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ED GORDON, host:

Many people have been wondering whatever happened to the funk and R&B group Mint Condition. Well, they're back now with a new CD, "Livin' the Luxury Brown." The Minneapolis band, known for its musical prowess and tight harmonies, says they've never really gone anywhere. NPR's Allison Keyes has more.

(Soundbite of "Breaking My Heart")

MINT CONDITION: (Singing) Breaking my heart.

ALLISON KEYES reporting:

Mint Condition burst onto the scene with its first album, "Meant to be Mint" 14 years ago. Since then, it's sold more than 3.8 million records with tunes like "Breaking My Heart (Pretty Brown Eyes)."

(Soundbite of "Breaking My Heart")

MINT CONDITION: (Singing) Don't tell your friends that I don't mean nothing to you. Please, don't deny the truth.

KEYES: Mint Condition has expanded its fan base from its home state in Minnesota to people across the nation. Part of the band's appeal, says guitarist Homer O'Dell, is that nobody can categorize its music.

Mr. HOMER O'DELL (Mint Condition Guitarist): The gumbo flavor is what we like to call it. That's a mixture of everything. Oh, no, we--it's just something grown up in Minneapolis so you get a diverse range of music from the rock to the jazz, and we just grew up listening to all that stuff. So it's just a big influence on us. So we enjoy some of all kinds of music from country to heavy metal to...

Unidentified Man: Yeah.

Mr. O'DELL: There's something good in all kinds of music.

(Soundbite of song)

MINT CONDITION: (Singing) What kind of man would I be if I lived unfaithfully? And what kind of girl would you be, yeah, if you did the same?

KEYES: Mint Condition was born in the early '80s in Minneapolis and St. Paul. Most of the band members, including lead singer Stokely Williams, learned instruments at very young ages. But after its last album, "Life's Aquarium," six years ago, the group decided to take a break. Williams says band members wanted to take some time out and enrich their lives. He also says while they were learning to be better businessmen and better people, they did keep their toes in the musical waters. They've even opened for R&B diva Alicia Keys.

Mr. STOKELY WILLIAMS (Lead Singer, Mint Condition): We've been doing spot dates under the radar, even in between that time, even though folks, you know, haven't known that. Maybe it may seem like `Oh, they're back and just fine.' It's still so--we still got it. We're just flying under the radar a little bit. Can't--we're musicians. That's what we do. The reception is incredible, you know, with this new project.

(Soundbite of song)

MINT CONDITION: (Singing) Brother, you're inane. Your lies are insane.

KEYES: With their new album, "Livin' the Luxury Brown," Williams acknowledges that there's a lot more rock happening here than their fan base may be used to hearing.

Mr. WILLIAMS: We've always done that. Now that we have our own kind of boutique label, Caged Bird Records, we just want to do more, but there's no ceiling to it all right now.

(Soundbite of song)

MINT CONDITION: (Singing) ...(Unintelligible) you weather, you weather, the storm through everything.

KEYES: Guitarist Homer O'Dell says this new CD is endearing them to a new set of fans.

Mr. O'DELL: And it's good to see the new audience that's coming out, the younger audience that's coming out and seeing five brothers, or six brothers, up on stage, playing instruments, not sitting up there, you know, maybe just running back and forth. You know, we're actually playing instruments and, you know, a lot of kids, afterwards, they'll say, `Ooh, I'm going to get me a guitar now.' Or, `You--I'm going to go get some drums, and play the drums,' so it's really cool to make that kind of impact on the young kids now.

KEYES: Williams says the lyrics to the title track, "Luxury Brown," are a tribute to the kind of experiences many people of color share.

(Soundbite of "Luxury Brown")

MINT CONDITION: (Singing) Given there's a kick back ...(unintelligible), I had everything but nothing. We know the difference. Knock, knock, knock. No, we couldn't tell the difference. Fourteen kids, two-bedroom house, shed my phone, slept on the couch.

Mr. WILLIAMS: This is a metaphor which kind of celebrates our peoplehood and tradition and culture from our, you know, neck of the woods, however you want to say it, and the luxury being not so much what you hear and see, the images you see on video and hear on radio, which is, you know, more like about the outer luxury, you know, like cars and houses and things like that but more so the richness inside, you know? The way we live ranges from the show "Good Times" to "The Jeffersons." So it's like, you know, back in the day, you didn't know--some of us didn't know that we had it that bad.

KEYES: Williams says the songs on this CD are more grounded in reality than their past work. Take the track "I'm Ready."

(Soundbite of song)

MINT CONDITION: (Singing) Gotta tell you, girl, what's been on my mind since your big influence, influence in my life.

Mr. WILLIAMS: The song "I'm Ready" is just about basically a man coming to a time in his life and just thinking about kind of looking in the rear-view mirror at his life. It's, like, wow, I want a mature--basically, a mature relationship done out of different things and had some relationships and has learned, you know, the things that he wants. And it goes for women, too. Everybody could look at that and say, `You know what? I'm ready for the real thing,' basically, you know.

KEYES: When you say `he,' do you mean `you'?

Mr. WILLIAMS: Absolutely. I was--there were some thoughts I was having. Definitely. Yeah. And I--I hope--I'm aspiring, you know, really, to, you know, looking for that--everybody wants to be loved and have somebody to love.

KEYES: Mint Condition is releasing a live DVD-CD combo in October. Allison Keyes, NPR News.

(Soundbite of song)

MINT CONDITION: (Singing) Because I've had enough. I'm ready for this boy and girl to rise in love. Sing it, baby.

GORDON: You can hear full-length cuts from the new Mint Condition CD at our Web site, at npr.org.

(Soundbite of song)

MINT CONDITION: (Singing) But when I met you, girl, you were like a mirror. A mirror. Only you made me see things deeper and much clearer about the man...

GORDON: Thanks for joining us. That's our program for today.

To listen to the show, visit npr.org. If you'd like to comment, log on to npr.org and click on `contact us.' Or give us a call at (202) 408-3330.

NEWS & NOTES was created by NPR News and the African-American Public Radio Consortium.

(Soundbite of song)

MINT CONDITION: (Singing) ...and touch your hand. You won't let her go, yeah.

GORDON: I'm Ed Gordon. This is NEWS & NOTES.

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