The Poets of Rhythm
Practice What You Preach
unich, Germany hardly strikes one as a sweltering hotbed of the classic chicken-n-cornbread super-soul-sonic gutbucket fried-funk sound, but I'll be damned if the Poets of Rhythm don't nearly convince me otherwise over forty tight minutes of horn stabs, JB huhnns and non-sequiturs ("More Mess on My Thang," anyone?), soul jazz organ swells, and jumpin' back to kiss yoself.
Originally recorded in 1993, Practice What You Preach occupies a point at which (relatively) modern production values co-exist with the sound of a billion early 70s funk bands, most of which dropped one killer 45 and then dropped off the face of the earth. Nothing that happens across the entirety of the album will necessarily surprise you, especially if you've listened to any of the last ten years of the Soul Fire, Stones Throw, or Daptone labels' form of funk revivalism. But that ain't no thang. Those of us who know the joys of digging around in a Southern or Midwestern cellar for dusty, ill-handled 7"’s with the telling home-made looking labels can attest to the thrill of a brand new groove. "It sounds like James Brown," the uninitiated will tell us. And your point is?
Practice What You Preach features all the staple components of the idiomatic soul-funk LP—there's the social consciousness number ("Upper Class"), the brand new dance ("The Funky Runthrough"), the organ/horn- and organ/string-laden ballads ("What You Doin'" and "It Came Over Me," respectively), the sweat-and-stomp motivators ("Practice What You Preach" and "The Plan"), and some mid-tempo cookers referencing food ("Strokin' the Grits," "Choking on a Piece of Meat," and "Saltin' the Soup"). Hell, there's even a song about "funky, funky North Carolina." Not too bad for a bunch of guys whose idea of the Dirty South is the muddy banks of the Upper Rhine.
As with most bands that work in the fundamentals of raw soul, my favorite songs are the ones that tack down a bassbin-rattling, drive-by groove (a la "Choking on a Piece of Meat," gotta love that title) and those that stand you up, kick you over, then force you back up on your feet for another round ("The Plan" being my personal selection). Most everything here is a combination of those two approaches, a marriage that succeeds easily with musicianship this on-point. Even the pair of smoky ballads work, since they at least give you a chance to catch your breath and make sure you didn't bang your head the last time you pogoed into the ceiling. Normally, even on “seminal” funk LPs, I find the slower numbers too often fall into the generic love song traps, requiring a lifting and replacing of the needle. Here, there's no need, thanks mainly to the thick, warm fills of the Poets resident organ man.
In many genres of music, this kind of romantic retro-ism would be discarded as following fashion or unearthing ancient history, but the heavy funk of the late 60s to early 70s is a music best experienced in the here, the now, and preferably in the flesh. Which is a shame in the case of the Poets of Rhythm, as they seem to have vanished after 2001's Discern/Define on Quannum, leaving a number of bands to carry on their mission: the Dap-Kings, Italy's smoking Funkallisto, the Breakestra, and a handful of others are purveying the classic funk sound at a venue near you even as we speak.
Daptone Records, who've chosen to re-issue this long unavailable slab, certainly praise The Poets of Rhythm as, if not innovators, at least originators of the new wave of "classic funk" bands:
Arguably the pioneers of the new heavy funk movement, Munich's own, Poets of Rhythm, recorded this debut album in 1993, years before Desco, Daptone, DJ Shadow, Cut Chemist, or any of the rest of us ever got covered in the filth of raw funk.Whether or not that's the case—and who the hell am I to argue with the people who back Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings—this is a dynamite solid gold hunk of nasty funk that gets you moving, knocks you down, and leaves skid marks on your drawers.
Reviewed by: Mallory O’Donnell
Reviewed on: 2006-05-03