It’s shakeup time again for Galactic, who’ve already been through a few handfuls of changes in the past decade.
Their New Year’s Eve show at Tipitina’s will feature two notable singers, Cyril Neville and Erica Falls—the first has toured with Galactic before, the second is newer to the fold.
Gone for now is Shreveport singer Maggie Koerner, who’s done a fine job fronting Galactic over the past year (so if you never heard Koerner sing “Gimme Shelter,” you missed it).
Next year will bring a new album, a new lead singer, and a new musical direction.
Which in this case, is a return to the old musical direction. The new album—as yet untitled, but set for a spring release—is something fans have wanted for a while: An old-school funk and soul album with live-band rhythm tracks, instead of the loops and samples that have come to define Galactic recordings.
The two songs that were released as digital singles this year, “Dolla Diva” and “Higher & Higher,” both have a proud throwback feel, and bassist Rob Mercurio says there’ll be more of that on the album. “There’s a live rhythm section on every track. I don’t know if [the electronic sound] had run its course, but we did feel it was time to come back to this. The new album is a little more retro-soul, quite reminiscent of early Galactic.”
Singing on the new disc will be Koerner, J.J. Grey, Erica Falls, and a well-known, big-deal singer who will be joining Galactic on their next national tour. And the name of that singer is … Well, they’re not saying yet, but Mercurio does let slip that it’s an “amazing artist” and a female. And the collaboration could bring Galactic closer to their overdue national breakthrough.
“You never know about that, but you can always hope,” Mercurio says. “We’re always going to be New Orleans in some kind of way, but this album is less tied to New Orleans than the last two that we did.”
The core of Galactic—Mercurio, drummer Stanton Moore, guitarist Jeff Raines, keyboardist Rich Vogel and saxophonist Ben Ellman—has been largely intact for two decades, but in recent years they’ve been joined onstage by horn sections, rappers, turntablists, percussionists and a rotating cast of lead singers.
The changes really started when singer Theryl “Houseman” deClouet departed the band in 2004; the band took that as a cue to shake up their formula. They played a handful of purely instrumental shows; their 2006 Jazz Fest set included what may be the two angriest performances in Galactic history—Led Zeppelin’s “When the Levee Breaks” and an original dubbed “Good Job, Brownie”—both without vocals. The following year brought Galactic’s bounce-inspired album, From the Corner to the Block, their first step away from a straight funk format.
They took a bigger step on the next two studio albums, Ya-Ka-May (2010) and Carnivale Electricos (2012), both of which celebrated New Orleans roots: Irma Thomas and Allen Toussaint guested on the former, Al Johnson remade “Carnival Time” on the latter.
Both albums were studio creations, bearing little relation to the band’s live sound.
“That was also when we started producing ourselves, so it was our chance to do all the production we ever wanted to,” Mercurio explains. “At that point Stanton was touring all the time, so it was hard to get all of us in a room together. We did most of the writing ‘in the box,’ by which I mean on the computer. And we were recording a lot of the songs before we’d ever performed them live. We also felt that a lot of live recordings were out there—come see it, come download it. So we started to shy away from repeating what we do live.”
This approach spilled over to other albums the Galactic members were involved in—notably the two Trombone Shorty albums that Ellman produced (Backatown and For True), both studio-driven. “A lot of artists get nervous about that approach, like ‘How are we going to perform that live?’,”Mercurio says. “We feel you should do whatever it takes to make the music good.”
The band’s toured with a few frontmen in recent years, including Cyril Neville and Rebirth’s Corey Henry. But the most visible was Corey Glover, who did two national tours between reunions of his regular band, Living Colour. With Glover, Galactic was at their darkest and heaviest, throwing in covers like Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir” and Living Colour’s hit “Cult of Personality.”
“He’s a really aggressive singer and we’d never really had someone like that before,” says Mercurio. “But Jeff, Stanton and I all have punk-rock roots, so Corey brought us back to that; he can kill with that kind of thing. I’d say Maggie brought a softer element to the band.”
Koerner’s soul and exuberance made her a good fit but, for Galactic, it’s time to get in with the new.
“Introducing a new vocalist is one of the things that keeps our chemistry fresh,” Mercurio says. “When you’ve been a band for 20 years, it’s good to have a little reinvention once in a while.”