When Fat Freddy’s Drop release a new album, people stand up and take notice because it is a rare thing. After all in their fourteen years of existence (has it been that long?) they have only released three studio albums, the third being their latest offering Blackbird, which is also their first in four years. Part of the reason for this is because the band are relentless tourists and spend most of the time on the road where they have a large and enthusiastic following, especially in Europe. With this being the case, they don’t always have the time to record, and often recording sessions will be stop-start affairs fitted in around their live commitments. Fat Freddy’s hybrid/fusion style of roots music containing elements of reggae, dub, jazz, soul, rhythm and blues, and techno is made for live performance, and in fact the songs on their albums often start as improvised jam sessions in the studio, or on stage and only grow into actual songs as they evolve over time. The material on Blackbird is a case in point, with the tracks developed in the studio and on tour over two and a half years or so, whilst being refined and added to in the process.
The sound achieved on Blackbird I feel is the bands most wide-ranging and diverse yet, representing a sonic like music space (without sounding too pretentious) expanding in all directions and drawing on all sorts of influences. Soul, rhythm and blues, funk, and jazz influences come to the fore throughout this album, especially on the first half, while techno dominates on the last few tracks. On the first half of the album, many of the tracks contain extended improvised jam sections that include funky guitar, soulful 70s horns, and a banging rhythm section. Songs in this category include the epic opener “Blackbird” which comes in at over nine minutes, the soul/R&B influenced “Clean the House”, and the mid-1970s Stevie Wonder-like “Bones”. With an emphasis on extended jam sessions, it is no surprise that most of the songs on the album come in at the seven to nine-minute range, with the band also having stated that on this album they tried to replicate their live sound as closely as possible. Techno like influences feature significantly on the last few tracks. Although techno is not really my cup of tea, I did like the tracks “Mother Mother” which fuses techno with a splattering of R&B horns and soulful vocals, and the album closer “Bohannon”, a seven-minute techno-driven track that will no doubt get the remixed treatment and find its way into clubs very soon.
I’m going to go out on a limb here and say in my humble opinion I feel this is Fat Freddy’s Drop’s best album yet, and my favorite of their three studio releases. I say this as I feel it is quite a consistent record musically speaking right across the board from track to track, more so than their previous two albums which although had some really good songs on them I felt were more patchier in places. Overall I found Blackbird to be a thoroughly enjoyable listen, partly because I am a massive soul/jazz/R&B fan and there is a lot of that going on here, but also interesting when those techno elements come in to play, especially in combination with those other styles. Core Fat Freddy’s Drop fans should enjoy this album as it retains their traditional rootsy sound in combination with other influences. But I also feel this album could help attract new fans as there is enough going on here musically across the whole album to draw the listener’s attention and keep them interested throughout. A definite must-have album.