Album Preview: HARD UP (The Bamboos)

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by Connor McCormick on May 26, 2021

in CD-DVD,Music

FUNK ME HARD (UP)

After more than twenty years performing together, The Bamboos have refined their craft of finding the sweetest spot between soul and funk to its finest point yet. On their tenth studio album, Hard Up, the nine piece band–founded and led by guitarist, producer and songwriter Lance Ferguson and featuring the vocals of the phenomenal Kylie Auldist–once again manage to reinvigorate a classic sound, seamlessly incorporating contemporary influences to create something altogether brand new.

Much of the album was recorded communally over a week just prior to the pandemic at a sprawling country house just outside the (coincidentally named) town of Lancefield, north of Melbourne. The approach of making an album outside the recording studio (steeped in such legendary tales as the ‘Stones at Villa Nellcôte or Radiohead’s ‘O.K Computer’ St Catherine’s Court sessions) has made it the group’s most collaborative yet, solidifying even more their seemingly telepathic musical interplay.

The turmoil of the last year is reflected on ‘Hard Up,’ albeit indirectly. The title track is a stripped down, serious piece of funk that taps into the widespread sense of unease of the times. The song’s spare, insistent groove and whistled hook display a back to basics approach, tapping into the propulsive rawness of the band’s beloved early catalogue. “They keep adding zeroes / Me, I only got one single nought” as Auldist sings. Its video (below) was shot during the height of Melbourne’s COVID lockdown (still the longest anywhere in the world to date) with the band being “alone together” in a way we’re all familiar with.

Pulling fewer punches is “Power Without Greed,” which rails against those “drunk on power,” compelling that same power to be shared more fairly, and is sung over rock solid drums, leading to an anthemic horn riff and the most inspiring chorus the band has recorded to date. Even the contributions from two of the album’s guests seem to be touched by 2020’s upheaval. LA vocalist Joey Dosik looks towards the light on “It’s All Gonna Be O.K.” and Louisiana-born Durand Jones (of current deep soul faves Durand Jones & The Indications) anticipates when he can just go out and dance with his partner on “If Not Now (Then When).”

Recalling their deep funk origins the instrumentalists in the band (which include some of Melbourne’s finest jazz players) get to shine on New Orleans-flavoured instrumental “Upwey Funk.” But even with guests of that calibre, Kylie Auldist is never outshone on a Bamboos album. Displaying an incredible range and richness with no need for vocal gymnastics, she can move from tenderness on torchsong “I Just Heard You Leaving,” to carefree sweetness on “The Thing About You” to out-and-out power on “Nothing I Wanna Know About.” She even pivots to dancefloor diva status on album closer, a live funk version of Black Box’s 1989 Italo-Disco hit, “Ride On Time,” which has already proven to be a DJ favourite with a seven inch vinyl release selling out in a week in early December. More a reinvention than cover (as the band have accomplished on numerous occasions in the past with songs by everyone from James Blake, Kings Of Leon to London Grammar), the three piece horn section carry the song’s hook and Auldist does justice to Loleatta Holloway’s vocal as it was sampled in the original.

As with all previous Bamboos albums, Hard Up was produced by Ferguson and mixed alongside John Castle (Jack River, Vance Joy, Gretta Ray, Angie McMahon). Never a band to be hung up on any perceived ideas of authenticity of soul music, The Bamboos have managed to appeal to both purist fans of the genre and casual music fans alike by focusing on what’s important: songwriting, groove and powerful vocals.

Watch the video for title track “Hard Up” here:

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