It’s often said that Jazz is the great American art form, the pinnacle of what this country has to offer the world musically. But Dirty Impound has long thought that Funk might be the quintessential American music, a melting pot mutt that weaves together different, powerful strains to create something strong, resourceful and more than a little unruly. Without a doubt, Funk is one of jazz’s children – you gotta be a wicked good musician to not fake it – but it doesn’t even try to resist getting into bed with nasty rock, hard rolling soul, and just about any other shapely genre that takes its fancy, be it the harmonious charms of doo-wop, audience snaring pop, or West Coast psychedelic exploration. Funk is where many tribes find strange yet perfect compatibility in a format that not only welcomes difference and individuality but demands it.
And ladies and gentlemen, there’s never been finer purveyors of Funk than Dumpstaphunk. This isn’t to say they’re better than Sly & The Family Stone, Funkadelic, War or The Meters but after a decade in the game what’s absolutely clear is this band can hold their own against the greats in any category (musicianship, songwriting, live prowess, singing, etc). Dumpstaphunk gets at it with a hungry ferocity that does not give up and never ever rests on past accomplishments, insisting on evolution, pushing and digging their way to greater scope and refinement all the time.
But don’t take our word for it, spend some time with Dumpstaphunk’s new album, Dirty Word (released July 30 on Louisiana Red Hot Records) (pick it up here & here), and see if you don’t think it measures up with their ancestors’ best. And we mean spend some real time with it. Drive around to it. Play it while you make dinner. Throw it on at a party. It holds up in multiple settings and the songs, performances and production reveal their true quality the longer one lives with Dirty Word. There’s a stupid notion that greatness is behind us, a thing of the past fixed in amber, but Dumpstaphunk blasts that idea to smithereens, as exciting and engaging a band to ever come at Funk with all their might.
Truth be told, Ivan Neville (B3, Clavinet, keys, vocals), Tony Hall (bass, guitar, vocals), Nick Daniels III (bass, guitar, vocals), Ian Neville (guitar) and Nikki Glaspie (drums, vocals) don’t need another body to rock yo’ world properly, but being a gracious New Orleans band and seasoned entertainers, too, they know it’s wise to give people a little sweetening and there’s sugar all over Dirty Word. Every guest is well chosen and elevates their respective tunes to new levels, but each and every one of them adapts to Dumpta’s sound and not the other way around. Ani Difranco delivers some of the sexiest, sturdiest vocals of her career on the title cut, and Red Hot Chili Peppers’ bass beast Flea gets positively lascivious with Glaspie on “If I’m Lucky,” where the powerhouse percussionist channels Betty “Nasty Gal” Davis. Elsewhere the horn insertions of Skerik, Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews, Rebirth Brass Band and Grooveline Horns show they can give Tower of Power and Blood, Sweat & Tears a run for their money. But it bears repeating that Dumpstaphunk is always steering and shaping the proceedings, their unmistakable edge and curiously interlocking interplay always evident no matter what the others bring to the table. Everywhere on this album, Dumpsta raises their game, including branching out into Teddy Pendergrass jilted lover soul on “I know You Know” and delving into the blues on “Blueswave,” which could be a lost John Lee Hooker and Canned Heat deep cut. Taken together, Dirty Word represents the rare studio triumph equal to the classics in DJ crates.
“This band is a labor of love,” says Ivan. “We can funk it out with the best of them, but we have a ton of influences. When you put ‘funk’ in your band’s name it can limit what people think you’re capable of, and this band draws from all kinds of genres. So, our new record kind of goes against type to showcase not just the funky stuff but show that all sorts of music can be soulful and full of heart.”
This point is perhaps clearest on one of Dirty Word’s highlights, the Marvin Gaye-esque slow burn “They Don’t Care,” where Dumpsta takes it down a knock and gets serious in a way that’s real and avoids sermonizing, a true showcase for the increasingly fine vocals from Ivan and the rest of the band, including the welcome blast of estrogen Nikki Glaspie injects.
“It’s all really soulful music,” says Hall, who explains their newest material includes rock pieces, a ska/new wave flavored number and more. “Our music is not strictly funk. That’s what most people dance to – a funky groove – but this band can play anything they want to. And if we play something it’s gonna be funky no matter what we do.”
“We always keep the spontaneity going. That’s something I love about this band,” says Ivan. “A lot of Dirty Word was born in the studio or at sound checks, where someone captures a cool idea on their iPhone and then we dig into it further in the studio to develop it. The magic is created when you first play it and the vibe is right there.”
As for the group’s growing vocal savvy, Ivan says, “We have four people in the band who can really sing – myself, Tony, Nick, and now Nikki is putting her stamp on the band. We want to express ourselves in this way, and even though there are a couple new instrumentals we’re serious about our vocals – trading verses, bouncing back and forth for individual lines similar to the way Sly did it. We love doing this stuff. It’s just a good way to express an idea that sounds good and feels right.”
“We do have good vocals,” says Hall. “I look at bands sometimes and just shake my head. We work hard at this.”
The shared vocal duties are reflective of the band’s general dynamics.
“This is a band with no boss, and it can be a challenge sometimes to have all chiefs and no Indians,” chuckles Hall. “We make it work because this is our band. All of us contribute to making Dumpstaphunk what it is. We play from the heart. We don’t worry about playing a particular part. We worry about what feels good.”
For this band, the large umbrella that Funk offers suits them, as effective a shorthand for collection of players whose careers include stints with Keith Richard’s X-Pensive Winos, Trey Anastasio, Beyonce, Harry Connick, Jr., The Neville Brothers, Jay-Z, Rufus, Don Henley and Bob Dylan, to name a few – no, seriously, this only scratches the surface with this busy bunch. Like Funk itself, Dumpstaphunk represents the best parts of many disparate influences, a force as proudly and greatly American as music has produced, and just the kind of mingling of elements we can use in this era of division and dissent, sound warriors hell bent on making folks dance their way out of their constrictions and into each other’s arms (just crank up Dirty Word’s pure New Orleans slathered winner “Raise The House” for visceral evidence).
“When you go to register a song with BMI or another music service, they want you to say what genre it is – R&B, Urban, Rock, Pop – but there’s no Funk, so I usually just mark ‘Other’,” laughs Ivan. “Funk is not only a filthy word but it typecasts you, in a way. So we played around with that idea. We’ve got some stuff that’s more rock, some stuff that’s leaning towards an R&B vibe, some stuff with a New Orleans-y second line feel. We even have a couple tunes that are almost pop. We’re just mixing it up in a crazy way.”
“Funk can almost be a taboo thing to some people, where they’re scared of it. That’s why we’re calling the new album Dirty Word,” says Hall. “But funk is just the music you dance your ass off to when you first learn to move. It’s a funky groove even if the music isn’t exactly funk. The beat is funky and that’s what makes you pat your feet and say, ‘I want to get up in this!’”