Album Review: Forward, Brand New Heavies (Shanachie, May 2013) – Japanese version reviewed

UnknownThe Brand New Heavies formed nearly 30 years ago, gaining notoriety in the 1990’s as the Acid Jazz genre earned cachet on the fringes of pop music. At the band’s core are original members Jan Kincaid, Simon Bartholomew, and Andrew Levy. N’Dea Davenport is the vocalist most identifiable with the band but is one of many female singers who have fronted them over the years.

Forward is BNH’s ninth studio release and the first featuring vocals since 2006’s Get Used to It (Delicious Vinyl). N’Dea Davenport returns for performances on select tracks, including “Sunlight,” which is certainly the commercial hit of the collection.

For long-time fans, Forward may sound like a fragmented echo of earlier favourites like the self-titled debut (Delicious Vinyl, 1991) and Brother Sister (Delicious Vinyl, 1994), their best album in my vew. Still, there are tracks that remind us of the songwriting, musicianship, and sense of groove Kincaid, Bartholomew, and Levy have within them. The cover of The Players Association’s “Turn the Music Up” is by far the strongest, featuring a joyful disco-inspired guitar riff, tight horn arrangement, and a killer trumpet solo. The title track is an instrumental in the best tradition of the band’s history, also featuring solid horn arrangements.

Vocal duties are split across no less than five performers, including Davenport, Kincaid, Bartholomew, and new member Dawn Joseph. Kincaid was not a lead vocalist until a few albums into BNH’s catalog. His voice less soulful than his female counterparts but has a uniqueness that came to be identified with the band. His performances on “Heaven” and “One More for the Road” are well suited to the tracks, which are among the better ones on the collection. In the miss column, “On the One” is a dance track with potential but Kincaid’s vocal style is not suited, leaving us with a lacklustre pop song.

Despite the mixed bag of songs, Forward is a remarkable release because it demonstrates The Brand New Heavies are still relevant, still have a lot more great tunes in them, and have not lost their ability to make people move with pop songs wrapped-up in soulful funk and jazz.