The Meters' "Struttin'" (released June 1970) was their third album, and another classic for the Josie label. Recorded, like their debut, at Cosimo Matassa's New Orleans studio (the amazing second album, 1969's "Look-Ka Py Py" was made at La Fevre Studios in Atlanta the previous summer), it is both of a piece with its two predecessors and an indication of their ongoing evolution.
The quartet's seminal Josie recordings utterly revitalized their hometown's music scene - of the eleven singles issued on Josie during three prolific years, beginning with 'Sophisticated Cissy'in November 1968 and continuing until the label went bankrupt in late 1971, ten were national hits. And the city's indigenous rhythmic identity - emphasisizing a laconic sense of syncopation rooted in a century of musical history and cultural cross-pollination, was reconfigured and reinvigorated by the Meters, who posessed individual virtuosity and the collective musical telepathy that makes great bands more than the sum of their parts. After decades during which the Crescent City made its mark on the national conciousness, as jazz, r&b, soul, and rock 'n' roll records broke out of the region and climbed the national charts, The Metres emrged during a post-Motown/post-British Invasion lull, quickly established themselves as central in the evolution of soul into funk. "Sturttin'" itself has remarkable variety within a seemingly restrictive framework. On "The Meters", 'singing' was restricted to the grunt that opens the very first song. The hit 'Look-Ka Py Py' opened the second album, and offered a bit more, as the band, led by Joseph Modeliste, 'sang' variations of the title phrase (inspired by the sounds emitted by their car's engine on the trip to Atlanta) as pure rhythm. 'Chicken Strut,' the first hit from this set, appearing here in a stereo version somewhat longer than the mono single mix typically used on compilations (including Rhino's 2-CD retrospective), is once again noteable for its use of group 'vocals' - crazed chicken-clucking led again by drummer Modeliste. The followup, 'Handclapping Song'" also features the group singing, actual lyrics this time in a more straightforward psychedelic soul context. Elsewhere Art Neville provides some nice leads for the first time on a Meters album: "Darling Darling Darling" is a lovely take on the 1963 Ty Burr hit issued by Chess. And Art's vocal on Jim Webb's "Wichita Lineman" made me appreciate a song I'd dismissed as middle-of-the-road pablum - it is haunting and melancholy, with Leo Nocentelli's guitar panning from right to left, consistent with the song's telephone wire imagery. The closing track, a version of Lee Dorsey's 1965 classic 'Ride Your Pony' is a harder-rocking version of a gem Allen Toussaint had already produced at least twice (Betty Harris also issued a version, around 1968).
Most of the rest of this highly enjoyable set is instumental, and the stunning rhythmic explorations heard on "Look - Ka Py Py" such as 'The Mob' and 'Rigor Mortis' are again in evidence on 'Liver Splash,' 'Joog' and 'Tippi Toes'. Modeliste and George Porter lay down dense, interactive grooves, and Leo Noceltelli's guitar ranges from his quintessential chicken scratching funk to a harder rock style, with his mellower Wes Montgomery/Kenny Burrell side less apparent than before.
This was to be The Meters' last official album for Josie, though in fact four more non-album singles were issued by Josie during their final year with the label; all eight tracks from these rare singles, which offer a fascinating snapshot of the band in transition right before they signed with Reprise, can be found on a marvelous collection of Josie-era rarities issued by Sundazed, "Zony Mash." The dense, dry mix that is so perfect for this spicy musical gumbo would change somewhat when the band signed to Reprise (though those early Reprise albums offer their own pleasures), but if you like what you've heard by the early Meters on their three Josie albums or want to hear more truly inventive New Orleans funk, "Zony Mash" is endlessly listenable, the perfect compliment. As always, Sundazed has done an unparelleled job in capturing the detail and ambience on those early master tapes here, and across all the catalog titles reissued by the label.