[Read Jesse Ducker’s interview with The Du-Rites here]
As history has proven, a prolific output can help make a funk artist or group great. For the last 20 or so years, you can consider yourself fortunate if your favorite group releases an album every two to three years. But in the ’60s and ’70s, artists achieved quality through quantity.
Some of the greats were absolutely dedicated to churning out superior product at a fast clip. Both the Meters and Parliament each released three groundbreaking albums apiece in the space of a little over a year. James Brown released three albums in 1973: soundtracks to Black Caesar and Slaughter’s Big Rip-Off to start the year, then bringing the year to a close with The Payback. Then he followed it up in 1974 with Hell and Reality. That’s a two-year run that dwarves most artists entire careers.
The Du-Rites are made up of seasoned veterans to the music game, but they have the work ethic and drive of hungry newcomers. After releasing their self-titled debut album in late 2016, Jay “J-Zone” Mumford and Pablo Martin began recording a new album almost immediately. Working hard through the winter and spring, they recorded the 13-track Greasy Listening, an entrée that’s every bit as funky and gritty as their first album.
The Du-Rites are J-Zone and Martin’s second or third act as artists. J-Zone made his name as a hip-hop artist and producer, while Martin worked hard as a sound engineer and rock guitarist. In 2016, both dedicated themselves to playing funk and soul together and haven’t looked back. Again, Martin shines on the guitar and bass, while J-Zone goes for broke primarily on the drums and organ.
Greasy Listening isn’t a stylistic departure, but both J-Zone and Martin have gotten better at what they’re already great at doing. The songs have a bit more structure, and J-Zone spends a little more time playing the organ and talking trash on the microphone. Whereas the last album was all but completely instrumental, here Zone contributes some vocal interludes and a few extended riffs expressing his contempt for the state of the world.
The Du-Rites frame Greasy Listening as a “live album” at the fictitious Collard Green Lounge, a venue where “the food is cheap, the drinks are expensive, and the band don’t get paid a dime.” And J-Zone and Martin create the authentic atmosphere of a live funk-soul album through studio tricks and their refreshing approach to the material. Besides the occasional added crowd noise, “hecklers,” and vocal riffing, the tracks themselves have all the rawness of a life performance. You can even hear the amps buzzing on some of the songs.
Like many good soul albums, Greasy Listening does its business and keeps it moving, clocking in at 36 minutes in length. It opens with a trio of sturdy soul jams in “Du the Twitch,” "Bite It,” and “Mr. Porter.” These tracks put Martin’s guitar and Zone’s organ skills at the forefront, making the songs feel solid and ample. “Mr. Porter” in particular would again fit perfectly on an album by Booker T. & The MGs or The Counts.
The Du-Rites continue to be adept at playing in many styles. “Du-Matic!” sports a reggae-esque groove, with a rolling organ and skanking guitars, while J-Zone adds King Curits-like ad-libs. “Ballad for a Fallen Country” is the most laid-back the Du-Rites have ever been and has the vibe of an early ’70s Meters song. Zone assumes the role of Pimpin’ Polyester Pete, contemplating the fall of U.S. society over slow, mellow funk to pump in your car.
The Du-Rites close the first half of the album with “Life Is a Chitlin Circuit,” J-Zone’s explanation of the trials and tribulations that define most musicians’ everyday existence. Over popping guitar and echoing drums, Zone laments, “The Du-Rites can’t go to McDonalds for a Big Mac and get one for the love of trans-fats / Can’t ask Blue Cross or Blue Shield to cover these medical bills because it’s a great opportunity to build their brand / But understand, that’s exactly what’s expected of your favorite band.” Besides some top-notch guitar playing and drumming, the track features some mean work on the bongos by guest percussionist Bruce Martin.
The group start the second half of the album strong with “Woody the Wino,” a song inspired by Kool & the Gang’s early albums, with J-Zone even calling out “Hey Woody!” at the beginning of track (a la Kool & the Gang 1969 track “Let the Music Take Your Mind”). “Fabuloso!” channels the vibe of mid to late ’70s whirling moog flavor, with Martin repeatedly shouting out the name of one the most popular Latino bargain-bin cleaners.
Greasy Listening closes formidably with the one-two punch of “Black Olives” and “The Bronx Is Burning.” The former is another mid-tempo organ-driven groove fronted by J-Zone, who continues to wild out on the keys, though he’s quick to point out he’s no Jack McDuff. The latter is a chaotic Blaxploitation-tinged track, where both Martin and Zone do their thing briskly, with sirens wailing periodically.
The Du-Rites don’t reinvent the wheel with Greasy Listening, but they certainly feel and sound more comfortable playing together. Both Martin and Zone display a little more of their individual personalities on the songs, and the album is stronger for it. Hopefully the pair continue to produce exceptional music at an impressive rate, because they’re off to great start.
Notable Tracks: “Ballad for a Fallen Country” | “The Bronx Is Burning” | “Woody the Wino”