The Meters – Rejuvenation (1974)

In the 1970s, The Meters were one of the leading rhythm & blues/funk acts doing the rounds in America at a time when there was an explosion of funk, soul and R&B going on, and acts such as Stevie Wonder, Cutis Mayfield and Parliament/Funkadelic were in their prime. Originally from New Orleans, The Meters not only performed and recorded their own energetic and highly charged style of R&B/funk, but also played as backing musicians for acts such as Dr. John and Allen Toussaint, and were amazingly talented musicians in their own right. The band’s style was heavily influenced by their home town New Orleans and was characterised by the extensive use of piano and organ, horns, and a strong emphasis placed on syncopated rhythms which gave their sound an underlying funk feel. This hybrid of funk and R&B has often been described as New Orleans R&B, and as a style was best represented on their 1974 release Rejuvenation, which is the album that I now turn.

Rejuvenation is a high class mix of funk and R&B, serving as a showcase for the individual band members and their talents as players. One thing you cannot miss when listening to this album is how good these guys are as musicians and notably how their individual talents are so important in coming together as one whole unit to create this groove based funk-R&B hybrid. There’s Art Neville’s funky keyboard playing and bluesy organ of which both feature strongly throughout, George Porter Jrs. bass playing and Zigaboo Modeliste’s drumming which gives many of the tracks a strong syncopated rhythmic feel, and Leo Nocentelli’s funky guitar. These guys lock in together so well as a band on this album that they could in fact go down as one of the tightest bands in history, a tightness and musical harmony that is best seen on the albums centrepiece “It Ain’t No Use”, a twelve minute epic that contains a seven minute free-jam section. The quality of the playing on this album means that the Neville Brothers soulful vocals are often overshadowed by the instrumental backing and don’t feature as prominently as they probably should. However with this in mind I guess apart from the really good vocalists within this genre this is probably the norm especially considering the heavy focus that is placed on instrumentation, rhythm, and free-jamming.

As individuals songs go on this album, the highlights for me included album opener “People Say”, the soulful “Love Is for Me”, “It Ain’t No Use”, and the piano driven “Loving You Is on My Mind”, however this album is less about the individual songs and more about the quality playing and musicianship. The emphasis on great song-writing or lyrical genius is minimal on here, but this is definitely excusable when you consider the singing and lyrics are pretty much just there to support the brilliant playing.  With this in mind it then comes as no real surprise that these guys were such in demand backing musicians within the R&B genre, and in many ways you could describe them as being the 1970s version of The Roots, just a thought anyway.

Although the album wasn’t a success commercially, I have no doubt it would have resonated strongly within the R&B/soul community at the time, while the band’s sound would surely have had an influence on many future soul, funk and R&B acts. This albums prominent position within the music community especially amongst critics is also seen in that it was ranked 138 in Rolling Stonemagazine’s list of the 500 greatest albums of all time. Overall Rejuvenation is a fantastic album with an immensely groovy vibe thanks to the incredible playing on display. I could not recommend it more and suggest it would be worth a listen for those into 70s R&B/funk as well as to all those who like to grove, something this album has plenty of.  

A

– Sam

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