time To Die” is filled with a high sense of melody and smart indie rock songwriting bolstered by intricate arrangements that serve the song.

Blakroc – “Blakroc”

Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney have been making great garage blues albums for nearly a decade as the Black Keys. After about five albums, however, some staleness started to creep into the formula. After recruiting Danger Mouse to produce their 2008 release, and Auerbach’s early ’09 solo album, the pair dropped their biggest transformation. “Blakroc” pairs the Keys with former Roc-a-fella co-owner Damon Dash and a host of MCs, including Mos Def, Ludacris, Q-Tip, Pharoahe Monch and members of the Wu Tang Clan. The result is the expected mash-up of rap vocals and raw gutbucket rock that exceeds expectations. Auerbach’s dirty, fuzzy guitars and Carney’s drums add an urgency often lacking in the urban world of sampling. In turn, the MCs feed off the vibe, responding with more bounce and personality in their delivery. More, please.

Naomi Shelton and the Gospel Queens – “What Have You Done, My Brother?”

Naomi Shelton’s back story should sound familiar to fans of Bettye LaVette. Shelton palled around with pre-fame Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding and Lou Rawls. Despite their encouragement, success eluded Shelton, who played regular gigs around New York City. Thirty years later, Shelton became part of the “Daptone Super-Soul Revue,” but it took another decade for her debut album to emerge. “What Have You Done, My Brother?” is a classic gospel album that sounds like it could have been cut 50 years ago. Despite its traditional arrangements, the album finds contemporary resonance in the title song, which questions the war in Iraq. Shelton’s cover of Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come” is especially poignant. A survivor of the civil rights movement, Shelton combines the longing of Cooke’s vision with the optimism of the Obama-era.

Various Artists – “Daptone Gold”

Daptone Records found fame with the diminutive dynamite Sharon Jones, but the entire stable should appeal to Jones’ fans. “Daptone Gold” is a 22-track sampler of the Daptone roster. While Jones is appropriately represented (sometimes through non-album tracks), there are no bum cuts. The old school gospel of Naomi Shelton sets nicely next to Antibalas’ political Afrobeat and the instrumental soul of the Budos Band. Other artists include Stax throwbacks Lee Fields and Charles Bradley. Hip hop fans will recognize “Make the Road By Walking,” the Menahan Street Band track Jay-Z smartly sampled for his own “Roc Boys (And the Winner Is).” At 78 minutes, this generous sampler will certainly send newcomers diving into the back catalog for more.

Rakim – “The Seventh Seal”

Rakim made his name as one of rap’s premier MCs with his groundbreaking albums with Eric B in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. It’s been 10 years since the world has heard anything from Rakim. During that decade he toured sporadically and signed with Dr. Dre’s Aftermath label. The prospect of Dre making beats for Rakim made fans salivate, but unfortunately “The Seventh Seal” is not that long-awaited album. It’s difficult to forget about that hypothetical masterpiece with all the b-list production that plagues “The Seventh Seal.” Rakim sports enough killer flow to justify his reputation, but tracks like “Won’t Be Long” and album opener “How To Emcee” are more stilted and dated than anything on “Paid in Full” or “Follow the Leader.” While there are enough moments on “The Seventh Seal” to make it a must-have for old school fans, casual listeners should probably just ask the devoted to cull a few cuts from this for a killer Rakim mixtape.

(Below: “Holy Are You,” one of the better cuts off Rakim’s “The Seventh Seal.”)

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