Galactic’s newest album, “Into The Deep,” captures all the musical personas the New Orleans collective has amassed over the past 20 years while also revealing sides never before seen.
Galactic has always been a dynamic and thrilling live machine that has come to be a sort of touring ambassador for the definitive musical gumbo of New Orleans. It has brushed shoulders with some of the most legendary musicians to come from the Big Easy, including Allen Toussaint and Irma Thomas, as well as collaborating with some of the best upcoming talent of the area such as the Rebirth Brass Band and Trombone Shorty, all the while continuing to display its own exciting brand of funk and R&B to the masses.
As the band’s live show has constantly evolved over the decades, though always rooted in its funk foundation, its studio material over the past decade has pursued a singular idea or concept on each album, from hip-hop on 2007’s “From The Corner to the Block” to a celebration of all things New Orleans on 2010’s “Ya-Ka-May” to a worldwide Mardi Gras on 2012’s “Carnivale Electricos.” Another staple of these records was the bevy of guest stars who came to bring their style and influence to the table, with Galactic acting as the pumped-up house band.
“Into The Deep” certainly has a star-studded collection of guests, such as JJ Grey, Macy Gray and Mavis Staples, but what sets this record apart from the past three is that Galactic doesn’t have a particular theme this time. The band is just going out and representing what it is at this stage in its history, a crack outfit that can pull from myriad influences to create its own unique vision.
Born from the birthplace of Mardi Gras and Bourbon Street, Galactic will always entice you to move your feet, and the street carnival vibe of “Sugar Doosie” instantly gets everything below the hips moving in the right direction, all the while blowing out all the windows down the street with its bombastic brass.
Another song that will have you pumping your fists in rhythm with your hips is “Right On,” featuring the fiery vocals of Ms. Charm Taylor, which shoot through you like an electric current. The song feels like Galactic’s version of a late-night, R&B dance track played in the clubs with its pulsating clapping, pounding drums and bedrock thump of the horns. But Taylor’s no-holds-barred performance is the obvious heart of the tune and she provides one of the many fantastic vocal contributions to the album.
JJ Grey has been a friend of the band for a good number of years now and “Higher and Higher” is a vintage number that soars on the wings of Grey’s rugged, soulful pipes and Galactic’s muscular rhythm, playing on the strengths of both parties. Other talented friends of the band who appear on the album are singers Maggie Koerner and David Shaw. On “Dolla Diva” Galactic reprises their amped back-and-forth chemistry from 2012’s “Hey Na Na” with the slick, funk-hop bounce of new song. Koerner provides the cheeky, sultry hook to go along with Shaw’s quickfire verses about scrounging around for a good time in the all wrong back alleys, and the groove is as hard to resist as the vices they portray.
Galactic certainly specializes in high-energy tracks, but “Into The Deep” manages to show a more tender and emotional side to the band that hasn’t been seen on any of its records, with two heartfelt numbers featuring Macy Gray and Mavis Staples. On the title track, Gray’s soulful rasp wades in the soothing tide of Rich Vogel’s piano and Jeff Raines’ guitar and explores the depth of her vulnerable spirit. The song’s confessional tone is filled with more heartbreak than Galactic is used to conveying, but it wonderfully softens the landing of Gray’s descent.
The gospel roll of “Does It Really Make a Difference” is another gentle number that moves like a weathered paddle boat and its languid, dusk cruise up the Mississippi. The band plays an elegant melody steeped in 1960’s gospel-soul that Staples warmly muses over, wondering “does it make a difference whose tears are first to flow/ Does it really make a difference who is holding on, who is letting go?” The song feels more like a Mavis Staples song than a Galactic song, which is a credit to the respect the band has for Staples and its ability to create the right emotional tone for the message. The mellow soul of “Into The Deep” and “Does It Really Make a Difference” is new for Galactic but certainly a welcomed addition to its repertoire.
After 20-plus years Galactic is as accomplished and comfortable as it has ever been and “Into The Deep” proves the band isn’t finished expanding its musical range, which is good for everyone.
“Into The Deep”
Release: July 17, 2015
Notable Tracks: “Into The Deep,” “Right On,” “Does it Really Make a Difference”