We’re over halfway into the month already – can you believe that – and while I’ve managed to listen to a handful of fresh tunes, I’m always a tad particular about the focus of my first album review of the new year. We’ve covered plenty of folk-roots material lately, and a lot of singer-songwriter fare, so I really needed to find something a little different; something a little more outside of my comfort zone. Something funky, perhaps… Funk music itself? Wait a minute…
…wait a minute – late last year we received word of a new psychedelic-funk project coming out of Halifax, NS. Founded by Tim-Jim Baker (there’s a ‘name’ I recall from the early Matt Mays albums) and Ryan ‘Guy Jay’ Pierce, the duo took advantage of the pandemic-era downtime to get very creative – pulling together a serious group of 13 players to record “Vol. 1,” a 13-track debut album. Clever marketing right there – a true baker’s dozen (12+1) performing an equivalent number of tunes collectively under the moniker Bakers Duz’n.
“It’s getting colder outside, but things are about to heat up with the release of one of the funkiest records you’re ever going to hear,” Guy Jay shared back in the fall, adding to the intrigue surrounding this project. I almost expected Guy Jay to add, “If you don’t like what you see here, get the funk out…” – ala Gary Cherone, the lead vocalist from 90s American glam rockers Extreme. Heck, outside of the popular 70s and early 80s variety of the genre, it would be this crossover radio hit from Extreme that brought funk music back into my musical orbit at the time – and for some reason, recall that Canadian guitar legend Pat Travers contributed co-vocals on “Get the Funk Out” – small world, huh?
A quick skim through the GDW archives and our coverage of funk music is pretty slim; we offered a feature about “Birdbrain” back in May 2021, the stunning blues-funk album from ON-based band Zuffalo, while GDW’s Richard Clark shared his thoughts earlier that year about “Is That You,” the debut album from Yukon-based rockers Major Funk. We’re clearly long overdue for a return to this genre – to “play that funky music, white boy,” as Wild Cherry cried out over the airwaves back in the day. When it comes to “lay down your boogie and play that funky music ‘til you die,” this debut offering from Bakers Duz’n is primed to do much more than simply scratch that itch.
Allow me to make a strong recommendation as you cue up “Vol. 1” – crank up the volume dial before you hit the PLAY button, and then brace yourself for the funky grooves, lively horns, percussive elements, and head-bobbing vocals that will dominate your airspace as the opening track “$cunkytown (WeGotTheFunkHappeningBaby),” bursts into life. “I think you heard me right / Don’t tell me you can’t move that thing / Don’t gotta talk about it / Just move your feet and shake your rings / This time is different mama / You’d best believe the funk is sweet / So buckle up, it’s ‘bout to pop / The funk is happening.” Clocking in at a respectable ‘almost 6-minutes,’ if this ‘+1’ whets your appetite, there are still a ‘regular’ dozen more cuts to take you on a high-energy time-travel adventure.
It takes plenty of talent to create such authenticity in this sound, so is it any surprise that the list of contributors on this project reads like a who’s who of the East Coast music community? Check out the list of household names scattered throughout the liner notes, including Matt Mays (also credited as co-producer), Adam Baldwin, Roxanne Potvin, Ryan Stanley, Kristen Morse, and several members from both The Mellotones and The Hopping Penguins. Oh, and add Leith Fleming-Smith to that list, as there is no denying the impact his signature organ keys bring on cuts such as “Born of the Funk” and “Don’t Forget.”
So how about those first impressions from this inaugural spin? There are definitely a few tracks that jump out from the pack here. “Twistin-the-Screw” certainly teases from start, the opening guitar almost a ‘fancy-funk’ interpretation of Aerosmith’s recognizable riff from “Walk This Way” – before transitioning to the zesty soul sounds of Sly and the Family Stone. “Ooh don’t it seem like / Everybody wants something new / What I mean to say is / I don’t want anything but you.” Quite the accomplishment, and one executed with masterful precision.
When you really want the funk to shine, you allow the horns to take the lead, and as experienced during “Slow Your Roll,” those deeper tones accentuate the driving beat to offer an all-out explosion of 70s funk nirvana. “Yes, pretty mama, it’s another sunny summer / With you here on my mind / Oh I would have no other for a lover / I’m a sucker for you right by my side / Said I loved you / But you turned around and push me far away, hey.” With both baritone and tenor saxophones dueling away, this is a brass-lovers delight – and dang, there’s some era-appropriate cowbell in there too.
Go ahead and jump back to “Let Nature Take Its Course” if you are curious as to which tune offers an entire tour of the funk-music spectrum, at least in my opinion. Marvel at the multitude of sounds and influences here, kicking off with some cosmic keys, and ultimately wrapping up with some distinct Stevie Wonder “Superstitition” vibes, thanks in part to some dominant bass licks. Guy Jay’s vocals are delivered with a little Bob Marley pace, his higher notes drawing comparisons to the vocal pep of Gregg Alexander (The New Radicals). This is just my interpretation – I’d love to hear what others draw parallels to.
“Vol. 1” is an impressive collection of funk tunes, distinctly fresh and modern, yet equally old-school enough to convince listeners of being time capsule discoveries from generations past. Beyond impressive, I’m almost at a loss for words here to close with my final musings. Fortunately, the official press release summarizes many of my thoughts perfectly: ‘Funk appreciators can be assured that the commitment to musical variety does not come off disjointed or contrived. Bakers Duz’n have found fresh ways to push their favorite styles of funk forward, while honoring the originators to whom they pay tribute with this fine collection of groovy, rocking jams.’ This debut album is a ton of FUN – and offers a ton of FUNK currently missing in your life. I insist you stream the album right now on Bandcamp and while you’re listening, go ahead and set a few bucks aside for the vinyl pressing that shall follow soon.
Photo Credit: Bakers Duz’n