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Tweed Funk – Bringin’ It

Tweed Tone Records 2011

10 tracks; 37.07 minutes

Tweed Funk is a four piece band from Milwaukee, Wisconsin and was a new name to me. The band consists of JD Optekar on guitar, Donnie Mac on bass (and keys on some tracks), Marcus “MG” Gibbons on drums and Joseph “Smokey” Holman on vocals on all bar three tracks where each of the other musicians takes the lead vocal. Additional keys are provided on three tracks by Stephen “Pierre” Lee and Macolm “Musicman” Ramsey, but the CD is very much an in-house affair, with engineering, production and mastering by JD Optekar and Marcus “MG” Gibbons. All the songs are original except for Sly Stone’s “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Again)”.

We are mainly in the area of funky tunes here but across the CD there are some straight blues influences as well as touches of soul. Singer Smokey started out under Curtis Mayfield and demonstrates that he has a fine voice for soul and blues. The playing throughout is very good, especially the guitar of JD Optekar.

JD contributes 4 songs to the album, starting with “Blues Is The Truth”, a shuffle with synthesizer highlights and a good guitar solo. The lyrics extol the virtues of the blues as an ever-present source of ‘real’ music. “I Know” is a more up-tempo tune and “My Baby’s Alright” features a strong piano break in the middle and guitar on the outro. The song is also JD’s chance to step up to the microphone and his vocal is suited to the song, without threatening to usurp Smokey’s position as the main singer in the band. “Black Coffee” is a relaxed tune with a strong vocal, Smokey needing the brew to clear his head from a difficult encounter with the blues on a Saturday night. It is all to the credit of the singer and the songwriter that one could hear someone like Bobby Bland tackling this song.

Drummer MG provides two solo compositions of very different types. “Super Mad Woman” is a slow blues of classic style with strong organ from guest Stephen Lee whilst “Brainfreeze” is a strange little number, just 1.35 in length, starting with a repeated shout of “It’s Tweed Funk time” before a very rocky guitar riff takes us to a song which appears to be about putting the tweed into the funk. For an Englishman who knows tweed as a fabric for rather conservative suits this is indeed an odd thing to contemplate!

Bassist Donnie Mac offers “Testify” which sounds like a Sly Stone tune, complete with wah-wah guitar and a short rap in the middle. The lyric tells us that “Funk is in my soul, it makes me whole”. His other tune is the very catchy “B-Line” which Donnie sings effectively.

Donnie and MG also provide a joint composition, the only instrumental on the album “Salsa Blues”, which I enjoyed a lot. It is a relaxed affair with a touch of Santana, perhaps not surprisingly. Percolating bass, rippling electric piano, gentle percussion and fluent guitar play the main tune before bass and drums each get an opportunity to play a short solo feature. The guitar then takes us home on a final chorus.

That leaves the Sly Stone cover. At 5.56 this is the longest track on the CD and, for me, rather outstays its welcome, but I was never a great fan of Sly. Opening with a drum riff the guitar then takes over, assisted by the synthesizer, but I found the whole piece too repetitive. Tweed Funk are obviously Sly fans and take the opportunity to quote from other Sly tunes, notably “Dance To The Music”.

Overall I found this to be a varied CD and I particularly enjoyed the more bluesy tunes such as “Super Mad Woman” and “Black Coffee” as well as “Salsa Blues”. The band has an excellent singer and strong instrumental players so I suspect that they would be worth seeing live when they come to your area. For those who like a good dose of funk mixed into their blues this CD is well worth checking out.

Review John Mitchell is a blues enthusiast based in the UK. He also travels to the States most years to see live blues music. He was recently on the January 2011 Legendary Blues Cruise.

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