The Mason Affair Brings the LA Party Vibe
Party music gets a bad name and that’s too bad. We need party music! Remember the last time you walked to the top of the steps and into the place and heard…nothing…and saw all these awkward dorky faces looking around anxiously and realized that you had to LEAVE IMMEDIATELY? This is where bands like the Mason Affair can save an evening. This group is from Los Angeles; they play oldschool 70s funk, but not in a cliched way. What they do is artsy, and slyly funny, and so catchy it’s obscene. The cover of their latest album Eyes on Fire pretty much gives it away – palm trees swaying in the wind. If your idea of a good time is a ride in the back of a ’74 Caprice convertible rolling through the hills on Mulholland at night, bass cranking out of the oldschool speakers right in front of you, this is the next best thing.
The Mason Affair’s style of funk is slinkier than it is hard-hitting, closer to the Blackbyrds than the JB’s. They also mix up the oldschool with the new, which is a lot of fun. For example, the opening track, All Night has sly Zapp and Roger vocoder, and also sexy lowdown Sly Stone clavinova doing the dog in the background. Likewise, Spend Some Time is sort of Pink Floyd gone to Muscle Shoals with Bernie Worrell on keys and Dr. Dre producing.
First Time Again evokes laid-back beach funk bands like Pablo Cruise: it’s retro 70s in the best possible way. Over a sweet, pulsing minor-key groove, the title track makes its way suspensefully up to the big hook…and then they work toward a classic disco vibe on the way out. A little later, I Can Tell you features some sweet tradeoffs between Jay Logan’s wah guitar, Jake Smith’s wry keys and the groove of bassist Jon Olmstead and drummer David Celia – it’s sort of part Ohio Players, part vintage Tower of Power.
The long, lush boudoir groove of Hush contrasts with the album’s hardest-hitting, horn-driven track. Feeling Good. Of the songs with lyrics, the best and edgiest one is The Breaking, a word of warning to a party animal to slow it down a little, set to a biting minor-key tune with a gritty, crescendoing guitar solo from Logan to cap it off. One other refreshing thing about this album is frontman Mike Mason’s nonchalant vocals: he’s not trying to be anybody but himself.
There are also a couple of first-class instrumentals: Fat Strut, which would have made a good Starsky & Hutch theme, and Balls Deep, the most psychedelic track here, with a long guitar outro and a terrifically soulful baritone sax solo from Mike Maricle. The band also has a fun version of Led Zep’s Whole Lotta Love that’s way sexier than the original that they’ve got up as a free download at their Bandcamp site.