There’s something to be said for artists that are seem just as at-home inside their “comfort zone” as they are outside of it. That may sound paradoxical, but New Orleans Funk/Jazz outfit Galactic seem to fit the bill in that respect. Also dabbling in Hip Hop, Soul and Blues, the band’s musical product is an assortment of many flavors and persuasions. It’s therefore fitting that their latest album is titled Ya-Ka-May, a play on a New Orleans dish, “Ya Ka Mein,” – a soup which combines New Orleans soul food with other cultural influences.
Following a telling intro that samples a New Orleans television show, Ya-Ka-May kicks off with “Boe Money,” featuring The Rebirth Brass Band. The track is New Orleans Funk with a touch of Latin flavor, provided by blaring horns and fast-paced percussion, complete with chants to get things started. The fast pace continues with “Double It,” which features Bounce (a NOLA style of Hip Hop) artist Big Freedia. The track is an energetic mix of thumping bass, and repetitive mantras that are sure to get any party started.
The real gem here is “Heart of Steel,” which is graced by Louisiana soul legend Irma Thomas. Aided by little more than a harmonica and what sounds like a bongo, Thomas croons beautifully: “I should’ve known better than to run through a ring of fire / I should’ve known better than to shoot with a blood for hire / I should’ve known better than to repeat everything I’ve seen / I should’ve known better, but now it don’t mean a thing / Deep down inside, I’ve got a heart of steel / I’ll take the pain, turn it into something real.” Thomas’ Bluesy tone and subject matter is complimented by well-placed guitar and the aforementioned instrumentation to give it an enjoyable, if not upbeat tempo.
“Bacchus” (possibly referring to the Greek god Dionysis) has prominent New Orleans R&B musician Allen Toussaint’s vocals and blues piano delivering a not-quite smoothed out jam session (drummer Stanton Moore’s percussive progressions give the track too much energy to call it that – which isn’t a bad thing). “Katey vs. Nobby” sounds like it could be found on a Dizzee Rascal album, and has only one goal – to make asses move. Aided by Bounce artists Katey Red and Sissy Nobby, the drums on the cut are just as frenetic as the duo’s raps. With its repetitive rhymes, it joins “Double It” as one made for the clubs.
Rich bass and cello back Jazz vocalist Boutte on “Dark Water.” The track’s snares frame Boutte’s delivery in such a way that it’s almost sung and rapped at the same time, giving it a pleasantly heavy groove. The dial goes back to 10 when Cheeky Blakk rounds out the album’s last Bounce track with “Do It Again,” unless you count “Do It Again (again).”
Much like the New Orleans dish after which it’s named, Ya-Ka-May has something for everyone. A complex but satisfying marriage of Funk, Jazz, Blues, Hip Hop and Soul, this musical morsel is right for anyone seeking a new, distinct musical flavor. Additionally, it’s a window into the New Orleans music scene which provides the listener a sample of everything – reliably back by Galactic’s always strong instrumentations and musical sensibilities.