THE BEST FUNK ALBUMS 2021
The Wicked Sound favorite Funk albums of 2021:
01. The Heritage Orchestra, Jules Buckley, Ghost Note The Breaks [Decca Records]
The pioneering, Grammy award-winning composer, conductor, orchestrator, curator and artist Jules Buckley has teamed up with long-time collaborator and producer Chris Wheeler, Heritage Orchestra and percussion collective Ghost-Note on this album. This ongoing project explores the culture-defining music that has inspired the world of scratch DJs, hip hop and breakdancing since the 1970s. Jules arrangements sliced up and reimagined the iconic funk tracks that spawned breaking, and with the Heritage Orchestra behind him delivered an innovative and groundbreaking album. The Breaks is a stunning collection of the much-loved, culture-defining music that birthed the Breaking scene and influenced hip hop and scratch DJs in the Bronx since the1970s. ‘The Breaks’ sees Buckley assemble some stellar featured artists, like Kamasi Washington, or Cory Henry.
02. The Bamboos Hard Up [Pacific Theatre Records]
On The Bamboos tenth studio album, Hard Up, the nine piece powerhouse, founded and lead by guitarist, producer and songwriter Lance Ferguson have refined their craft of finding the sweetest spot between Soul and Funk to the finest point yet. The album was recorded at a sprawling country house just outside Melbourne, with the communal studio sessions solidifying their already seemingly telepathic musical interplay. Alongside long-time stellar vocalist Kylie Auldist are guests Durand Jones (of Durand Jones & The Indications), Joey Dosik (Vulfpeck) and Ev Jones (Jones Jnr.). Even after 21 years since they formed The Bamboos once again manage to reinvigorate a classic sound, seamlessly incorporating contemporary influences to create something altogether brand new.
03. Flyjack Pan Am [Big Indie Records]
Flyjack released its latest and most ambitious album to date, Pan Am, featuring 8 instrumental originals and a cover of soul jazz classic Dig On It, by Jimmy McGriff––all recorded while the band was on hiatus during the Covid pandemic. Flyjack demonstrate a dedication to soaring rhythmic patterns with jazzy leads that diverge into a wild concoction of world, funk and cinematic soundtrack delights. Pan Am marks the beginning of Flyjack's label affiliation with Austin/UK independent Big Indie Records.
04. Menahan Street Band The Exciting Sounds of Menahan Street Band [Dunham Records]
Menahan Street Band, a veritable supergroup of some of today's most prolific songwriters, arrangers, and producers return with this beat-forward, cinematic masterpiece. Their unique brand of instrumental soul has not only been the foundation for some of modern hip-hop's most successful beats, it has also become the perennial soundtrack and veritable vibe-generator for countless parties, art shows, and restaurants throughout NYC and abroad. While The Exciting Sounds of Menahan Street Band carries the aesthetic torch that MSB has skillfully woven into the tapestry of their DNA, it also delves deeper into the experimental, exotic sounds that fill many of the coveted Sound Library and Soundtrack LPs of the late sixties and early seventies - an amalgamation of moog synths, electric pianos, drum machines, and a bevy of analog instrumentation, that ebb and flow in lush swells of Morriconian grandeur.
05. The Fantastics! Take A Shot [BBE Music]
Respected UK funk/soul/jazz combo The Fantastics! released long-awaited third studio album, nine years in the making Take A Shot featuring Sulene Fleming. The band have been honing this album at gigs and in the studio for nine long years, during which time singer Sulene Fleming has been busy collaborating with Incognito and Leroy Hutson, as well as enjoying a stint as lead vocalist for The Brand New Heavies. The approach of constantly testing material in a live setting has endowed this record with an indefinable yet distinctive, authentic feel; put simply, it successfully transmits the energy and immediacy of a great concert. Only Greg Boraman (Freestyle Records boss) and bassist Raydn Hunter remain from the band’s original line-up, which now features Mark Norton (saxophone / flute) and James Smith (drums). New member James Byron (guitar) brings yet another fresh perspective on the band’s genre-agnostic approach, which takes Afrobeat, Latin, Rock and Rhythm & Blues influences in easy stride.
06. The Buttshakers Arcadia [Underdog Records]
The Buttshakers are an authentic retro-soul/funk band with elements of garage rock, founded in 2007 in Lyon, France. The Buttshakers are led by female vocalist Ciara Thompson, an American singer, who relocated to France and became a singer for the band. Their sound is inspired by James Brown, Gil Scott Heron, Marvin Gaye and Curtis Mayfield, and the Daptone sound. To be more precise, the Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings. The band says about the single Not In My Name, from the Arcadia album: We wanted the sound to match the subject, so we put a really heavy horn section down, very funky with a lot grit, like the JBs. People want change, and change is coming; we wanted an anthem to match that spirit.
07. Nubiyan Twist Freedom Fables [Strut Records]
Nubiyan Twist is UK's leading Afro-Jazz band, led by producer/ guitarist Tom Excell, boasts 10 musicians with powerful arrangements and live dub processing. Woven around soul searching, cautionary tales and parables for modern life, the new album is the most accomplished yet by the Leeds / London collective, effortlessly fusing different soul, jazz and global styles with great musicianship and lyrics. Freedom Fables reflects on the power of narratives. Each vocalist on this record explores their own memoirs, a freedom of expression underpinning our belief that music is the ultimate narrative for unity, explains Tom Excell. The record references a lot of music that we all loved during our formative years; you can hear touches of broken beat, blunted hip hop, highlife, Latin, jazz and UK soul running through the tracks.
08. The Allergies Promised Land [Jalapeno Records]
The Allergies are back with a new album and the feel-good funk, hip-hop swagger, and dusty vintage loops, is everything you need right now. Across the 13 tracks, producers Rackabeat and DJ Moneyshot dig deep into their souls, as well as their record collections, serving up a day-glo blast of super positive sampledelia that'll have you smiling from ear to ear. Built from scratch during lockdown, each song offers up a world to lose yourself in, free from any and all dark clouds. It's their Promised Land, and everyone is welcome to bask in the sunshine. Along for the ride is LA rap legend, Andy Cooper (Ugly Duckling), soul sensation Marietta Smith, dance music heavyweight, Dynamite MC, and the unmistakable voice of hip-hop royalty, Lyrics Born.
09. Bacao Rhythm & Steel Band Expansions [Big Crown Records]
Bacao Rhythm & Steel Band, the mysterious steel pan outfit hailing from Hamburg, Germany have amassed a cult following around the globe. With a slew of classic 7”s and two critically acclaimed full length albums, they set a high bar for themselves, one they clearly intend on pushing even higher with this new offering. On their third album, aptly titled Expansions, BRSB are back with more of the same, but more of the same with them is inherently different. Covering songs that span genres and range from mega hits to album cuts, they make them their own with their unique approach to the traditional steel pans of Trinidad and Tobago. Part of the allure of a new record from Bacao is finding out what covers they chose. Within the next three songs they go from Jazz (Galt MacDermot), to Hip Hop (Slum Village / J Dilla), to a dance floor classic (Grace Jones) taking them all on with their signature style, expanding on the originals.
10. Soul Sugar Excursions in soul reggae funk & dub [Gee Recording]
Guillaume Metenier’s Soul Sugar project has evolved over the years, from the initial trio built around the virtuoso organist’s love of ‘60s and ‘70s soul-jazz and Hammond funk – Metenier studied under jazz organ legend Dr Lonnie Smith. Soul Sugar is now a collaborative collective that draws just as much influence from classic Jamaican dub and reggae (think Jackie Mittoo and Augustus Pablo) as the works of Jimmy Smith and Jimmy McGriff. Metenier is once again at the controls but this time round Soul Sugar’s cast list of contributing musicians includes Sly & Robbie, Blundetto, Lone Ark, Slikk Tim, Thomas Naim and honey-voiced soul singer Leo Carmichael.
11. Joel Culpepper Sgt Culpepper [Pepper Records]
Joel Culpepper's debut album, Sgt Culpepper, is an incredible modern soul album and the product of a two-year undertaking that saw him attract an array of respected producers and musicians from the UK and beyond, a testament to the reputation he had already built as a dynamic songwriter and performer among his contemporaries. With executive production from Swindle (Ezra Collective, Mahalia), and with co-productions that include the likes of legendary pop producer Guy Chambers, Shawn Lee, and Tom Misch. Sgt Culpepper is a demonstration of the power of community, mingling self-reflection with wider social commentary. Joel's sonic palette blends an array of genres and influences, that looks back to the greats whilst simultaneously absorbing London’s contemporary musical landscape.
12. Vaudou Game Noussin [Hot Casa Records]
African, funky, sarcastic, bewitching, green, ecstatic: these words collide to describe Vaudou Game and all of them are true. Noussin is the fourth album of the french Afro-Funk band. Forced into lockdown, like much of the planet, Peter Solo and his Vaudou Game had no choice but to retreat into the studio. A reunion to once again invoke the spiritual forces of the Voodoo Deities. Graced with tapered guitars stringing out rhythmic bumps or withdrawing a few beats to indulge in infectious solos, this album is boisterously alive with vintage 70's funk, infused with a few digressions into other ethers of the funk timeline, nicking different sounds and frequencies to render the black and white keys of an inspired keyboard to reach new euphoric levels of melodic acidity.
13. YORK The SoulJazz Experience Vol.1 [Upper Level Records]
German multi-instrumentalist, composer and producer YORK has been an in-demand sideman on saxophone and flute, live and in the studio for established heavyweights such as Randy Crawford, Phil Collins, Jazzkantine or Bahama Soul Club. YORK enjoys his new creative freedom, as he functions equally as composer, arranger, producer - as well as performing musician, of course! YORK's music is cool, danceable jazz with a touch of vintage soul and funk. He celebrates the swinging 60's in a groovy way and transports the sounds of the vintage instruments he uses into the here and now. The album also features a number of top-class guest musicians, making The Soul Jazz Experience Vol. 1. a truly feel-good experience.
14. Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio I Told You So [Colemine Records]
Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio—or as it is sometimes referred to, DLO3—specialize in the lost art of “feel good music.” The ingredients of this intoxicating cocktail include a big helping of the 1960s organ jazz stylings of Jimmy Smith and Baby Face Willette; a pinch of the snappy soul strut of Booker T. The M.G.’s and The Meters; and sprinkles Motown, Stax Records, blues, and cosmic Jimi Hendrix-style guitar. It’s a soul-jazz concoction that goes straight to your heart and head makes your body break out in a sweat. The band features organist Delvon Lamarr, a self-taught virtuosic musician, with perfect pitch who taught himself jazz and has effortlessly been able to play a multitude of instruments. On guitar is the dynamo Jimmy James who eases through Steve Cropper-style chanking guitar, volcanic acid-rock freak-out lead playing, and slinky Grant Green style jazz.
15. DJ Nu-Mark Run For Cover [Hot Plate Records]
DJ Nu-Mark's Run For Cover double album is an all-covers selection that flips plenty of high-grade hip hop and dance source material into various new and exciting in-between genres. The former Jurassic 5 DJ-producer on his second album reinterprets songs from the likes of Busta Rhymes and Dee-Lite in a funky fashion. It feels nice to trace other people's art, especially in these times where everything is very serious and heavy. It was fun to peel back a few layers and see what was inside., Nu-Mark says about the idea of doing a covers album. The DJ brought in live musicians to reinterpret these songs and give them a completely new spin, his album features Full Crate, Jungle Fire, Lonely Boy, Danny Drive Thru, Sergiio, The Traffic & Bacao Rhythm & Steel Band.
16. STR4TA Aspects [Brownswood]
Gilles Peterson has partnered with Jean-Paul “Bluey” Maunick to reinvigorate the loose, protean energy of the early-80s Brit-funk scene. Long-time friends and collaborators, STR4TA sees them mine new musical possibilities out of that shared formative era. It was through Maunick’s band, Incognito – one of the essential groups of an oft-overlooked, vital pocket of Black British musical history – that they first connected. On Aspects, he and Peterson revisit that important period and the spirit that guided it: self-taught, DIY vitality, and a raucous energy built on live performance. Bringing a fresh slant to a sound first developed by groups like Atmosfear, Hi-Tension, Light of the World and Freeez – with Maunick, it should be noted, also a member of the latter two bands – it’s the first material that Maunick and Peterson have released together in over a decade. First appearing in October 2020 with single ‘Aspects’, the pair didn’t make public that they were behind the project. Peterson and Maunick wanted to approach music-making from the starting point that led to those early records. This meant returning to the era where each of them first found their feet, a period which would shape their respective careers in the decades since.
17. DJ Tron FEATHERS OF FUNK [Burning Sole Records]
Basle's hip-hop and funk producer and beatmaker extraordinaire DJ Tron serves up a very special delivery here with his new album Feathers Of Funk on home label Burning Sole. It is a real mix of the old and the new - there are crunchy, dance floor focussed b-boy breaks like American Dipper with more jazzed-up workouts like Masked Water Tyrant. There's some James Brown funk in jams like Wallcreeper and then deeper, more steamy offerings like Crimson Topaz to switch up the vibe.
18. Alan Evans Trio Elephant Head [Vintage Legaue Music]
Alan Evans is a co-founder, writer and drummer of Soulive for 20 years, he co-wrote, co-produced, recorded, and mixed the majority of their work. Alan still tours the world with Soulive, and has shared the stage with legends including Stevie Wonder, Chaka Khan, Dave Matthews, John Scofield, and the list goes on. Elephant Head from his Alan Evans Trio, the project between him, Danny Mayer and Kris Yunker (both On The Spot Trio), is an epic instrumental album of cinematic funk, in the pocket grooves, and infectious melodies. The album as a whole evokes a classic vintage movie soundtrack. It also features virtuoso playing from all three band members.
19. Dumpstaphunk Where Do We Go From Here [The Funk Garage]
Where Do We Go From Here is Dumpstaphunk's first album in seven years. Over its past 17 years, Dumpstaphunk has earned its reputation as the most well-regarded next-generation New Orleans live powerhouse, the type of band whose live shows attract sit-ins from legends like Carlos Santana, Bob Weir and Trombone Shorty. Tony Hall, Nick Daniels, Alex Wasily, Ryan Nyther and drummer Devin Trusclair, cousins Ivan and Ian Neville have built upon their family’s iconic NOLA legacy as they’ve transformed Dumpstaphunk into the city’s pre-eminent 21st-century funk-fusion export. The band’s mix of classic and modern influences can be heard throughout the party-friendly mix of R&B, funk, rock, swamp-pop and blues of Where Do We Go From Here, from the slap-bass rave Make It After All to the band's contemporary renderings of NOLA R&B rarities (the 1975 Blackmail gem Let’s Get At It) and early Seventies classics (Sly and the Family Stone's In Time).
20. Redtenbacher's Funkestra Big Funk Band [RSB Records]
This is the 12th full-blown instrumental album by UK-based Redtenbacher's Funkestra, the brainchild of Austrian bassist and principal composer and bandleader Stefan Redtenbacher. Pioneers of original wall-to-wall Jazz Funk. With more than twenty releases under their belt and regular London gigs, they have been a mainstay UK Funk band for the past 15 years. Big Funk Band is a collection of eight original and expertly crafted Jazz Funk album with a stellar line up of Jazz and Funk heavies alongside the battle-hardened core of the Funkestra's inner core. Some of the guests are Cory Wong (gtr), Stanton Moore (drs), Keith Carlock (drs), Benny Greb (drs), Francesco Mendiola (drs), Tucker Antell (saxophone), Bruce Gertz (double bass) and Mike Outram (gtr).