The problem with Down to the Bone's Future Boogie is this: what the band is doing in the present, they've done better in the past.
Two years ago, Down to the Bone (DTTB) celebrated their first decade of bringing the funk with a terrific studio album, Supercharged (Narada/2007), and a well-assembled compilation, The Best of Down to the Bone (Narada/2007). The two releases provided an excellent introduction to where this British band had been and a road map to where they might be going.
Future Boogie is the sound of this funk/jazz ensemble idling in place. There's a non-descript feel to the album's cover art and song titles, but lackluster packaging isn't the real dilemma. What is, is how the album comes off as the less interesting little cousin to Supercharged. Two of the guest artists from that albumvocalist Hilary Mwelwa of Hil Street Soul, and vibraphonist Roy Ayers
return, but the material provided by Stuart Wade and Ian Cambell isn't as strong this time around.
DTTB was previously a band with a strong rhythm section augmented by a horn section, which gave it the latitude to perform songs where the horns were prominent, alternating with others featuring no horns at all. This time every track is dominated by blaring brass, and the horn arrangements by Wade and Tim Smart shift the emphasis away from the rhythm section. This imbalance of power within the band leaves DTTB sounding, for stretches, like Tower of Power
There's no such thing as a DTTB album without something worthwhile to recommend, and when they're given space to shine, bassist Julian Crampton, guitarist Tony Remy and drummer Phil Nelson rise to the occasion, particularly on the title track, "Should've Been You," featuring Mwelwa's sassy singing, and "The Brighter Side," where keyboardist Neil Angilley's piano solo briefly breaks through before the horn section loudly barges in bleating, squealing and honking.
It isn't until the final track, "We've Always Got the Music," that the horns back off somewhat and give Angilley, Remy, Crampton and Nelson some room to groove. By then it's too late; nothing more than an enticing teaser of what DTTB can do when both sides of the band play well together.
It's hard to put a finger on why Future Boogie doesn't impress in the way Supercharged did. It could be there's too much similarity in many of the tracks. Perhaps it's the lack of particularly compelling material. Whatever the case, what's new here isn't all that interesting and what's interesting isn't all that new.
Whatever category you want to put DTTB insoul and funk, R&B, acid jazz, or something entirely separateit does what it does very well. Unfortunately, this pleasant, but routing effort isn't the bold step forward the band might have planned.
Track Listing: Future Boogie; Should've Been You; Spiderlegs; Good To Me; Get On It; The Brighter Side; Gotcha!; In the Pocket; Smash and Grab; We've Always Got the Music.
Personnel: Neil Angilley: piano, Rhodes, Hammond organ, clavinet, keyboards; Tony Remy: guitar; Julian Crampton: bass; Phil Nelson: drums; Richard Sadler: percussion; James Knight: alto saxophone; Tim Smart: trombone; Pablo Mendelssohn: trumpet (1, 3-6, 8-10); Andy Gray: trumpet (2, 7), additional trumpet (8); Hilary Mwelwa (Hil St. Soul): vocals (2, 6); Roy Ayers: vibes, vocals (4); Neil Burditt: synth (8).