Stick Against Stone Orchestra”s new album Get It All Out has a quaint early 80s charm: it should resonate mightily with people who were there at the time and dancing up a storm at college parties and punk clubs. That’s because this group was there, a wildly popular Pittsburgh attraction who never managed to catch on outside their local scene. Many of the catchy, simple songs on this album date from from 1983 or before: as early indie funk, this stuff foreshadows the advent of cool bands like D’Tripp and the Family Stand, who were influenced as much by the Talking Heads as James Brown. What’s obvious is that this was a bunch of punks trying their hand at funk and Afrobeat. Like the Gang of Four, their plainspoken, politically-charged lyrics, shouted more often than sung, have the feel of a college term paper, but as early Reagan-era observations, they’re spot-on. Musically, the hooks are simple and catchy, with bright horn charts and incisive bass, and the NYC pros who form the backbone of the newly reassembled band do a good job capturing the music’s irrepressible, subversive spirit.
The backstory is a heartwarming one: in the early stages of producing a documentary on the band (due out next year, with the same title as the album), filmmaker Will Kreth ended up putting the surviving members of the group back together, bolstered by some hot NYC funk talent including baritone sax genius Paula Henderson (who absolutely nails this ambience) and Shudder to Think bassist Jesse Krakow, along with jazz saxophonist Michael Blake (doing double duty on soprano and alto) and drummers Tony Mason and Denny McDermott.
The opening track – a snide broadside against the music business – blasts through in a minute fifty-one seconds and sets the stage with growly bass, a tensely aggressive beat and catchy horn hooks. Wasted Lives keeps the briskly shuffling pulse going, through long bass-and-drum and horn vamps; they follow that with a slinky reggae tune, Wish and Want, spiced with melodica and flute and sarcastic, politically-fueled, stream-of-consciousness lyrics.
They go back to the rapidfire punk funk for Face Down and then hit a smooth Afrobeat groove with Moonlight Finds a Face, violin and flute dancing over simple, wickedly catchy verse and chorus hooks – it could be Liza & the WonderWheels trying their hand at an African vibe. They mingle funk and Afrobeat on the next track and then make their way through Elephants, a slowly undulating, hypnotic, summery Afrobeat-tinged groove, followed by a similarly slinky, somewhat more lush track.
Medicine Wheel juxtaposes snarling staccato guitar, flute and another wicked horn chart. The Private Sector is the best, most sonically assaultive and funniest track here, reminding that the roots of turning essential services like health and childcare into a profitable means of exploiting the public go back a lot further than Mitt Romney.”They’ve been held back by regulation, from here on out you’re dependent on them,” the singer shouts gleefully. The album ends with the warm, rootsy reggae of Necessity’s Tongue and then a long, intensely crescendoing funk vamp to close it out on a high note. Stick Against Stone Orchestra play Joe’s Pub on 1/29 at 9:30 PM.