Every once in a while you gotta take a leap of faith. Just give something a listen to that may not be up your alley. For me, that leap of faith was The Funky Knights. I have some R&B appreciation in my background. One of the slickest produced artists I remember (and just plain old liked) was the late Luther Vandross. His albums were always clean, tight and had that smooth sheen.
I have to say, The Funky Knights come awfully close. At least when it comes to the instrument production.
The Funky Knights (FK) are comprised of “Wild” Bill Olland, lead vocals and keyboards, Reid Trevaskis, lead vocals, guitar and keyboards, Paul Gifford, lead vocals and drums, Randy Pratt on bass and Paul Latimer on guitar.
They are not a new band, but have been plugging away since the late eighties in clubs all over the New York City area.
“Days Of The Knights” almost false starts. But the groove starts right in. Even into the break, the instrument track is funk personified.
The lyrics are trite as hell and the vocals themselves, just lack. They are mixed down even during the spell change. Which ends the piece. A bit of a surprise there.
A modulating riff starts off “Hound Dog” and a new version, not the Presley version, “Hound Dog” by The FK is more about being a dog towards the ladies. OK, so maybe the subject matter isn’t that different.
When there is a solo, it is mixed well, but the focus is never on the vocals, like it should be.
Maybe these guys should hire Todd Rundgren to do vocal arrangements… Like Celine Dion did.
One last riff and some dog howls end the song.
The theme song for today’s economic times “Can’t Afford It” has a skint chord progression. But the vocals make reference to the expense of sex, drugs and dating.
A barely there keyboard solo before a horn break brings in a guitar solo, only slightly louder in the mix.
Then a break down about some inexpensive dating procedures. Until the object decides his date can’t have money for drugs.
I hear strains of Randy Newman in the vocal.
Our first ballad is the envelope-filtered bass and guitar solo intro to “Passing Parade”. A stark, instrument-light song but the vocals remain unconvincing. Another one of those “one-that-got-away” tunes, seems like the singer has a romantic stymie over a cheerleader in a passing parade. Romantic or desperate, you decide.
The wah-bass can get annoying, but the dynamic sneaks up during the end chorus. Took me by surprise anyway.
Another tune for our times, “Money Talks” takes a look at all the cliché money songs. Including how cash communicates, and B.S. is pedestrian. But oooohh the thirty-story soul comin’ at ya! Maybe Daryl Hall could have helped these guys, he coached Rundgren how to soulfully emote when he was first starting out as a producer-turned-performer. The song even has a snappy break into a well mixed keyboard solo. So far the arrangements have held some surprises, but on the average, they are standard fare.
At around three minutes in, they surprise again by breaking the song down to a half-time, a nice surprise! Then an outright, Soupy Sales-esque appeal for the listeners to send them money! A riot! Buy FK merchandise, then an appeal for our protagonist to be a money man takes our fade out quick.
The “out-of-place” track has to be the sixties pop/country of “Movin’ On Blues”. I would think this might have been written by Boyce and Hart (who wrote a lot of the Monkees hits from that era) had the liner notes not stated that all tracks were written by FK and the subject matter were about getting drunk and high. A close look at the eyes of Peter Tork and Mickey Dolenz might make one think otherwise.
Gotta love that guitar solo.
The standard ending and the lyrics entitle this track to be called blues by definition.
A snappy bass line starts “Wrap The Phone” and the hysterical chorus line is “You say you’re gonna wrap the phone, around my neck”. This band has been around for thirty-plus years, so they remember when phones had cords. The first verse is a phone conversation taking place between the vocalist and pitched-high voice on the other end, and that phone conversation is filled with expletives.
The solo voice section is hysterical! But what do you expect from a part-time lead vocalist, part-time comedian.
Then a low-voiced phone out of service message takes us to verse three. Obscene!
More wah-bass starts off “All Night Long”. The vocals change style so often you can’t count the influences. The lyrics detail someone driving to a woman from New Hampshire. Driving south, I hope. The chorus is simple repetitions of “All night long, you’re driving me…”. A hot and tasty guitar solo with some keyboard accents bring verse three back in. More surprises.
OK, the line about cutting off hair to make a sweater out of it to be closer to the object of his affection is creepy. Good thing the song ends soon after that line.
Our second ballad, “Don’t Ask Why” starts off characteristically smooth, and the chorus vocals are quite nice! The verse remains uninspired, sadly. The harmony vocal is the order of the day on this track. Still, less than thoughtful lyrics. The “Don’t ask why” vocal break is unexpected and finally, the solo voice during this during this part has conviction!
But this goes right back to our verse order. But we quickly return to that nice “Don’t ask why” break and even end on the last word of it. Tight.
A lone guitar introduces the upbeat “Do It Right”. Rather than this being an anthem for correctness, it is instead an anthem for sober sex.
A school crush? Spotted her in homeroom? I don’t think this sort of mentality is coming from a school kid. Then he talks about getting a coffee.
Wait a minute, isn’t caffeine classified as a stimulant?
Another nice synth-backed guitar solo PUMPS the dynamic and the lingering keys keep it there.
Our first cocaine reference, admitting that they’ve been watching her get high for days. Just when you think things can’t get worse, someone doing the vocal thinks they are Cameo (that’s twice this year I have mentioned the band Cameo…).
Bass plucks into drum and guitar lines begin “Eye On You” but they give absolutely no clue as to the chord structure that is in store for the listener. But cop-out spoken vocals for the lyrics which are NOT included in the packaging makes deciphering them tough, even if they are spoken. They may be available atwww.funkyknights.com.
The backing vocals on the chorus are fun and remind me of some Zappa. The solo afterward is chilling. The chorus puts me in the mind of Alan Parsons…
It ends with a surprise cut during the riff. Nice!
Horns O’ plenty start off “Guilty” but the whole band is right there for the verse. Both the verse and bridge vocal are bland. Sigh. Wasted backing vocals. The horns return for the chorus. Jungle-style drums bring in another flat verse.
Still not sure what the lyrics are about, other than being guilty of loving someone.
A buried organ solo gives way to a simple guitar solo. The jungle drum break returns with the vocalist finally finding his melody. More chorus, more horns. But this time the horns take us out to a mash kind of ending with the music referencing different parts.
We end the disc with “Love Harmony” containing a very sophomoric vocal. A subdued solo is the chorus, save for the one line of “Love harmony”.
This is a little down-tempo, but it remained tight right to the hit-break. Even some nice reverse effects take us back to those sophomoric vocals, then a solo chorus with more vocals, then a solo proper. Buried in the mix, but a proper solo none-the-less. The backing vocals are so far back you can’t make any of them out. Especially when they become exponential and end the song in a vocal chord.
If any of the band members are reading this (HA! Like THAT will happen.) please take my tome as one of constructive criticism. If you put out another album (and I hope you will do so soon) have someone come in to evaluate your lead and backing vocals. Check if they can make out what you are saying. Also, don’t fear your voices, mix them louder!
For the reader of this review, if you should find yourself intrigued by a historic funk and R&B band’s major comeback, see if the site on which you are reading this review can order their self-titled disc. While I may have been harsh in my review, I still think this is an important disc, and clearly has more redeeming value than anything coming out of the Disney Kiddie Music Factory (Miley Cyrus, Jonas Brothers, Selena Gomez…).
If you like to move, then this one is definitely for you! If your local indie store doesn’t have this in stock, get them to order it. Keep the funk alive!
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