09 June 2009

Random Music Tuesdays: Album Review: "Rocket 88 - Tribute To Ike Turner" by Mr Groove Band

I believe this is a day of firsts for The District Diaries' Random Music Tuesdays. I believe this is the first time I've featured an artist more than once. This is also the first full album review I've done. Ever.

I was asked by a good friend to take a listen to Mr Groove Band's latest offering and to share my thoughts on the album. (I may be mistaken, but this might be the first outside review of the album. Yet another first? How cool is that?!) So I received my advance copy and have listened through it once or twice (or a dozen times).

As stated before, Mr Groove was featured in a Random Music post almost a year ago. The band has been working on a tribute album to Ike Turner and, based on the response to "Papa Was A Rolling Stone", asked vocalist Darryl Johnson to do the heavy vocal lifting. The album is complete and is now going to press.

The album is titled Rocket 88 - Tribute to Ike Turner and will be distributed by ZOHO Music, a New York based independent record label specializing in latin/jazz, blues, R&B, and classic/southern rock genres. The band consists of Tim Smith (bass), Roddy Smith (guitars), Tim Gordon (sax and woodwinds), Donnie Marshall (drums and percussion), Tony Creasman (drums and percussion), and Darryl Johnson (lead and background vocals). Guest performers are Audrey Turner, Bonnie Bramlett, Rick Jackson, Mark Stallings, Rob Ickes, and The Groovehouse Horns.

Now I have to admit that I'm not terribly familiar with Ike Turner's music. While I did recognize a couple tunes, most of the album was completely new to me. On the whole, the album works. The band has a great mix of dirty funk ("I Smell Trouble", "I Wanna Take You Higher", "Come Together"), smooth soul ("No More Doggin'", "Rock Me Baby", "Nutbush City Limits"), and rollicking R&B ("Rocket 88", "Taking Back My Name") ... sometimes all in the same song ("River Deep, Mountain High"). The band rocked out on such a fun instrumental piece ("Funky Mule") that I found myself getting lost in it with every hearing. It was also a touching nod to include a toe-tapping piece by the man-of-honor himself ("Prancing"). The band does a great job interpreting the songs in ways that made me experience feelings that I didn't anticipate. And Darryl's vocals capture the meaning beneath the words and the notes, oftentimes laying it right on your lap and daring you to turn away.

But not every song on the album worked for me. While funky in that 70's sort of way (and I'm a man who likes his 70's funk), I didn't quite get "Bold Soul Sister". I can't put my finger on why exactly but that's the way it is sometimes. And this incarnation of "Proud Mary" just didn't hit the spot for me, not even close. While I understand that you can't make a carbon copy of a famous tune, I don't think it's too much to ask that it's a bit more honest (and recognizable) to the original. It's in their attempt to stand apart from Tina's shadow that the band has their only great misfire.

Still, two not-so-good songs out of thirteen is pretty darn good. Darn good enough that you should pick yourself up a copy of Mr Groove Band's Rocket 88 - Tribute to Ike Turner when it's released on 11 August 2009. I think you'll enjoy it as much as I did.

Oh ... don't worry, my faithful readers; The Diarist got your hookup. You can get a taste of the album by listening to the selections below.


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