The City Champs
19 March 2021
Album Rating 3.5/5
Live Potential 4/5
Diversity in Songs 3.5/5
Solo Performances 4/5
Favourite Songs Luna '68, Hanzo, Thinking of You
Memphis trio, The City Champs, have returned with their third instalment Luna ’68, an album with the sound of '60s Americana alongside futuristic soul-jazz ventures.
The City Champs consist of organist Al Gamble, drummer George Sluppick and guitarist Joe Restivo.
The description summarises the album perfectly: ‘Shuffle a deck of cards backward from this century, one year per card, and you’ll wind up in a time of clean lines and sounds sublime.’
This is where you will find The City Champs. Luna ‘68 has that game-of-poker feel to it, perhaps the game of poker you’d play in a space station lobby. It was released on Big Legal Mess Records on the 19th March 2021.
It’s a purely instrumental album, and on my first listen I was hoping for some vocals to float above the funky licks and orbital grooves, but in my second and third listens I started to feel vocals would take away from that raw, neo-blues sound.
The music has similarities with the likes of Booker T & The M.G.s, particularly from the organ, as well as Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac. It’s trippy, psychedelic and blues-oriented.
Opening with the title track, the album kicks you into gear with distorted guitars and spacey synths as you shuffle through sonic galaxies. ‘Lockdown City’ has a funky-strut feel to it with the edge of the synth. ‘Mack Lean’ follows with a similar head-nodding rhythm that seems to carry you down a timeless street in an American metropolis.
The tone shifts to a quicker groove with ‘A-MELD-A-MARCOS’ as funk and blues collide.
My favourite track was ‘Hanzo’, which takes the pace out of the album for a minute in a wonderfully slow and meditative piece of guitar and organ dialogue. It reminded me of Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Albatross’ and used the tremolo to delicious effect.
The organic nature of the music makes it stand out through the core voices of organ, guitar and drums.
"I’m in the old school. I like beautiful voice leading and beautiful melodies and beautiful harmonic textures," says Joe Restivo. "Here’s an instrument. Plug it in. Can you make music with it?"
‘Skinny Mic’ brings back the edge of funk to the album before the rock sound comes out with ‘Freddy King For Now’ as the guitar’s distortion takes full prowess alongside the wailing organ.
My other favourite tune was ‘Thinking of You’, a melodic track with a funky foundation. It would not be out of place in a Grand Theft Auto soundtrack.
The album leaves us with ‘Voyage to Vega (For Felix)’, a staccato-based piece of funk with the electronic edge of a synthesiser. "It’s kind of a new thing for me,” says Al Gamble. "I was never really a synth guy but over the last few years with St. Paul and the Broken Bones, there’s been some synth added."
Luna ‘68 is the trio’s third album after a long break, following on from their previous titles: The Safecracker and The Set Up.
Joe Restivo took inspiration from film soundtracks, particularly those of composer Piero Umiliani. ‘He’s an Italian film composer, and the stuff he did in the late 60s and early 70s had a futuristic sound to it.’ This futuristic sound is provided in Luna ’68 alongside the strutting rhythms of Memphis funk.
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