E E Records [Release Date: 04.11.13]
P-A-U-L Lamb & The Detroit Breakdown certainly live up to their name. Given their prickly urban rock, funk, soul and bluesy tinged style, they fit perfectly into the city’s musical landscape.
Their songs are heartfelt, uncompromising and as hard hitting as their muscular musical ability and imaginative arrangements. 15 or so of Detroit’s best – including Anglo guitarist Joanne Shaw Taylor, and cellist Jason Charboneau – all lend a hand, on an album full of carefully crafted songs with lyrical weight and passionate playing.
Yet truth be told, like so many bands before them, their music might as well be stamped ‘for export only’, as they have made their biggest impact abroad, in 20 countries spanning Europe and Asia.
I mention this because ‘Ready Fire Aim’ (a play on words that mirrors contemporary disposable ideas and instant gratification) is a wide ranging album that encapsulates the full gamut of roots rock, all shaped by the remarkable trio of The Detroit Breakdown.
Led by the tall, gangling guitar player Paul Ulysses Lamb – he of the gravelly voice and a lyrical insight – and propelled by the peerless rhythm section of bass player Joey Spina and drummer Layla Hall (also on significant bv’s), P-a-u-l have cut their most coherent and impacting album.
P-a-u-l & The Detroit Breakdown offer a refreshing take on familiar musical genres, incorporating gritty funk, rock and delicate ballads into an album that feels like a musical journal.
Their mix of funk injected rock and soul is in effect the vehicle with which they explore contemporary politics and cultural sludge. Of course it also helps that Paul Lamb has a smart turn of phrase and several colourful metaphors at hand, as on the impressive harmonies of ‘When The Crown Hit The Ground’.
Then there are his occasional word plays, of which: ‘Living his life one day at a crime’ (on the suitably titled ‘There Goes The Neighbourhood’) bitingly summarises the reign of the recently disgraced mayor of the now bankrupt city of Detroit. And while the pun of ‘Piece In The Middle East’ might make you groan, the music is suitably heavy enough to reflect a weighty subject.
But rather than just getting bogged down in politics, the album has more of a funky celebratory feel about it, especially on ‘Bring It On’, which suddenly explodes into an ascending, spiralling guitar solo over the funkiest of bass lines. And it’s that ability to surprise and suddenly slip into overdrive that gives ‘Ready, Fire Aim’, its potency.
Having opened with two muscular funk rock pieces, the band slip into ‘Worn Out Love Song’ – the first of four ballads – on which Paul’s whisky soaked phrasing sounds like late career Beefheart (think ‘Bluejeans & Moonbeams’) and perfectly fits a beautiful acoustic/ electric arrangement topped by cello and bv’s .
‘That Smile’ is equally good, with the emphasis placed on the melody and a gentle vocal refrain, while ‘If Only Goodbye’ is the perfect end-piece, full of fractured vulnerability, slide and cello.
There’s more sophisticated restraint on the funk inflected stop-time rocker ‘High Decibel Call To Arms’. The rhythm section pushes the song to its limit, as Paul croaks out his dad’s intergenerational message and impressively switches from lead to rhythm guitar on a cool production job that neatly summarises the band oeuvre. There’s also dual guitar intro to the substantial groove of ‘Piece In The Middle East’ as Paul’s Jim Morrison’s style growl fills the track with import, before a defining solo.
‘Feelin’ Young’ is a surprising white boy soul number and is one of Paul’s best vocals, as he duets with Layla on the chorus. The song gently bubbles along in summery mode, gathering momentum as he finally extends a vowel on the closing refrain over an eloquent solo. It’s melodic moments like this that make you realise the band have much more in their locker than simply urban grit and funky grooves.
If ‘Ready Fire Aim’ doesn’t quite hit the bulls eye, it comes close enough and is a step up for a hard working touring band who encapsulate everything that is good about contemporary Detroit music. ****
Review by Pete Feenstra
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