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4.0 out of 5 stars Alexander Tate Twitter RSS Home About A warm glow comes out of New York as Huey goes straight., 1 Dec. 2012
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This review is from: Say It To My Face (180gm LP + HD Download Code) [VINYL] (Vinyl)
What could a record from a band fronted by Huey Morgan offer that a new Fun Lovin’ Criminals record couldn’t?

Openly celebrating their high times with a debut record of party tunes and relaxed beats, the Fun Lovin’ Criminals bought fun and law breaking to the fore in 1996. Quite a different sound to the ubiquitous Britpop, but you don’t expect Yanks to do Britpop – although they sang with as much pride about New York as Blur did about Mile End and Clacton. Often unnecessarily compared to the Beastie Boys, this fun lovin’ trio gave a less slapstick take on hip hop, rock and funk.

Being a staple of the northern European festival circuit kept the band busy in to the 2000’s, even with a steady decline in success as LP’s came and went. Huey ventured in to acting and hosting radio shows, with a smattering of television appearances while legal concerns disrupted the band’s output to two records since 2005. Recent improvements with more rounded offerings, such as 2010’s Classic Fantastic, a return to the colour of their debut, showed Huey, Fast and now Frank on drums could still knock out a decent batch of songs, even if not quite capturing the success of the early days.

So what drew Huey Morgan from his settled broadcasting life into the recording studio without his foil, Fast?

The album players are all from the Di Fontaine ‘family’, including long standing producer Tim Latham I.S.P., which suggests an easy going attitude to the recording process, but a presence of urgency could have given the songs that boost they require.

Morgan’s existential writing style, whether politics, recreational drug use or even the odd bank robbery permeate this record, even with King and Chris Scianni as his writing partners. Urban story telling is still an itch Morgan needs to scratch.

Stick It To The Man opens Say It To My Face with an easy bass line, which keeps the song jumping along like warm days relaxing with an umbrellad drink in Maui. Dirty Bird has a classic Hammond shrill evoking the 70’s while Let My People Go has a little more energy amongst the default Huey rap/rock delivery. In fact the rozzers should be looking into a theft as so far, so Fun Lovin’ Criminal.

The FLC have always been adept at fusing so many styles into their sound, and on Shaniqua Huey is in possession of one of the best country rock ballads since Gram Parsons complained that love hurts. Guitars strum and ivories lightly tinkle to create a honeyed tinge, yet it’s the appearance of B.J. Cole plucking his pedal steel to this, and other numbers, which give it a more authentic country feel. It’s a track which offers the most from the album, but oddly it’s the least New York of them all.

Then it’s back to Criminal business. The album sounds so much like an FLC record you could hand pick these 14 songs from their back catalogue to create it. Fans of the band will no doubt realise the criminal template and have their expectations aligned. The others? Well, they’ll also enjoy the warm glow of sunshine radiating from the record.

However, the record lacks a real standout punchy track, such as 100% Colombian’s Southside, here the mellowness giving way to a uniform sound. The feel is of an FLC LP due to the range of songs and Huey’s vocals, even Uncle Frank keeps the drum stool working out. Many of the quieter, slow songs through much of the LP carry a little more tempo than the lounge feel of the FLC from the late 90’s.

The eclectic range showcases the fine musicians within the New Yorkers, Huey is a very underrated guitarist, but the masterpiece never quite appears. Though perhaps the real stroke of genius is that it all hangs so well, rather than a patchwork of songs, they are all seamlessly woven in one piece of middle of the road, easy groove fabric. The easy listening country feel could be Eagles on American FM radio, whereas Huey isn’t Don Henley, Eagles never had the groove laden bass lines that King lays down here.

From inside his mancave, Huey told his website, “I wanted to make a record of what was inside me. I wasn’t gonna do a dub-step record, I’m not trying to keep up with the times.” Which is essentially what he delivered, a record from Morgan’s heart and soul.

New York Bluez sounds like half a dozen drunk buskers playing 6 different songs at the same time. Christmas By The Side Of The Road has a down home bass suggesting it would be even more fun if seen live having had a couple of drinks and everybody was clapping along, it has the ability to make you smile. But Scooby Snacks and The Fun Lovin’ Criminal will make you smile even if you’re down in the dumps at the bus stop and it’s pouring with rain. It is that lack of effect which is missing through the whole album.

Despite taking influences from all facets of musical history, tin pan alley through 70’s American rock and 80’s hip hop, Huey and the New Yorkers have produced a record of great musicianship but is absent of new ideas. Only as it closes does the album seek new territory, the outro to The White Guard carries a sense of an epic, almost Floyd like touch as a vast space is filled with cosmic guitar playing.

I’ve never felt Huey, or indeed the rest of the FLC, had any grand plan to become the best band in the world or the greatest live act. It is this easy going nature that has perhaps followed their career and now flows into Morgan’s new band.

I still haven’t got an answer to my original question, somehow I doubt Huey is aiming to give us one. After all his years telling stories about New York life he writes what comes naturally in the styles he does best, in his own accomplished, unique way.

This review first appeared at alexandertate.wordpress.com
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