Wednesday, 26 December 2018

The Meters

The Meters were an influential, ground-breaking New Orleans-based funk/soul group that produced several quality albums from 1969-1977. They are:-

The Meters (1969)

Cissy Strut/Here Comes The Meter Man/Chug Chug A-Lug (Push And Shove)/Live Wire/Art/Sophisticated Cissy/Ease Back/6V6 LA/Sehorn's Farm/Ann/Stormy/Sing A Simple Song                             
Initially created as a house band for Allen Toussaint, the Booker T. & The Mgs-influenced funk quartet soon created their own New Orleans-style funky identity, almost launching a genre themselves with their cookin' hot brand of instrumental funk. Vocals would be added in The Meters' later albums, but this debut was instrumental, raw and edgy.

The album kicks off with the now much-sampled "Blaxploitation" classic slab of urban funk in Cissy Strut

Here Comes The Meter Man is another smokin' hot cut, full of funky guitar and swirling Booker T-style "fat" organ breaks. Just check out the rumbling, rich bass intro to Chug Chug A-Lug (Push And Shove). Intoxicating or what. The drum sound is excellent too. All these cuts are quite minimalist in many ways, but in other respects they are full of detail and nuance. There are still a few lingering sixties influences to the sound, such as on 6V6 LA but basically this is prototype seventies down 'n' dirty, gritty funk. 

Listen to a track like Live Wire and its sublime guitar sound, interplaying with the drums and the organ. this is the blueprint for the whole album. There is not too much analysis that can be done, track by track, however. Some, like Art, have more of an upbeat swing and are more Booker T.-ish, but others have that New Orleans "bayou funk" feeling that was to make The Meters unique.

Personally, I feel they got even better when, alongside the copper-bottomed funk cuts, they added vocals and laid down some underrated soul numbers, their albums became more rounded and fulfilled then. Nevertheless, this is a masterpiece of its kind - a whole album of classic instrumental funk tracks that have not dated all these years later. Just put on Sophisticated Sissy as a great example of languid, effortless infectious funk, or the addictive groove of Ease Back.

Look-Ka Py Py (1969)

Look-Ka Py Py/Rigor Mortis/Pungee/Thinking/This Is My Last Affair/Funky Miracle/Yeah You're Right/Little Old Money Maker/Oh, Calcutta!/The Mob/9 'til 5/Dry Spell   
This is the second album of largely instrumental funk from the New Orleans foursome, headed by Art Neville. There are a few sort of chanted backing vocals but it is pretty much a cooking, organ, drum and guitar-driven album of red hot early funk. It has been very influential subsequently.

Look-Ka Py Py is beautifully bass heavy and backed up with catchy guitar licks and infectious organ swirls. It is pretty much irresistible. The same applies to the crystal clear percussion and sixties-style psychedelic organ on Rigor Mortis. The tracks pretty much follow the same pattern, remnants of the sixties are kicking around in the "fat" organ breaks but there is a resonant bassiness and clever use of guitar breaks that make for a funky brew. The drumming is staccato, rhythmic and intoxicating. Unlike with vocal tracks, it is more difficult to go through each number, track by track, particularly here when they all get into the same funky groove. It is just an excellent, uplifting instrumental album. When The Meters got more soulful and added vocals on their seventies albums the sound and product was more fulfilled and polished, but there is a raw, funky edginess to these early recordings that render them pretty essential in the development of funk.

This Is My Last Affair must surely have influenced Elvis Costello when writing songs for Get Happy!!, just check out the rumbling bass, melodic organ riffs and drums. You almost expect Costello to start singing. 

Funky Miracle has a captivating shuffling beat, as does Pungee. Also, the vibe on Yeah You're Right is just so captivating. Perfect.

All this material just sound like perfect funky backing tracks and all have a pre-blaxploitation upbeat urban, down 'n' dirty groove to them. I have to say, also, that the sound quality is truly outstanding throughout, particularly considering it was recorded in 1969. Highly recommended.

Struttin' (1970)

Chicken Strut/Liver Splash/Wichita Lineman/Joog/Go For Yourself/Same Old Thing/Clap Your Hands/Darling Darling Darling/Tippi-Toes/Britches/Hey! Last Minute/Ride Your Pony/Funky Meters Soul/Meters Strut    
This was The Meters' third album, By now you knew what you were going to get - their, at the time, quite unique brand of funky guitar, organ, drum and bass-driven workouts, like a series of extended studio jams, but quite intoxicating. That it was more of the same doesn't matter. If you like their sound you'll like it. 
The opener, Chicken Strut, gets aboard the contemporary Funky Chicken groove train, patented by Stax's Rufus Thomas, complete with obligatory chicken noises. 

Liver Splash is a classic Meters, Memphis-style, Stax-ish instrumental groove, driven along by some sublime bass, organ and insistent drums. 

The next cut is a bit of a surprise, to say the least - a cover of Glen Campbell's iconic, evocative ballad, Wichita Lineman, full of telegraph-sounding guitar and a catchy upbeat, rhythmic drum part on the end of the verses, which, funnily enough, doesn't sound incongruous. The original is so perfect in itself that this doesn't really work, but, listened to while trying to forget the original, it's ok.

That addictive rhythm continues on the wonderful, bassy groove of the instrumental Joog

Go For Yourself is a delicious organ-driven instrumental. Same Old Thing has them going very James Brown. The funk The Meters came up with is totally energising, I have to say. 

Clap Your Hands is similarly catchy, while Darling Darling Darling is a sumptuous slice of Stax-style soul, with a Sam Cooke-esque vocal and bass and organ riffs to die for. Look, the album continues in the same vein to the end - funky as hell instrumentals on the whole like the irresistible Britches that just take over as you listen to them. As I said earlier, you know what you're going to get and if it is to your taste, you're in for a treat. 

Their cover of Lee Dorsey's Northern Soul classic Ride Your Pony is given a sixties-style funky, pounding makeover. Great stuff. A highly recommended classic album of its genre. Check out the various solos on Funky Meters Soul for compelling evidence.

Cabbage Alley (1972)

You've Got To Change (You've Got To Reform)/Stay Away/Birds/The Flower Song/Soul Island/Do The Dirt/Smiling/Lonesome And Unwanted People/Gettin' Funkier All The Time/Cabbage Alley  

If it is pure 1970s funk you are after, then you cannot go far wrong with The Meters. They were probably the best of their genre around. The sound quality on this remasters is excellent, with a nice seventies stereo sound and full, warm bass tones. The group had been around since the mid-sixties. This was their fourth album. In many ways they are the personification of the New Orleans funky soul sound.                                        
The album kicks off in great style with the extended funk of the seventies message-driven You've Got To Change (You've Got To Reform). It has a marvellous organ riff driving it along, with full, powerful drums and bass. The message is one of unity, and the band are certainly as one - listen to that bass near the end, then the wah-wah guitar kicks in - Lordy!

Stay Away has a pulsating drum/cymbals/guitar intro. It is a real funky grinder of a track, with a soulfully gruff vocal and a funky drum solo half way through cut open by some searing electric guitar. I recognised Neil Young's Birds from its cover by Paul Weller on Studio 150. The Meters' version here is wonderful and soulful.

The Flower Song is a mid-pace, solidly piece of funky instrumental. I have to keep typing "funky" in this review because there is so much raw funk on this album that there is no other adjective to use. It is simply funk of the highest quality. The guitar/drum interplay near the end of this track is awesome.

The riff on Soul Island is hypnotic and so recognisable. Infuriatingly I can't place it, something that always drives me insane. It has definitely been sampled somewhere. 

Do The Dirt ("do the doit" as it is sung) is so funky it hurts. I have read one critic say that the problem with The Meters was that they had no decent songs to hang their rhythms on. I feel firstly, that is somewhat harsh and, secondly, when you have backing like this, does it matter?

Smiling is another top notch instrumental. It is all about the sound. You want lyrics, listen to Bob Dylan. You want perfect pop, listen to Motown. You want sublime seventies funk, listen to The Meters. The answer to that negative argument can be heard in the irresistible soul Heaven that is Lonesome And Unwanted People, that was surely influential on some of Traffic's mid-seventies soul/rock output, like Walking In The Wind, for example. This is a magnificent track. "No songs?". Do me a favour!

Getting' Funkier All The Time starts with a kick-posterior bass line and has that typical seventies slightly nasal funk vocal. It is a very "blaxploitation"-style urban groover. 

Cabbage Alley is a piano-driven, lively boogie-ish romp with some excellent instrumental soloing. This is a highly recommended album. A pleasure to listen to.

Rejuvenation (1974)

People Say/Love Is For Me/Just Kissed My Baby/Watcha Say/Jungle Man/Hey Pocky A-Way/It Ain't No Use/Loving You Is On My Mind/Africa   

This was New Orleans funkers The Meters' first album since Cabbage Alley in 1972. They were now on a new label (Cabbage Alley was the first on Reprise Records) and the album’s title gave a strong hint of a new birth. As on the previous album, vocals were much more to the fore than they had been on their first three albums (on Josie Records). Musically, though, it is pretty much what you would expect - solid, muscular funk - although the production is slightly more polished and less edgy than previous earthy offerings, it is still very funkily essential. The Meters led the way in seventies funk, of that there is no doubt. The album's cover is pretty garishly tasteless, though, not that it really matters!      
People Say is five minutes of typical Meters copper-bottomed funk. They show a Stax-ish soul side, however, on the sumptuous, horn-driven soul majesty of Love Is For Me. This is simply a magnificent, uplifting piece of classic soul, far more soul than funk, which is surprising. This is where the slight change in style is most apparent. 

The funk returns in the intoxicating wah-wah and bass of the down and dirty Just Kissed My Baby, which gets into its groove and just keeps going. Watcha Say continues the James Brown-esque funk but with a spacey Earth, Wind & Fire feel, admittedly before the latter adopted that style, so this may well have been an influence. I have to mention also that the sound quality is excellent throughout this album.

Jungle Man is a bassy, rumbling slice of urban Blaxploitation funk, very typical of its era. Proper seventies growling funk. Hey Pocky A-Way cooks, big time, full of catchy brass bursts and another irresistible funky backing. 

The sublime guitar on It Ain't No Use is almost Santana-like and the vocal and percussion reminiscent of Sly & The Family Stone’s Family Affair. This really is a great track, full of virtuosity.  It is nearly twelve minutes long, but it never gets tiring. The Meters at their best, but developing from their earlier, shorter workouts.

Loving You Is On My Mind is a lively, piano-driven soul semi-instrumental featuring only occasional vocals. It has a killer bass line underpinning it. Again, it shows a slight move away from more typical Meters fare. 

Africa ends the album with some more recognisable thumping funk, with airs of the UK’s Cymande, for me. It is a culturally-conscious number with a Graham Central Station feel to it.

Just as with The Meters’ other albums, you can’t go far wrong with this album if powerful seventies funk appeals to you. Highly recommended.

Fire On The Bayou (1975)

Out In The Country/Fire On The Bayou/Love Slip Upon Ya/Talkin' 'Bout New Orleans/They All Aks'd For You/Can You Do Without?/Liar/You're A Friend Of Mine/Middle Of The Road/Running Fast/Mardi Gras Mambo   

This is a gritty mix of funk and soul from The Meters. There is a lot of typical New Orleans funk, great drumming and intoxicating funky guitar sounds. It is their most "swampy" New Orleans-style album. The group now include vocal tracks on all their albums, and the product is now far more diverse, not that the early funk instrumental albums were not appealing, for they were, but these mid-seventies albums are really top quality. As with all their albums, there is nothing that sticks out notably, simply a succession of immaculately played, atmospheric funk and soul numbers that never fail to please. It has been said that the music simmers constantly, full of flavours, but never gets to the boil. That is not necessarily a bad thing. The funky aroma is constant.                             

Out In The Country 
is a catchy piece of country rock/funk, sort of Boz Scaggs meets mid seventies Traffic with lyrics influenced by The Band. It is actually quite different to those early funk instrumental numbers from a few years earlier. 

Fire On The Bayou is a swampy slice of cookin' funk with a Dr. John feel about it and hints of fellow funkers War as well. It has infectious shuffling drums and sort of skanking style guitars. Love Slip Upon Ya is a guitar and organ-driven grinder, seriously funky. 

Talkin' Bout New Orleans is typically New Orleans horn-driven funk, as you would imagine. You can almost feel the heat and smell the cooking. They All As'd For You is a slightly incongruous piece of New Orleans cajun light-hearted jazzy fun.

Can You Do Without? sees the funk return with a totally delicious, deep bass line and addictive funky beat. Liar is a mid-tempo rock funk number. You're A Friend Of Mine is an Al Green-ish slow soul number enhanced with some killer guitar in the middle. There is some wonderful slow soulful funk on this track. 

Middle Of The Road is a lengthy, delicious concoction of laid-back jazzy guitar-driven groove. It is an instrumental with a sensual late-night feel to it. The guitar is superb from Leo Nocentelli. All of The Meters were/are incredibly talented musicians.

Running Fast is a strangely short funker with echoes of Sly & The Family Stone in its vocal. It fades out just as it has got going, however. Mardi Gras Mambo is a suitably upbeat party song to end this enjoyable album. One of The Meters' best offerings. It was actually to prove to be their last great album, however.

Trick Bag (1976)

Disco Is The Thing Today/Find Yourself/All These Things/I Want To Be Loved By You/Suite For 20G/(Doodle Loop) The World Is A Little Bit Under The Weather/Trick Bag/Mister Moon/Chug-A-Lug/Hang 'Em High/Honky Tonk Women  

Like many artists, The Meters decided to dabble in disco in 1976 and, unfortunately, it signalled the beginning of the end for this iconic New Orleans funk/soul group. There would be only more album after this one. It was largely an album of soul numbers and slightly more commercially-aimed dance-ish tracks, (at least at the outset), seriously lacking in the funk that was the cornerstone of their music at times, but, that said, the group were trying to move with the times, so maybe I am being a bit unfair. In fact, I think I am, as the album improves as it progresses.                              

The opener Disco Is The King Today is an upbeat disco cut that sounds nothing like The Meters. This is actually the only disco track on the album, so the accusations of this being a "disco album" are pretty wide of the mark. 

Find Yourself is a slow paced soul chugger that is perfectly ok, and the same applies to All These Things, which is a fetching smoocher. These soul tracks are pretty good, the latter in a Neville Brothers style, it has to be said. However, it is upon funk that The Meters made their name, and there is not much of that to be found here. 

I Want To Be Loved By You sees a bit of funk appear, slightly, but it is more of a muscular, bassy soul cut as opposed to funk. It features a killer organ break however. It is a good track, with an insistent soulful vibe to it.

Suite For 20G is a syncopated instrumental, featuring some disco-y synthesiser. Some funk is buried beneath the keyboards, though, and it has a spacey groove to it. 

(Doodle Loop) The World Is A Little Bit Under The Weather thankfully is a solid funker, with shades of Traffic's Feelin' Alright. This showed they hadn't forgotten their musical roots, although it is still funk with a 1976 sheen to it. 

Trick Bag has a pumping funky soul feel to it. Mister Moon is also a funk number for the time with a great soul vocal with a Parliament vibe to it. It is one of the best tracks on the album.

Chug-A-Lug is a solid, punchy piece of funky soul. You know this album improves in its second half quite a bit. There is still some good material to be found here. Hang 'Em High is a cookin' organ-driven cover of the spaghetti western them music. It is actually funky as hell. 

The final track is an interesting, gutsy cover of The Rolling StonesHonky Tonk Women, which works pretty well. The Meters opened for The Stones on their tour at the time. The album is certainly worthy of a bit of a reassessment. Either way, though, there would only be one more Meters album after this.

New Directions (1977)

No More Okey Doke/I'm Gone/Be My Lady/My Name Up In Lights/Funkify Your Life/Stop That Train/We Got The Kind Of A Love/Give It What You Can   

After nearly nine years of releasing quality funk and soul albums, this was, unfortunately, the last outing for this excellent New Orleans band. They had given consistent pleasure from the late sixties through to the mid seventies in their eight high quality albums.                   

No More Okey Doke is a pounding, upbeat brassy funk grinder, with horns to the fore and a it sees a return to their finest funky feel. The organ, bass, drum interplay at the end is impressive, as is the gritty soulful vocal. 

I'm Gone is a lively piece of poppy soul/blues, with once again features some kicking horn parts. Be My Lady is a sumptuous smoochy soul number, with great bass and horns, as is now expected. For this final album, The Meters have merged their natural funk with soul a lot more obviously than on previous albums. The track maybe doesn't justify six and a half minutes, but it doesn't grate in any way. 

My Name Up In Lights is a delicious slice of insistent, grinding funk. It is very typical of mid/late seventies soul/funk.

Funkify Your Life is, as the title would suggest, a superbly funky workout, with hints of Parliament/FunkadelicStop That Train is The Meters first venture into reggae, and they do it pretty convincingly with their cover of Peter Tosh's classic. It fitted in to the crossover into reggae that became fashionable in 1977 with the punk/reggae thing. 

We Got The Kind Of A Love is back to sumptuous soul with a Harold Melvin meets Third World ballad. The backing vocals are very Third World. 

Give It What You Can is a gritty, industrial piece of thumping horn-powered funk rock, with a socially-conscious message and some great vocals.

This is not a bad album to bow out with. A nice mix of funk, soul and reggae. It was a shame The Meters decided to call it a day after this, particularly as the album was titled New Directions, but there you go.

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