TERRY GROSS, host:
Galactic is a funk, jazz and hip-hop band from New Orleans formed about 15 years ago. Galactic is currently a five-man outfit that regularly recruits guest vocalists.
Rock critic Ken Tucker says Galatic's new album, called "Ya-Ka-May," is a pure rhythmic pleasure.
(Soundbite of music)
KEN TUCKER: Guided by the drumming of Stanton Moore, Galactic is a funk band that's always moving forward, while mindful of the past. In the case of percussion, for instance, one role model would be Ziggy Modeliste, the off-beat-in-every-sense drummer for The Meters. Galactic's ears are always open. They seek to collaborate with everyone from hip-hop emcees to the pianist Allen Toussaint, the songwriter and producer who made hits in the '50s and '60s with Lee Dorsey, Irma Thomas and Ernie K-Doe, among many others. On Galactic's new album "Ya-Ka-May," they've reached out to Big Chief Bo Dollis from the fundamental New Orleans group the Wild Magnolias. He provides the vocals for "Wild Man."
(Soundbite of song, "Wild Man")
BIG CHIEF BO DOLLIS: (Singing) (unintelligible)
TUCKER: That's an example of the kind of boundary-pushing Galactic does with seeming ease, placing Big Chief Bo Dollis' Mardi Gras, Indian-tribe style in the context of tricky R&B and hip-hop rhythms. They do it again on "Dark Water," with the New Orleans jazz vocalist John Boutte. He sings an intentionally murky song in which the drummer is compared to a fisherman, quote, "poppin' that cork till he gets to the bottom" - in this case, the bottom of a bass-and-drums rhythm.
(Soundbite of song, "Dark Waters")
Mr. JOHN BOUTTE: (Singing) Oh, dark waters. Oh, dark waters. Yeah. Hey, bang, I hear tick-tock. Drop, like rolling (unintelligible). Bang, is a bang, bang, bang. Hybrid, like John Coltrane. Shot, I hear tick-tock. Drop, like rolling (unintelligible). With a bang, it's a bang, bang, bang. Hybrid, like John Coltrane. Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah.
TUCKER: If I had to pick one song on this extremely thoughtful party album as my favorite, it's the one enlisting Irma Thomas, the so-called Soul Queen of New Orleans. Thomas, now in her late '60s, sounds as though she's an eager newcomer out to prove herself as she navigates the drum patterns on this chest-punch of a song called "Heart of Steel."
(Soundbite of song, "Heart of Steel")
Ms. IRMA THOMAS: (Singing) I shoulda known better than to run through a ring of fire. Ring of fire. Uh-huh. I should've known better than to shoot with a gun for hire. I shoulda known better to repeat everything I see. I shoulda known better, but now it dont mean a thing. Deep down inside, I got a heart of steel. I'll take the pain, turn the pain turn to something real. Deep down inside, I got a heart of gold. Got a heart of gold. It's too late to change the past. I'll be the first to admit shoulda left well enough alone. I shoulda known better than to think that I...
TUCKER: Shoulda known better, sings Irma Thomas with Galactic following her like a team of bodyguards. Shoulda known better than to stare down a voodoo queen, she sings, and you get the feeling that everyone in that New Orleans recording studio is taking their voodoo very seriously. Good voodoo is created by "Ya-Ka-May." The album title comes from the name of a spicy noodle soup that's supposed to be an excellent cure for a hangover. I'd say Galactic's "Ya-Ka-May" is an excellent cure for the anemic rhythms and beats of a lot of current music, its rich sense of history only adding to its sense of urgency.
GROSS: Ken Tucker is editor-at-large at Entertainment Weekly. He reviewed Galactic's new album "Ya-Ka-May."
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