Going Up with Otis
What can you say about a funk band – the songs are catchy, they have a good groove, you can dance to it, some of the licks would make good hip-hop samples, right? What makes Brooklyn soul/funk band Otis any different? Arrangements, neat songwriting touches and unpredictability: they switch from one era to another in a split-second and make it seem totally natural, their solos aren’t long, but they make them count within some of the most entertaining, sometimes psychedelic charts this side of Steely Dan. Their influences are strictly oldschool, spanning from the 60s to the 80s. They’ve got three albums out: the one you should immediately download without wasting one more second, if your wifi is screaming and you love classic funk and soul, is their free Live at Rockwood Music Hall album at their Bandcamp site (where they have their two studio albums streaming as well). This one is the best way to get to know them because it doesn’t have all the studio overdubs or the big brass section, but what it says is their songs are so strong that they stand up with just basic guitar, keys, bass and drums. And although the sound quality isn’t pristine – it sounds like somebody recorded it on a good-quality phone, with a group of chatty girls just close enough to be annoying – it’s a gateway drug to the rest of their stuff.
Their most recent album Music Elevator (Otis – get it?) is their best. They particularly excel at oldschool 60s soul grooves. You’re Makin’ Love Easy (another free download) blends a warm Memphis vibe with 70s funk, a summery Willie Mitchell-style horn chart, David Lowenthal’s slinky bass, and Steve Cropper-esque guitar for the same kind of vibe that Robert Cray was working about ten years ago. The attractively blues-tinged Sophia adds some carefree Beatlesque touches as well as a nice contrast between Justin Etheredge’s biting, echoey Rhodes piano and Craig Schoenbaum’s jangly guitar. And the big funk/soul anthem Creeping is packed with cool psychedelic touches like a weirdly oscillating drone that literally creeps in when the lyrics get worrisome, and a little bit later a mysterioso Riders on the Storm electric piano interlude.
With its spacy bluesfunk guitar and bubbly Rhodes piano, Every Story takes a lavish, lush early 70s Stylistics-style ballad and reinvents the genre. A New Addiction, with its neat intermingling of Sylvester Onyejiaka’s tenor sax, Dominick Magnotta’s drum breaks, soulful bluesrock guitar and swooshy organ, could be a Bill Withers tune, while the sarcastic kiss-off anthem Stuck could be the Crusaders around 1976. The fast, funky shuffle Automatic People, with its conscious lyrics and catchy, rising hook, brings to mind vintage Curtis Mayfield, while the swinging funk-pop of How It Is reminds of Steely Dan. The rest of the album alternates between harder-edged dancefloor funk like the wry, socially aware Other Man and a four-minute tune called Bump that the band could have made twice as long – and probably does in concert – and more mellow stuff like Gone Away, with its laid-back, latin-flavored Grover Washington-style groove fueled by Gerard O’Shea’s breezy alto sax. If oldschool funk and soul are your thing, get to know these guys, they’re a lot of fun.