Album review: Galactic's 'Ya-Ka-May'
Since rising out of the same jam-happy acid jazz scene that hatched the Greyboy Allstars and Soulive in the '90s, Galactic has struggled to settle on an identity of late. After early records worked a vintage soul-jazz vibe, the band has since flirted with electronic loops with producer Dan the Automator, and dove into underground hip-hop with the Coup's Boots Riley and others on 2007's ambitious but uneven "From the Corner to the Block."
But now Galactic is back where it started. Always steeped in the second-line pulse of its native New Orleans, Galactic's "Ya-Ka-May" calls on a multitude of Crescent City voices for a funky and original late-night travelogue. The band's skills as a jazz-funk party act excel in rollicking guest spots from Jazz Fest favorites the Rebirth Brass Band, Allen Toussaint and Irma Thomas (whose swampily soulful "Heart of Steel" is a highlight). But it's Galactic's foray into "bounce," New Orleans' nascent hip-hop sound, that really turns heads.
Growling over rumbling percussion and a mean harmonica melody from saxophonist Ben Ellman, Big Freedia gives Galactic its first rowdy club anthem with "Double It." "Katey vs. Nobby" features transsexual rapper Katey Red trading free-associative barbs with Sissy Nobby over a martial beat from drummer Stanton Moore that recalls early Beastie Boys.
Elsewhere Cheeky Blakk's unprintable shouted greeting anchors the rollicking "Do It Again" over a sinister backdrop from keyboardist Rich Vogel and guitarist Jeff Raines.
Named after a New Orleans street food, "Ya-Ka-May" mixes a whole variety of ingredients that shouldn't hold together but do. While no record could truly capture the sound of New Orleans in 2010, Galactic sure has a great time trying.
-- Chris Barton
Three stars (Out of four)