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Tweed Funk – Love Is

Tweed Tone Records

10 tracks; 43:08 minutes

Tweed Funk, a prolific new band from Milwaukee, follows up their 2011 debut album, Bringin It, with a CD that defies categorization – Love Is. Is it funk, or blues, or something else entirely? Whatever it is, this set of seven original songs and three covers has plenty of soul and attitude to spare; and its irresistible front-and-center beat will have you dancing in your chair…or wherever you happen to be.

Tweed Funk is made up of JD Optekar on guitar, Donnie Mac on bass, Marcus “MG” Gibbons on drums, a brand-new horn section, and Joseph “Smokey” Holman lending the soulful vocals. (Note: These are the band members as listed on the CD jacket. The Tweed Funk website now shows Eric Madunic on bass.) For this CD, they’ve also brought in several guest performers, including: the WhiskeyBelles on backup vocals, Jimmy Voegeli on the B3, and Fender Master Guitar Clinician, Greg Koch, as co-producer…the “ears” that helped pull it all together.

The CD opens with “Fine Wine,” a song you could easily swing dance to (if you know how to swing dance, that is), with Stray Cats-style guitar solos and back-up vocals that take you back in time. But my favorite cut on the CD, and perhaps the most bluesy, is the 3rd track, called “Gettin’ Home.” It starts out with JD Optekar’s moody guitar and a nice bass line; then, after the first couple of verses, you start to hear this really sweet Hammond B3. This is slow blues at its best.

The 6th cut, a ballad called “Fragile,” tells you “Love is…so fragile.” Then, they back up that thought with subtle 3-note bell-tones and delicate guitar work that gradually picks up in intensity. In sharp contrast is the 7th cut, “Smooth Taste,” which has a distinctly Caribbean flavor, heavy on the percussion and the drama. Zumba teachers – your class is going to love this one!

Some of the funkier offerings on the CD include: “A Real Mother For Ya,” which covers a Johnny “Guitar” Watson tune; “Dancemaker,” which has a bit of James Brown’s style and really takes you back to the ‘70s; and “Sex Machine” which is a James Brown cover, with a little Tweed Funk added-value thrown in. “What Have I Done Wrong” is a Magic Sam tune, previously covered by Luther Allison. It has a funky bass line, some skillfully unobtrusive keyboard, and a healthy dose of B3.

Besides Voegeli’s classy B3 work and Optekar’s exquisite guitar solos, one of the best features of Love Is would be Smokey’s expressive tenor vocals. My only minor complaint is that the Johnny Watson song seems a bit too low for his range – though this could be a deliberate stylistic choice. It would definitely be a treat to see Smokey perform.

So, what is Love Is? A funk CD infused with a bit of blues, or a blues CD with a little funk thrown in? If you listen carefully, I think you’ll hear elements of both blues and funk, as well as some soul and R&B, in most of these 10 tracks. And if you like it, and it makes you move, I don’t think it really matters how you classify it. Just call it Tweed Funk and enjoy it. And if you’re ever in Milwaukee, get your bad self out there and find you some Tweed Funk.

Reviewer Sheila Skilling is a self-professed “blues fan by marriage,” who was hooked by her husband’s musical preferences, but reeled in by the live performances of Stevie Ray Vaughan, Buddy Guy and others. She lives in the Minneapolis area.

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