Graded on a Curve:
Solid Bronze,
The Fruit Basket

The core of Solid Bronze is Ian Everett and George Miller, both New Jersey residents with a loud-and-clear love of the soulful and funky. This fact is evidenced on The Fruit Basket, their full-length debut, a deliciously off-kilter ’70s-styled groove-fest spiced with strains of jazziness, touches of reggae, and excursions into psychedelia. Recorded and co-produced by Dean Ween with notable guests including Atlanta-based hip-hop artist CLEW, Morphine saxophonist Dana Colley, Ween/ Blood, Sweat & Tears keyboardist Glenn McClelland, and Parliament-Funkadelic guitarist Michael Hampton, this last name is quite appropriate as the influence of P-Funk is strongly felt. It’s out now on LP via Schnitzel Records.

Earlier this year, Solid Bronze released a 45 featuring The Fruit Basket album track “The Invisible Man.” It was and remains an enjoyable little number, but it was backed with a dub mix of the track by Lee “Scratch” Perry, not in itself a bad thing (to the contrary, the version added to the general positive vibrations of Perry’s most recent comeback), it just didn’t necessarily provide further insight into Everett and Miller’s overall thing.

That Michael Hampton contributed guitar to “The Invisible Man” did present a clue into one possible avenue in Solid Bronze’s roadmap, though just as prominent in the track is the Auto-Tuned crooning of Atlanta rapper CLEW, along with a contrasting deep voice offering spoken smoothness of a decidedly ’70s comportment.

But The Fruit Basket’s opener “Papa’s Bug” jumps right into buoyant Clinton-esque funkiness with wiggly tech flourishes and unperturbed vocalizing that also nods back a bit to Sly Stone. It’s an appetizing start that’s followed by the slower groove of “The Invisible Man” as Hampton’s soloing accents the psychedelia in Solid Bronze’s equation. From there, “Hard to Keep the Faith” introduces a danceable mid-tempo spiked with saxophones and capped with sharp jazzy jaunts and an instrumental passage putting keyboards and additional rock guitar action squarely in the foreground.

And so, in three tracks the outfit’s range gets amply demonstrated, although “Swangin’” underscores Everett and Miller’s focus by reengaging with the P-Funk template. It’s a strong ditty, but perhaps its sweetest aspect is how it segues uninterruptedly into the jazzed-out keyboard and sax glide of instrumental “The Bronze Magic.”

And then “The Midnite Goose” (as in “get loose like a midnite goose”) swings (or maybe that’s swangs) back into the Parliament zone, the eccentricity tangible instrumentally (particularly in some subtle jaw harp springiness that makes me think of Osmium, always cool) but mostly manifest through the assorted interwoven vocal threads, much of it spoken (including a disc jockey delivering a station ID) and helium-tweaked.

This emphasis on syllables momentarily downshifts as The Fruit Basket gets back to largely instrumental territory through the six-minute baritone sax-infused simmer of “Mumbo Jumbo.” It’s in this cut and the earlier “The Bronze Magic” that the record avoids getting defined as a purely Clinton-derived scenario. And hey, when they do return to that baseline with “The Critter Walk,” the gal lead singing of Carol Brooks suggests Clinton or Bootsy producing a solo single for a member of Godmoma.

And then Everett and Miller plunge into the sans-vocal setting once more, with the hand-drumming, saxophone richness and flute flurries of “Paradise Lounge” mildly recalling the ’70s work of Curtis Mayfield. Closing track “Like That Ol’ Saying Goes” is a showcase of guitar soloing atop methodically paced bass-heavy deep funk; when the vocals eventually emerge (with Brooks in backing mode this time) it’s like sweet icing.

When I first read that Dean Ween was The Fruit Basket’s co-producer (along with singer-songwriter Chris Harford; both contribute instrumentally), my first thought was of smart-assery in varying degrees of the bizarre. As mentioned above, this record is off-kilter but, a la the biggest party moving platters, it never really connects as fully bent. Melchiondo (that’s Dean’s real last name, don’tcha know) has lent his expertise to Solid Bronze’s vision rather than grafting his personality upon it. This results in a debut that if not exceptionally original, is promising and surely infectious.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
B+

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