CD Review of Rage! by Lettuce
Recommended if you like
Average White Band,
Graham Central Station, The Meters
Label
Velour Music Group
Lettuce: Rage!

Reviewed by Mojo Flucke, PhD

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T
hese kids have come a long way since the mid-1990s, when this merry band of Berklee wanna-bes – who then became students at the music school – were lumped into the jam-band scene frequenting the Worcester-to-Boston patch of the Mass Pike, begging any gig they could get (hence the name Lettuce, which came from their saying "Let us play" to club owners and then, after the gigs came, "Let us funk!"). Then, they were a bunch of white-bread teenagers who had an unpolished joie de vivre when it came to funk, a certain infectious love of the groove and experimentation therein.

Fifteen or so years down the road, these kids have grown into men, and their unabashed love of the likes of Curtis Mayfield, Tower of Power, The Meters, Sly Stone and James Brown – as well as their amazing musical talents – have matriculated into one fiercely unapologetic funk band that sounds so incredibly mid-1970s that is sharp, smooth, and loyal to the giants of the era. Of course, Lettuce is everyone's side project now; two of its original members founded Soulive, another Rustic Overtones, the drummer tours with the likes of Wyclef Jean and John Scofield, and one of the guitarists found studio work with artists diverse as Britney and the Game.

Seven pieces strong in 2008, Lettuce set out to make a record that honors the funk originals, and they succeed to the point that if you played this record to a blindfolded Herbie Hancock, he'd swear it was made in 1978, as evidenced by the sharp horns, real handclaps, and covers of cuts like Curtis Mayfield's "Move on Up" and a spot-on, hard-funking rendition of Charles Wright & the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band's "Express Yourself." Gone are the noodling and hard-jazz leanings, left behind in favor of an Average White Band/Tower of Power act.

What Lettuce isn't is a jam band fitting into the rural Mass. festival scene where they started out, the kind of group that would ham it up with cheesy solos and gimmicky rhythm-percussion breaks that went long enough for the lead guitarist to walk offstage, take a leak, fire up the bong, grab a couple hits, and then come back and finish the song. No, Lettuce is all about tight little three-minute funk cuts. Originals such as "Need to Understand" and "Salute" show their devotion to James Brown, without whom the funk would not exist. "By Any Schmeens Necessary" is more along the lines of P-Funk or even Graham Central Station, where hard guitars and horns co-existed peacefully for about three utopian years in rock history. They're such devotees to these vintage grooves that, had they made Rage! in 1978 (except for once cut, the J Dilla tribute "Mr. Yancey"), hip-hop stars would be venerating and sampling their records today. As it stands, they're playing out, so you can catch them in clubs on the Maine-to-D.C. circuit. The joie de vivre remains, but it's polished with experience and more practice than us amateurs can imagine. A can't-miss record for old-skool funk fans.

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