As someone who has seen Shareef Keyes & The Groove perform, I can attest that the cover for the band's new album Cooking Something reflects what you get from the group on stage. Color, lots of energy, clothes that you'd recall from a scene in the 1975 film Cooley High, and vibrant music that embodies it all. The New York City based act is a funk band and, as its name suggests, its mission is usually to get people moving. With Cooking Something, the band will have listeners not only moving their feet, but also moving through several eras of music.
The voice heard throughout the album is that of Keyes, a Brooklyn-bred artist who can be described as a crooner or vocalist, though the best title for him may very well be showman. He can sing traditionally when the song calls for it, but he often delivers his lyrics in a way that's suited for a live performance. Keyes is backed by musicians that trained at Juilliard, The New School and Berklee College of Music. Their play powers the album as they go beyond the boundaries of what one might expect from funk music given the genre's history.
Cooking Something is an audio tour through the branches of a family tree we know as Black music. Funk, jazz, R&B, hip-hop—each branch has its own sound and identity. Yet, the lineage that links the genres often becomes clear when they're heard in unison. This cross-genre connection is a constant on the LP and a prime example is "Macaroni and Cheese," which features a sly, wordplay-heavy verse from Mickey Factz. The song begins with Keyes belting over jazzy horns that appear throughout. Yet, the horns are meshed with a beat drop and 808 drums that are defining sounds for today's mainstream rap.
While some songs on the album blend musical styles, others stick to one sound that captures the song's sentiment. For instance, "Honey" describes the simple, trouble-free phase of a new relationship. Fittingly, the cut features a mellow, lo-fi sound, making it the type of song Drake would remix and turn into a trending topic. In contrast, there's "Cupcake," which has chords and harmonies that channel the sound of doo-wop music. On top of that, the song packs in many more lyrics as Keyes sings about the seeds of a breakup, a topic that naturally calls for more to be said.
Love is a recurring topic on the album, but it's balanced by the urge to simply let loose. Whether you're in the privacy of your home or facing a bunch of strangers on the train, it'll be hard to stay still when listening to songs like "Kale" and "Potato Salad." Then there's "Spaghetti Fettuccini," which features Keyes trading boasts with the legendary Ghostface Killah. The Wu Gambino has been throwing darts for years and they still sound sharp on the song, but there's another feature on the LP that's just as memorable. On "Fried Chicken," Miss Ashley is the only voice heard and it's only right given how rousing her vocal performance is on the song.
Cooking Something is the product of great performances by many people, so it's fitting that its sound is diverse. The presence of multiple genres could have disrupted the album's cohesion. Yet, the number of tracks (9 excluding the skits) and the soulfulness of each genre represented here helps the album flow smoothly. Shareef Keyes & The Groove are known to put on a lively show, but the band’s dynamic long player shows that its recorded output can be just as captivating.
Notable Tracks: “Cupcake” | “Honey” | “Macaroni and Cheese” | “Spaghetti Fettuccini”