Hard Proof's new album STINGER is a hard-driving force that will keep your body’s molecules dancing long after the 9-track album works its charms.
To attempt to classify Austin’s 10-piece collective Hard Proof in some form (eg. “Afrobeat” or "Funk" or “World Music”) would be doing a great dis-service – to this band and to yourself, mostly. Not to mention ultimately futile. Although the band’s sound-roots lie in the music of a by-gone era, their music is nothing like Fela’s, in that there are no political statements, no egotistical central protagonists, no dancing girls. And no vocals. Yet the band does not lack for lyrical underpinnings, and takes the essential energy that typifies Fela’s music to another level with their own stamp on things. Make no mistake: regardless of your musical genre-preference, Stinger is a hard-driving force that will keep your body’s molecules dancing long after the 9-track album works its charms.
Take the title track, for example. A 7-beat gem bathed in Afrobeat sensibility powered by the frontline “Hard Proof Horns” (comprising the band’s famed brass trio of Woullard, Frey and Phelps who boast supporting creds with the likes of Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears, Spoon, Gary Clarke Jr. and others), the song centers around the baritone sax work of Woullard who delivers an extended, screaming low-end solo enveloped within the harmony of Frey’s tenor and Phelps’s trumpet, all punctuated exquisitely by Spampinato’s blocks-and-bells work throughout.
Almost too quickly, the song ends and switches gears in to Track 2 - Men Of Trouble, a gorgeous Ethio Jazz masterpiece journey of minor-chord-induced emotions. This time, Woullard flies high, with a magical melody on flute, superbly augmented by the axe work of Branch and Sleator. Together, their guitar solos, pulsing chordal rhythms, and the judicious use of WaWa pedal engrave happy-grooves in one’s mind, reminiscent of a musical golden-age gone by.
The album’s other tracks do not disappoint, either (there are no “filler tracks” and there is no “downhill” on this record). “A.R.A.S” is a rare (for this band) interlude of pure percussive abandon. “Incendiary” is exactly that – a fiery, hard-driving Afrobeat track that is hard to sit still to - with free-ranging horn solos, subliminal Rhodes-like floating chords by keysman Larios, and more. “Lots” is an amalgam of equal parts superior musicianship and percussive excellence enveloped in Larios’s B3-esque wrapper. “Soul Thing” is well-named – a fitting end to this CD that evokes so much salve for the soul – with Cruz’s congas criss-crossing paths with the horns through to the end.
Other standouts on this album: Sokolik’s hard-driving bass lines that stitch together the fabric of so many of the tracks. The diversity of compositions and arrangements (no two tracks sound alike). A scratchy-but-effective mix quality that gels well with the feel and roots of the band’s music (a hard balance to achieve with any ten-piece ensemble). And of course, the always-understated (but ever-powerful) percussion trio of Bidwell (drum set), Cruz (congas, bongos) and Spampinato (blocks, bells, shekere) that hold it all together track after track with workman-like efficiency, yet escaping to create those fleeting, delicate fills that make all the difference.
STINGER is set for release on January 13th on the Modern Outsider label, with a much-anticipated CD Release party at Antone's that night.
The album is available for purchase on CD, Vinyl and in digital download format, from fine stores like the ones listed below and more.
- JAKES SRINIVASAN