Big Sam’s Funky Nation, Songs in the Key of Funk, Volume 1 (Album Review)

The heavyweight champion of rocking, brassy NOLA funk, “Big” Sam Williams years ago shed the type of pounds that inspired his nickname and replaced them with those of chiseled muscle. His lean-and-mean frame now serves as a powerhouse vessel for Big Sam’s trademark trombone-blasting, hip-shaking and buckjumping blend of high-energy music that’s the perfect soundtrack for the party and the street parade. Well established as a globally touring band that’s a perennial fan-favorite at Jazz Fest, Big Sam’s Funky takes it next level and reaches higher heights with this brand-new release. And boy oh boy, is it funky. Songs in the Key of Funk, Volume 1 hits hard right from the start in the opening track, “4 Da Funk,” and doesn’t let up throughout the course of its 10 original tracks, collectively forging a sound that draws from the Gap Band grooves, baby-making modern R&B, new-school hip hop, and second-line anthems—the first single “Pork Chop” swings on all the power of the band’s musical heritage, with its “Show me what you got for a pork chop” straight New Orleans slang. Yet, the band—joining Williams, Drew Baham (trumpet, vocals), Jerry Henderson (bass), Keenan McRae (guitar), Alfred Jordan (drums) and Kendrick Marshall (keys) manages here to create a unique, infectious groove that is cutting edge. With the album title homage to Stevie Wonder’s classic Songs in the Key of Life, Williams says this album aims “to keep the funk alive,” but is not “just repeating the past.” He also points out the album’s title as volume one, giving citizens of Big Sam’s Funky Nation hope for more of the same funk soon to hit their ears.