Smudge All Stars
Smudge All Stars
Pegdoll Records

I put this gem of an album on the other day for the first time, and all of the sudden I had visions of P-Funk’s ‘Give Up The Funk (Tear the Roof Off the Sucker)’.  It’s that good.  Smudge All Stars is the brainchild of Richie Stevens, the son of John Stevens, a pioneer for British free jazz.  Stevens the Younger has been in constant demand in recent years, working with heavyweights like Horace Andy, Joss Stone, Damon Albarn, and the man himself, Boy George.  Smudge All-Stars is a collective, drawing on Stevens’ friends and connections through some of the leading black British, Jamaican, and American musicians.

And, man, the friends he calls in. Yes, that is P-Funks Horny Horns, Fred Wesley and Pee Wee Ellis.  And, yes, that is George Clinton.  And Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, Dennis Bovell, they stop by for ‘how d’ya do?’  And that’s Mary Pearce.  And more! Stevens says,

Eight years ago, compelled to generate some funk, i started a bag of jams. By chance, I ran in to Omar [British soul singer-songwriter) in a supermarket and he improvised some melodies on the sketches. Then sitting in Liverpool St station, I was compelled again, this time to reconnect with George Clinton. His vocal for ‘Up Is Just A Place’ was gifted to the project. This raised the funk bar so high that it took another five years to complete an album worthy of his genius and took the help of the finest musicians I know. This whole project is, in a word, a jam…..with the finest musicians and artists you could find, who wouldn’t wanna do that?

The album starts of all proper and suchlike with the start of Brutal Funk before the beat hits, the scratches, and then the bass, so damn thick you can walk on.  And we’re off to the party.  The vicious little groove running through this track is from Jamiroquai’s DJ D-Zire, and Mary Pearce provides the vocals.  And we sail along that bass line before moving on to ‘Up is Just a Place,’ which sees the man himself, George Clinton, along with Mary Pearce, MSW, Derek ‘Dr. Mouthquake’ Green and Omar, and we get something that does really recall the glory days of P-Funk.  I don’t say that lightly.

It would be easy to dismiss this for just another rolodex collection of a bunch of veterans getting together with a producer, leading to tepidness.  But hell no.  That’s not Stevens’ bag.  He does call in some heavyweights.  He does make use of his friendships.  But he does so in service of the music.  Throw cynicism out the window when you put this on.  And, dammit, it’s the end of 2020, the dumpster fire year of dumpster fires.  So get your ass out there on the dancefloor!  Yeah, so what if that’s also your living room and the only other person there is Snuggles the Cat.  Do it!

Clinton stops by again on ‘Headache,’ a stretched-out, six minute jam, with the man himself sing/rapping about the ‘headache in his heart,’ this ‘new kind of pain.’  But delivered in the funk style, we get Clinton chilled, working with British singer-songrwiter Niara Scarlett (who has also worked with the legendary Roots Manuva, as well as Basement Jaxx, amongst others).  This track has this wicked beat, the snare syncopated some, that it’s just impossible not to move to.

‘Our Lives’ was the leading single for the album, and a stunning track, that  sees Dennis Bovell, Earl Sixteen, and Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry show up for the party.  This is what I wrote about the track in July:

Beginning in an almost Beatlesque dreamscape, ‘Our Lives’ emerges slowly around a piano and Sixteen’s almost falsetto and then the big, phat bassline and beat, with this wicked little hornbit.  Sixteen’s vocals are about nothing more complex than the progression of life, and the need to keep on keeping on through the hard times.  Towards the end, Lee ‘Scratch Perry’ provides his own interpretation, dropping his knowledge and his perspective.  And coming from someone of his vintage, the strength of his declaration that ‘we love to stay alive.’

Taken altogether, this is a stunning album, a party album, even if that party is us and our cat in the living room.  Turn it right the fuck up!