The criteria is that it must be made with heart & soul. It’s got to have a dope groove throughout. The music must have syncopation, be melodic, harmonious & poly-rhythmic.
I love music when it’s got many layers of instrumentation — drums in the pocket, dope bass grooves, scratchy guitar, powerful percussion, horny horns, swirling organs — all in service to the almighty groove.
I prefer instrumental music, so this list is comprised of many instrumental albums. For the records that have singing, the criteria is that the lyrics tell a good story, get the party started, be joyful, clever, fun, metaphoric, and intelligent…not cynical, cliche, neurotic & stupid (like most lyrics of popular music).
I like music that builds on the foundations of the great Funk, Soul, Jazz, Reggae, Latin and African music of the past…and still manages to update it for today, giving it new energy, style & personality.
My intention with Funkish is to compile & curate funky music from around the world, of a variety of different genres rooted in the African diaspora, as well as their magnificent hybrids.
These records represent my mission with Funkish — to highlight and share funky, percussive, syncopated, joyful, organic grooves spanning the globe. Not always pure Funk music exactly, but funky in their own sort of way — that’s why I say funkish.
I want to hear music that makes me feel good, groovy, happy, and vibes with the resonance of my soul. So, this list is dedicated to musicians that love their craft, create joyful music, and make the world a better place by creating beautiful soulful sounds to funkify your life…
Top 20 Albums Of 2017
|Ikebe Shakedown — The Way Home||Jungle Fire — Jambú||Polyrhythmics — Caldera||Analog Son — Black Diamond|
|Hard Proof — Stinger||Soul Scratch — Pushing Fire||PHO — Two||Tony Allen — The Source/A Tribute To Art Blakey|
|The Seven Ups — Drinking Water||Courtney John — Ecosystem||Soul Sugar — Chase The Light||Victor Rice — Smoke|
|João Selva — Natureza||Big Mean Sound Machine — Runnin' For The Ghost||Chico Mann & Captain Planet — Night Visions||Funkallisto — Saturday Night Dogs|
|Dem Juju Poets — Liberated Thoughts||Zem Audu — Spirits||Speedometer — Downtown Funk '74||Lord Echo — Harmonies|
All of these records are worth adding to your vinyl collection, as well, in order to hear them in their most optimal listening format. I provide links to Amazon when they’re available, so click through and get yourself something special.
With so much marvelous music it’s hard to say one album is “The Best.” The first 4 are a toss up. Any of them could be my favorite of the year. The rest could be in any order (maybe even Top 10, but I’ll leave the exact order up to you to decide which are your favorites & add them to your vinyl collection).
Follow this Spotify playlist that has them all together (with many extra “honorable mention” albums). You should also click the following links to listen to the best instrumental Funk songs of 2017 and many of my other favorite Funk songs of 2017.
Bookmark this page so you can come back to it when you want to just turn on astounding music for a few hours and listen to the best albums of 2017 without having to think about it or look for them. Then, buy the vinyl to impress your friends & delight your ears.
Listen to the Top 20 Best Albums of 2017 playlist here…
…while you keep reading the detailed record reviews below…
Their 2017 record, The Way Home on Colemine Records, intrigues, stimulates, and blows the mind while shaking the hips.
“Supermoon” starts the album off on a high note. The horn section sets the stage for a thrilling ride, and the rhythm section jumps in to bring the heavens closer to earth.
“Blue Giant” reminds me of an Isaac Hayes instrumental updated for 2017 because it overflows with soul, and has killer breaks. One of the things that stands out for me about The Way Home is that the guitar playing is more prevalent on this album. You’ll hear it in full effect on this tune with soulful chords, just enough wah-wah, as well as a little Rock-style jamming.
“The Next 24” is one of the funkiest songs on a remarkable record overall. Ikebe Shakedown’s smoking hot horn section and potent percussionists always dazzle, and on this tune the guitar shines with a mixture of heavy wah-wah, and funky strumming.
“She’s Knocking” is a cinematic Soul slow burner. It’s like the unrequited love scenes from a quirky movie. The moody piano and sad brass eventually give way to happy horns, and the quiet guy getting the girl.
“Assassin” gets the band back to its pure Funk groove. The conga clomps along, and sets up a superb saxophone solo, while never leaving the percussive pattern that holds the tune together.
“Brushfire” is all about the guitar — plenty of echo, fuzz & tremolo effect give it vast space, and remind me of Spaghetti Western soundtracks.
“Penny The Snitch” continues with the same vibe, and this time the horns join in to propel the tune in between heavy wah-wah jamming and rad reverb sounds on guitar.
A weeping willow of a wah-wah leads into “Out Of The Shadows.” This is the part in the movie where the cool killer comes out of the shadows to kick some ass, and then saves the day.
In the quirky Jim Jarmusch movie that never was, for which The Way Home could be the perfect soundtrack, “The Ally” is the part when the cool killer meets up with his better half, and they go on to new adventures, setting up a sequel.
“Shifting Sands” continues into the provocative, reverby guitar territory we’ve been enjoying so far. Here, the world-class rhythm section & conguero lay down a dope beat for the horns to soar away on.
“Five For Five” is anthemic & awesome, moody & magnificent. It’s an emotive exercise for all the band members, and a dramatic descarga.
“Where The Day Breaks” is a short little outro type tune that sounds very Daptone & shows Ikebe Shakedown is definitely a Brooklyn Soul band.
I’m adding in their 2017 single, “Curitiba Strut,” on Transistor Sound, because it could have easily made this record too. Its perfect drum & bass groove, happy horns, playful percussion, and far-out synth line make you want to dance yourself all the way to Brazil! It’s my favorite instrumental Funk song of 2017.
The Way Home shows how the band’s style has continued to evolve, with material that transports listeners beyond their living rooms into dance parties and spaces for introspection. Defying genre or classification, this album proves Ikebe Shakedown is helping define the next bold and soulful wave in instrumental music.
Do yourself a favor, and buy The Way Home on vinyl because it will surely prove to be a timeless classic (just like their other records).
Listen to The Way Home here if you don’t have Spotify…
Finally, they’ve released the follow up on Nacional Records…and it’s just as good as the first one! Jambú continues with caliente Latin rhythms, and Jungle Fire also shows off scorching guitar playing & blistering brass.
The second album from L.A. Latin Funk phenom, Jungle Fire, is called Jambú because while on tour in Brazil the guys got into Cachaça de Jambú, an infusion of Brazilian white rum & an Amazonian herb that makes your mouth numb & tingly. And, of course, the record jams! It’s a fitting title because you’ll feel numb & tingly too when you jam out to Jambú.
The record starts out with a tribute to their Afro-Funk influences with a Latin Funk riff on the “Soul Makossa” bass line on “LA Kossa.” Just like they did their own thing with Fela Kuti’s “Let’s Start” on “Comencemos” from Tropicoso, they repeat the feat with a nod to Manu Dibango’s classic — Los Angeles global Funk style.
There are more guitar & effects on this album. “Jambú,” for example, is a pretty far out monster jam. Guitar player, Patrick Bailey, makes his own guitar pedals that create the psychedelic sounds on Jambú. When you’re listening to the album as some wild sounds follow the percussion storm, and can’t tell for sure what makes that sound…it’s Bailey’s creative use of guitar effects.
People always dig the Cumbia groove; it’s an irresistible rhythm. I love the way Jungle Fire puts its own stamp on it with “Cumbia de Sal.” It’s the only cover song on Jambú, being a version of an obscure Afro-Colombian tune from the 1970s by Cumbias en Moog. It sounds as if Jungle Fire were listening to Frente Cumbiero & the new wave of Cumbia bands, and got inspired. I bet it’s fun to play live!
“Callejero” is another super jam with phenomenal guitar work, teriffic timbales, and bold brass. It reminds me of WAR, the original L.A. Latin Funk lowriders that blended Afro-Latin grooves, Jazz, and 70s R&B. I bet this one gets the dance floors movin’!
“Efori” sounds a little more African Funk to my ears than the old-school Spanish Harlem type Funk Jungle Fire is so great at modernizing. What I love about them is how they mix African & Latin percussion styles with modern Funk, Rock, Jazz, and their own special thing.
Jungle Fire pre-released a 45 for “N.U.S.A.U.” on Colemine Records. It stands for “None of Us is as Strong as All of Us” — a saying the late, great DJ Dusk used to announce at his DJ gigs. “N.U.S.A.U.” brings the heat! It’s a high-energy jam propelled by the horn section, and Jungle Fire’s always combustible percussion ensemble.
“Bele Bele” is a similarly potent song! It’s another timbales led tune with cool guitar effects, and a rolling wave of percussion.
Jungle Fire gets a little weirder on “Lamento Momposina.” It has a slightly melancholy Ethiopian Jazz/Funk feel to it, like a Budos Band song. And yet, it’s still all Jungle Fire — percussive and full of powerful horn lines.
“Mofongo” closes out Jambú in high style. Playful horns dance alongside a tremendous timbales jam. The dopest drum & bass groove keeps it going as the rest of the percussion players give it that Jungle Fire Latin Funk flavor I love so much. More trippy guitar playing makes its mark to prove Jungle Fire is a force all its own — updating old-school, 1970s Latin Funk for the 2000s.
Watch & listen to Jungle Fire’s smoking hot performance, live on KEXP…
3. Caldera — Polyrhythmics
“Goldie’s Road” starts Caldera off with a trippy, Blacksploitation style feeling. They add in spacey synth & guitar effects, plus African percussion noises and muted horns in all the right places. The funky flute riding on top gives the tune a groovy elegance.
“Spider Wolf” is a high-energy percussive jam. Its expressive brassiness helps the percussion power the song along, and the rest of the band creates a stirring blend that makes you want to move your body.
“Marshmallow Man” moves the groove into a stimulating Funk eruption. The wah-wah wiggles your hips as the horn and rhythm section burst forth for a final explosion of organ and brass jam down.
“Cactus Blossom” blooms sweetly from the edge of Polyrhythmics’ Funk volcano. This mellow, soulful Funk song intrigues you & sucks you in, then builds up a dramatic rhythm before letting you back down again.
“Au Jus” is the longest tune on Caldera at more than 9 minutes. It’s an impressive ride through everything Polyrhythmics excel at. It’s jazzy, funky, soulful, and percussive. Starting off mellow & groovy, it starts to rock out, then finds that groove again. All the players get their chance to root down & get it on this one, as the tune oscillates between heavy & groovy. Then, “Au Jus” turns far-out & spacey.
“Journey to Caldera” is a catchy, funky tune. The horn section finds a lively line and the organ get greasy.
“Compound 49” is an especially funky, joyful groove. The name must signify some magic potion that just makes you feel good when you take it because that’s what this tune does. It’s definitely one of the best instrumental Funk songs of 2017!
“Dragon Lotion” is a funky, happy, modern Afrobeat groove. The electric piano lines, and then the Latin percussion breakdown make this tune extra diverse and danceable. This song is the most purely Afrobeat sounding tune on Caldera.
“Bowling Green” burns slow and intoxicates the listener with a profound bass line, impressive horn solos, and relentless rhythm.
“Lord of the Fries” is a little dark, yet still super funky. Its rolling rhythm and potent percussion breakdown make this tune full of surprises, giving the horn section a platform to wail.
“Vodka For My Goat” is a genre-bending Funk jam full of wah-wah, Afro-Latin percussion, and hair-raising horn stabs. Listen for Ben Bloom’s amazing guitar solo, followed by a killer conga & percussion jam.
“Stargazer” ends the album with downtempo, Afrobeat trance. Put Caldera on a loop and this one segues perfectly into the first tune. You can listen to the whole album on repeat and not get sick of it.
That being said, it’s even better on vinyl! Click here to buy the limited edition 2xLP pressed on red vinyl — a must have for any serious record collector with impeccable taste 😉
Watch & listen to a super funky live version of Polyrhythmics “Vodka For My Goat” from a stellar studio session at KNKX Public Radio…
4. Black Diamond — Analog Son
Jordan Linit and Josh Fairman created Analog Son around a studio project involving the Shady Horns, Ryan Zoidis and Eric Bloom (Lettuce/Soulive), and Joe Tatton (New Mastersounds). Since conception the band has now recorded three records with 30 amazing musicians — their 2014 debut, Analog Son, and one of the best albums of 2015, Stomp & Shout.
Black Diamond takes their funky flavor sky high! I think it’s their best record yet. You can hear how they’re evolving, and grooving hard.
I love how Black Diamond features more New Orleans style Funk than their first two albums. It sounds to me like they’ve been spending some time in the Big Easy, as well as collaborating with New Orleans musicians as they roll through Colorado.
The stand out New Orleans style tunes are the following…
Of course, the one featuring Ivan Neville, shines. “Sunshine” is a funky love song with a dope organ groove, and tons of soul.
“Under The Oaks” is instrumental Funk at its finest! It’s got that New Orleans bounce, and horns propelling it along. Drum & bass are tight in the pocket, as Jordan Linit dances his guitar (with plenty of wah-wah) over this killer groove.
“Ain’t Lyin'” is a bluesy, funky, soulful Rock song that reminds you of late night bands in New Orleans bars.
Certainly, their ode to the Crescent City, “Big Easy,” with Devon Parker’s super soulful vocals captures that New Orleans Funk vibe. It’s a musical story about the joys of the city, and feels nice and easy with her vocals complimenting the players’ jamming. Pay attention for the laid-back, funky breakdown…then she comes back in to take the tune to its New Orleans party music finish.
Another great guest vocal appearance comes from Corey Frye, the lead singer of The Main Squeeze. “Eyes For You” is the perfect intersection of old-school Funk and modern Funk because the band gets tight in the pocket playing the Funk as if it were 1974, as Frye sings his love for his lady and shows he has the vocal chops of a classic Soul Man (while being one of the best new voices in modern Funk & Soul music). Like the rest of the record, this tune proves Analog Son can play classic Funk with a contemporary approach, impeccable production, and unique composition that is among the best on today’s Funk music scene.
The instrumental Funk tunes on Black Diamond are breathtaking. The album starts with heavy wah-wah and hot horns on “Blue Nile” and the band finds the perfect groove from the get go. “A Trip Around The Sun” is another impressive instrumental Funk song, with sensational keyboard work to compliment Jordan Linit’s rapid wah-wah. “Sky High” closes out Black Diamond with a dope organ jam and happy horns, grooving on top of a badass backbeat and deft drumming.
Analog Son always puts a glide in your stride and a dip in your hip. Black Diamond shows the band evolving into a modern Funk powerhouse that keeps getting better, while respecting the classic Funk foundation.
Because they record their albums with vintage studio equipment, there’s an organic quality that translates seamlessly onto this record. You definitely hear and feel the authentic nature of their analog recording techniques. Analog Son’s music blows the mind as it takes old-school Funk sky high and on into the 2000s.
5. Stinger — Hard Proof — Modern Outsider Records
You get to hear all these influences in full force on their superb 2017 record, Stinger, on Modern Outsider Records. Nine furious tracks take you on a rockin’ trip around the world musically. Stinger never lets up! Its high-energy vibe will keep you moving — body, mind & soul.
he title track sets the standard for things to come. It’s an aggressive, genre-bending jam that features breathtaking baritone sax, and a rocking rhythm section that succinctly leads off the record, letting you know it’s going to be a crazy ride.
Next up is “Men Of Trouble,” my favorite track because of the funky flute solo followed up by a killer guitar solo to juxtapose the beautiful with the furious. It’s like several songs in one — it starts out hinting to a little Ethio-Jazz Funk with an Afrobeat bottom, and Blacksploitation wah-wah. Moody keyboards and tight drumming keep you enthralled throughout.
“A.R.A.S.” is a mad-wild percussion & feedback interlude that leads into “Incendiary,” which is a brash, brass-based Afrobeat tune. The baritone sax on this one is stunning! Beautiful keyboards restrain the brass heat a little, while the drum & bass carry the groove forward at warp speed. The bold brass on this song will surely light a fire under you.
“Trickle Down” follows it up, and they almost mellow out…until a rip-roaring Rock-based guitar solo adds fuel to the Afrobeat fire. Drums & percussion follow hard, and then their almighty horn section carries you away, grooving on top of the bad-ass beat.
“Boss” is an animating Afrobeat groove that stays closer to the roots of Afrobeat, and yet, they still put their unique stamp on the genre with a resounding, reverby guitar solo, and jazzy horn lines.
“War Gin” is another genre-defying jam with an Afrobeat foundation that they’re quick to jump off of. More Rock style guitar soloing reminds you that these guys come from a city famous for phenomenal guitar players. The band grooves so hard that hard Rock sounds never overpower the song, and just serve to take the tune to new heights.
“Lots” shows off Hard Proof’s Afro-Funk chops with sublime syncopation and more baritone brilliance. It simply sounds like a tune that must pack the dance floors of Austin when they break this one out.
My other favorite song on Stinger is “Soul Thing.” If you’ve ever imagined what it would be like if Isaac Hayes and Fela Kuti had collaborated on a song in the early 1970s — it would have sounded like this. It’s more Stax than Afrobeat, and yet, the West African groove is still in there, with gorgeous trumpet dancing all along, plenty of wah-wah, potent percussion, and Hard Proof’s distinctive jamming.
If you like Antibalas, Bixiga 70, Snarky Puppy, Ikebe Shakedown, Jungle Fire, Zongo Junction, The Funk Ark, and Polyrhythmics…you’ll love Hard Proof!
Watch & listen to Hard Proof play “Soul Thing” live at SXSW…
6. Pushing Fire — Soul Scratch — Colemine Records
There is a need for smart protest music, and intelligent anger these days. Soul Scratch is a group that’s definitely raising its voice to shed light on hypocrisy, complacency, and ignorance. And yet, their songs are never whiney, complaining, neurotic songs of victimization.
Dale Spollet, lead singer of Soul Scratch, sings soulful stories of hope, redemption, resolve, and perseverance — all traits of successful independent musicians. Soul Scratch says, “We are on a mission to cure the world of hate, and educate all people in the power of Love, Peace, and Music.” Can you dig it?!
On “Pacified,” blue-eyed Soul man extraordinaire, Spollet, sings beautifully about an ugly problem. It’s the story of how people are so easily appeased, manipulated, and lead astray. The band plays some furious Funk to bring the outrage to fever pitch.
“Look How Far We’ve Come” examines race relations without pointing fingers, all while singing about unity and showing the hopeful side of negative situations. The band plays it with plenty of wah-wah, and you’ll hear some Curtis Mayfield in there too
“The Road Looks Long” is a working man’s story. Dale Spollet sings a story about love, faith, and pushing on. You can hear the self-assurance, urgency, and belief in a better day with more love and abundance.
Next up is my favorite song on Pushing Fire — “Odessa Heat”. As good a Soul singer as Dale Spollet is, I still prefer instrumental Funk tunes. This is where the band gets to show off. These dudes are tight! Joel Givertz gets all Catfish Collins on the guitar. Johnny Chou is his Bootsy on bass. Adam Greenberg keeps the drums in the pocket throughout this record, and gets to shine here. The horn section of Matt Reale on trumpet, and Ian Anderson on sax are hot, and they know how to play it the 60s Soul way.
“It’s Not Over” boasts a real sweet organ groove, as Spollet sings a sad song. And yet, he always finds the hope, and shifts the focus to that light at the end of the tunnel in these songs.
“Kiss Me In The Morning” is a gorgeous love song. The organ and horns build the passion of this tune, and Spollet sings it so sweet and seductively.
“Be Kind” is modernized, old-school Soul music. It’s good-time music, and classic lovers’ Rock Ike Turner could have made. “Empty Cup” is more of the same, and the band funks it up a little more. These two are hot!
“Fireside Lounge” is another dope instrumental Funk song. It’s the outlier on Pushing Fire because it’s harder to pin down and categorize. The band is really spreading out on this one, and it sounds like it could come from the Brooklyn underground.
They end Pushing Fire with “Thank You.” It’s a super groovy love song of gratitude for a man’s wonderful woman who is always there for him.
Soul Scratch is rooted in the principle that through the healing power of music, the world may be made into a joyous loving place where all of humanity can come together under the umbrella of Love and togetherness. They tell stories of humanity, warts and all, always finding a reason for optimism and gratitude to keep on having a good time sharing positive, Soul music.
Soul Scratch is a hard hitting groove machine, blending the Stax and Motown sound with a modern Southern California feel. Buy Pushing Fire on vinyl, add some potent Soul music to your collection, and get yourself one of the best albums of 2017.
Watch the official video for Soul Scratch’s “Pacified”…
7. Two — PHO
PHO is one of the tightest instrumental Funk bands on the planet! If you love Snarky Puppy and Lettuce…I know you’re gonna dig PHO…
The soulful, laconic Funk guitar of “Sour Town” starts the record off on a good groove. The keyboards come in to give the song a spacey vibe as the rhythm section solidifies its position as the band’s rock solid foundation. Then, horny horns sing & dance on top of it all and bring the energy level up.
And this is how it plays out through all 13 songs, as PHO explores the intricacies of jazzy, funky instrumental music in all its sublime goodness…
“Dr. Drake” is the first single from Two. It makes my Best Instrumental Funk Songs of 2017 list. Guitarist Spencer Christiansen told Live For Live Music, “‘Dr. Drake’ is like a funk puzzle. Every part has its place in the beat — inspired by the sounds of Prince’s Black album, and James Brown. Our new record, Two, represents all of our influences coming together under the funk.”
“Dew Like Me” for its perfect, laid-back groove a la Donald Byrd (with a beautiful funky flute thrown in for good measure).
“Responsibility” is a longer, spacier jam that will impress the Jam Band festival crowd with its guitar solo & synthesizer sounds.
“South 2nd” and “Famous Waves” are stimulating dance jams. I imagine these tunes get crowds fired up whenever & wherever PHO plays them. I love the percussion breakdown on “South 2nd”!
“2-Side” explores the jazzy side of Funk (and the funky side of Jazz). The horns shine throughout Two, and on this one you can hear how skilled the horn section is as they get to show off their Jazz chops.
Watch & listen to PHO play “Dr. Drake” live…
8. A Tribute To Art Blakey/The Source — Tony Allen — Bluenote Records
Surrounding Tony are some of the best musicians on a Paris scene that is difficult to call “Jazz” due to its highly changeable nature: Jankielewicz alongside saxophonists Rémi Sciuto and Jean-Jacques Elangue, trumpeter Nicolas Giraud, trombonist Daniel Zimmermann, bassist Mathias Allamane, pianist Jean-Philippe Dary, and keyboardist Vincent Taurelle, who produced the album with Bertrand Fresel… a French cast to begin with, but with the addition of guitarist Indy Dibongue from Cameroon who, like Tony, contributes an indispensable African pigment to this palette. 11 excellent players in total would finally deliver The Source, along with one notable guest: Damon Albarn, who adds an ethereal piano part to “Cool Cats.”
The album sparkles in the variety of its timbres and the diversity of its colors. Each of the 11 instrumental tracks—all new originals co-written by Allen and Jankielewicz—bring forward a particular instrument: Giraud’s trumpet on “Bad Roads”; the bass of Allamane on “Crusin’”; Dary’s piano inside “On Fire,” and Sciuto’s bari sax on “Woro Dance.” With “Cool Cats,” it’s the turn of Elangue and his tenor, while Zimmerman’s trombone is featured on “Wolf Eats Wolf.” And throughout, Tony’s indelible signature, a unique way of hitting skins or a cymbal, its main characteristics a caressing, almost ethereal energy, and a formidable efficiency.
The music on The Source creates its own milieu. It shines like the African sun on “Push & Pull,” becomes contemplative with “Tony’s Blues,” then hypnotic in “Life Is Beautiful,” then dresses in the urban colors of dusk on “Ewajo.”
Listen to Tony Allen talk about making The Source & hear the music…
9. Drinking Water — The Seven Ups
Their stellar second album, Drinking Water, picks up where their 2015 debut left off, and shows the band’s musical evolution. All seven songs sound sublime.
Check out “17hr Trip” and dig the rapid bass propuslion, and old-school Afrobeat groove, potent percussion & horny horns comin’ at ya. It’s a super funky Afrobeat jam that will make you wanna get up and dance!
“Bada Dada” shows off a heavy dose of wah-wah guitar (which then rocks out), deep bass, and potent percussion. Dig the mellow mood, old-school Afrobeat groove, profound percussion, and jazzy horns on “Bello At Night.” It’s a laid-back, modern Afrobeat jam that features some outstanding guitar playing, and defies categorization because it uses the Afrobeat template to create unique modern music.
My only complaint with Drinking Water is that it’s too short. I hope in 2018 they release their career-defining double album. The Seven Ups make me want to book a trip ASAP to Australia to hang out hearing the bands of the Melbourne funky world music scene.
Listen to “The Learned Goat” from their upcoming 2018 album, Commandments…
10. Chase The Light (Excursions in Soul, Reggae, Funk, and Dub) — Soul Sugar — Gee Recordings
Keyboard player Guillaume “Gee” Méténier, who specializes in vintage keyboards such as Clavinet, Fender Rhodes, and especially the B3 Hammond organ leads Soul Sugar. Méténier is a disciple of Dr. Lonnie Smith (with whom he regularly studies organ) and is influenced by great organ players from Jimmy Smith to Jimmy McGriff to Brother Jack Macduff to Booker T, Art Neville, Bernie Worrell, and Jackie Mitoo. He also runs Gee Recordings, and puts out a slew of delicious 45s.
I love how Chase The Light easily flows back and forth between Reggae, Dub, Funk & Soul. It’s totally fresh and modern music, and yet it’s foundation is firmly in the superb 70s music that came out of Jamaica. It also pays homage to the deep, instrumental Funk of 1970s America.
“Take A Chance” and “All I Know” feature Courtney John on vocals. He’s the best singer from Jamaica these days. He has a rootsy style, and soulful falsetto that’s irresistible. Each song on the album has a cool Dub version, and these are two of the best because of how they bring Courtney John’s haunting vocals in and out.
“Take A Chance” even features a Hammond organ solo from Dr Lonnie Smith!
“Why Can’t We Live Together” with Leonardo Carmichael on vocals is more Neo-Soul than Reggae, and yet it perfectly balances the two. It also has a groovy “Superfly” vibe to it. And, there’s an important message of unity in there that reminds me of Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Goin’ On”.
The rest of the record is comprised of intriguing instrumentals. If you like the music of Jackie Mittoo and Augustus Pablo, you’ll love the instrumental Reggae songs on Chase The Light.
“Get Up & Get It” is a cover version of a Jackie Mittoo classic. It’s a groovy Meters-esque style tune with that funky New Orleans shuffle. Dope drums in the pocket kick it off, as organ, and wah-wah join in the fun.
“Big Car” is the other Jackie Mittoo cover tune. It’s basically a Reggae instrumental version of “Be Thankful for What You Got” by William DeVaughn. Its Dub version is mind-blowing too.
“East Of The River Nile” is an exciting 21st century re-work of the Augustus Pablo Dub classic. One of the all-time best songs for smoking marijuana, this timeless tune gets an update with deep drumming, and dope guitar flourishes, in addition to the melodica sound and dubbed out keys.
“19 Miles To Kingston” is an intoxicating Guillaume “Gee” Méténier original in the style of Augustus Pablo. It’s got plenty of haunting melodica, and mind-blowing organ grooves.
“Mellow Mood” is actually a cover of a Jimmy Smith & Wes Montgomery Jazz song. Soul Sugar gives it the Reggae Soul treatment, and makes it into an astonishing modern song that’s part Reggae, part funky Jazz, and too-cool to categorize. And once again, the far-out Dub version just makes the whole vibe twice as cool.
Chase The Light (Excursions in Soul, Reggae, Funk, and Dub) is one of my favorite albums of 2017 because of the way it blends Roots Reggae with Soul music, Funk, and Jazz. The breathtaking Dub songs serve to double the pleasure of each song on the album. Soul Sugar is an immensely talented band that’s making provocative, original music from a blueprint of the classic music I love most — and for that I thank them.
Listen to “Take a Chance (feat.Courtney John)”…
11. Smoke — Victor Rice — Easy Star Records
Legendary Reggae producer, Victor Rice, has been living in Sao Paulo, Brazil since 2002 so an original album made from his experience with Brazilian musicians is quite tantalizing. As soon as I heard Smoke, I was impressed.
“Lou” is a sweet Rocksteady groove with a little Brazilian Samba Jazz influence. This is old-school instrumental Reggae with modern style, and a funky swagger. It’s dope enough to have made my Best Funk Instrumentals of 2017 list too.
“Tema” is one of the highest energy tunes on Smoke. If you love the Skatalites you’ll love this one. Hot horns and a driving beat will get you up on your feet.
“Turn” is a groovy Jamaican Jazz song featuring organ playing Jackie Mittoo would be proud of, as well as the sweet tinkling of the piano.
The bouncy, “Bermuda Triangle,” astonishes with its potent percussion, and brilliant brass sounds.
“Motion Study 1” & “Motion Study 2” — upbeat, jazzy Reggae at its finest — could be one extended jam. “Motion Study 2” is a little more dramatic, while “Motion Study 1” features happier horns and a slightly faster beat.
“Mr. Brooks” takes you back to the old-school Ska days or the genre’s third wave with its straight forward rhythm. The stimulating horns animate this one, and make it one of the record’s tightest tunes.
“Fumaça” (which means smoke in Portuguese), is a sultry Jamaican Jazz song, which would fit perfectly in a smoky underground music joint in Sao Paulo or New York.
“Party Line” is an intoxicating groove, and almost gets a little dubby. The organ comes in strong again on this one, as the breathtaking brass shines brightly as it does throughout the record.
“The Dream” is a joyful instrumental (with a moody piano line) whose brass bubbles up from the subconscious in a sublime way.
Also check out Victor Rice’s YouTube channel for some amazing music you can’t hear anywhere else.
Smoke is one of my favorite records of 2017. It’s definitely one worth getting on vinyl because it has a timeless style and profound production that sounds rich on wax. Buy Smoke on vinyl here.
Listen to “Mr. Brooks” from Smoke…
12. Ecosystem — Courtney John — FiWi Music
Courtney John’s lyrics convey the urgency of waking up and standing up to “the monster” which seeks to destroy most of humanity just to save itself. Yet, in the hardship and challenges we face there is always hope and the message is conveyed lyrically and through John’s ephemeral voice.
Ecosystem is an amazing album for its lyricism, unmatched vocals, and marvelous musicianship. It will definitely be one of the best albums of 2017 (in any genre), and is an instant modern Reggae music classic.
John’s heartfelt, impassioned storytelling talks of life situations we seldom hear about. He tells the often ignored stories of the people displaced by warfare – economic and military – walking with hope and determination toward a better future; the effect of incarceration on families and those in the cage.
Courtney writes all 11 songs on the album produced and mixed by Parisian, Pierre Marie Williamson, which was recorded between Jamaica and France, and took over a year to complete.
On Ecosystem, Courtney John returns from his futuristic exploration, The Courtney John Project, to face the present reality on earth — in this ecosystem of life. Here, Courtney John returns to his roots and continues to create music that demands your attention and compels you to listen and penetrate the message being delivered; it is crucial listening.
Courtney would like listeners to know that there are still musicians and artists who are committed to making quality, Reggae music that involves giving every last bit of oneself. Ecosystem was made with intention…and it shows. We are all a part of earth’s ecosystem — what happens to one of us will affect the life of another, multiplied ad infinitum.
What’s great about this album is that this is conscious Reggae music at its finest, never falling into Reggae cliches, ranting against “Babylon” and “the wicked man,” etc. His lyrics are poetic, intelligent, and unique.
I’ve already said Courtney John is blessed with the finest voice in Jamaican music nowadays. Add to that the impressive band with whom he made Ecosystem, and you have the formula for a timeless Reggae record.
What Courtney John has excelled at most in his career is soulful, romantic Reggae. This album has plenty of soul, and yet it’s mostly a departure from his modern Reggae Soul songs. So, my favorite song on Ecosystem is “My Love Is Real” because he puts all his heart into the album’s lone love song. Between his ardent vocalizing, the bubbling rhythm section, and the heady horn parts — this tune melts the hardest of hearts.
The flip side of that is the break-up song, “Easier To Walk Away.” Courtney John’s voice even makes a break up sound sublime. The band’s joyful groove turns a sad event into a happy song. Listen for the stunning organ solo to feel transported back to the days of Studio One and Jackie Mittoo. Then, they layer in gorgeous guitar playing that would make Ernest Ranglin proud.
The first single, “Yes We Are” starts with an old-school organ groove, and becomes a happy song about the sad situation of refugees around the world, and demonstrates unity, empathy & compassion.
“Southern Wind” is like a modern day “Mercy, Mercy Me (The Ecology Song)” — Reggae style. It starts the album off in a mellow mood, and sets the tone for the album’s profound subject matter.
“Paper Dolls” reminds us that “freedom’s not free anymore.” It’s a bubbling “one drop” style Reggae tune that protests the greed of powerful people. Listen for some gorgeous trumpet playing too.
More irresistible horn play carries “All The Way” — a mellow burner about taking a stand for what you believe in, while “Never Get Weary” reminds us to keep our spirits up in the face of adversity.
“Free For All” is an upbeat number that makes you want to skank around and celebrate freedom on a beach in Jamaica.
“Cold Feet” sums up the conscious vibe of Ecosystem, and its perfect marriage of old-school Roots Reggae with a thoroughly modern sound and positive attitude.
I like when songwriters compose protest songs that highlight the good while shining light on the bad. Courtney John writes lyrics that are smart, poignant, and worth listening to closely. Ecosystem also makes you feel great. The band’s joyful playing makes these songs with deeper subject matter impel you to move your feet as they cause you to think.
Listen to “My Love Is Real”…
13. Natureza — Joao Selva — Favorite Recordings
You’ll definitely feel happy when you listen to “Felicidade.” This tune, and the whole record, celebrate happiness by way of a fabulous Brazilian groove. It’s one of the best albums of 2017 from Brazil or anywhere — check it out!
This is the kind of music that just makes you feel good when you listen to it. You’ll immediately feel whisked away to Ipanema with a caipirinha in hand.
Listen to the fabulous “Felicidade”…
14. Runnin’ For The Ghost — Big Mean Sound Machine — Peace & Rhythm Records
Their record, Runnin’ For The Ghost, on Peace & Rhythm Records, as well as Ithaca’s own, Blank Slate Records — finds them in fine form with provocative new tunes to take on the road, and convert more fans to learn to love astonishing Afrobeat music.
Runnin’ For The Ghost is a dubby, percussive, Afrobeat album with amazing guitar work and sensational horns. They use traditional Afrobeat as a springboard for jumping into uncharted territory. The 11, genre-bending songs here will blow your mind!
On the first single, “Seeing the Bigger Picture,” Big Mean Sound Machine catches a great groove on this joyful tune. The soaring horns take it high, and the synthesizer, percussion, drum & bass make it a fun, funky, far-out Afrobeat dance tune that gets you in the head & the hips. Listen to it here…
My favorite song on Runnin’ For The Ghost is “Van Chatter.” On this song, they mix in some mbira thumb piano sounds and astonishing guitar playing that makes this track more reminiscent of Congolese Rumba than Afrobeat. It’s completely different than the rest of the tunes, and succeeds in recreating that joyful feeling you only get from listening to Congolese guitar players jam.
In this Afropop Worldwide article, they mention how famous Congolese guitarist, Franco, “took offense that more Europeans and Americans, who were then discovering modern African styles, did not embrace him more vigorously.” The author says that, “Cities across America now support local Afrobeat bands modeled after Fela’s trademark sound,” and yet, Central African music (hugely popular all over Africa) remains a specialized taste in the West.
I think Big Mean Sound Machine has now succeeded in capturing part of that vibe, and making it sound modern and accessible to Westerners’ ears.
“Hired Guns” and “The G” are the most Dub heavy tunes, and introduce some electronic elements that will impress jamtronica fans.
“Burning Van” & “Sahara Cellphones” stick closest to the Afrobeat template, and yet, carry Big Mean Sound Machine’s one-of-a kind, experimental take on the genre. This band always finds a good groove you can dance tune.
“Triple Bacon” is the funkiest Afrobeat tune on Runnin’ For The Ghost, and made my list of Best Instrumental Funk Songs of 2017. I love the recognizable Afrobeat drum patterns, staccato, high-energy horns, and the way the guitar dances in & out.
My only complaint about Runnin’ For The Ghost is with the weird sounds injected into tunes unnecessarily, and on some songs, the synthesizer overpowers the percussion and horn section (the band’s greatest strength).
Overall, Runnin’ For The Ghost is a remarkable record that I recommend you get on vinyl here.
Watch Big Mean Sound Machine go hard live in Pittsburgh in this outstanding video…
15. Night Visions — Chico Mann & Captain Planet — Bastard Jazz Recordings
While the characters often stumble and search blindly in the dark, the persistent presence of a distant light provides an underlying direction and hopefulness to all the songs. Captain Planet’s production, informed by his regular crowd-moving DJ sets, keeps the album sounding effortlessly danceable & contemporary.
Chico Mann’s vocals have an instant classic appeal, hinting at old Cuban Rumba and vintage Afrobeat LP’s. The two are aided by guest vocals from regular collaborators Kendra Morris & Brit Manor, as well as some talented friends who contributed additional horns, guitar & marimba.
Night Visions highlights the creative symbiosis of two of the biggest names in contemporary alternative Latin sounds. The result is a truly unique album that speaks as much to listeners who don’t understand Spanish as it does to the hip kids from South American mega-cities, Miami, LA & NYC. The feelings and rhythms that flow through these songs are universal, appealing to hearts and hips all around the world.
On Night Visions, Chico Mann’s choruses of multi-layered vocals with funky guitar lines help to cool off the heat created between the bass and rhythm…creating a unique conversation of color and value that pays homage to the past but raises the bar for the future.
Captain Planet is a world travelling DJ & music producer who blends global roots music styles with forward-thinking Hip-Hop, dancehall and electronic beats. After cutting his teeth in the competitive New York City club scene, he went on to host a popular radio show on WNYU Radio, and started the globally renowned music blog www.MixtapeRiot.com.
Night Visions is the fabulous result of the recent collaborations between Chico Mann & Captain Planet. This album reminds me of my musical explorations in New York, Miami, and Caracas because of the way it captures the essence of Latin music and makes it a totally contemporary, distinctive body of work that takes you on a musical adventure.
“Somos Candela” opens the record with a laid-back groove that makes you want to move. Then, “Oye Bien” keeps the momentum going with a cool little ditty that has a chorus that sticks in your head and makes you feel like you’re happily cruising around a tropical city whistling a joyful tune.
“Como Me Miras” — the first sensational summery single from Night Visions — combines Afro-Latin rhythms, Caribbean bass, and modern electronic dance music into one accessible, danceable song that can potentially pack dance floors with tropical music lovers (and even mainstream gringos too).
“Y Ahora Que” keeps the tropical vibe moving along joyfully as it masterfully combines electronic music beats, marimba, nice guitar samples, and Chico Mann’s catchy chorus.
“Misunderstood” is the album’s first song in English. It’s a bouncy, funky love song with Brit Manor’s smooth vocals.
“Ya Te Toca” returns us to the clubs & festivals of Latin America. This is my favorite song on Night Visions because Captain Planet so skillfully combines Andean flutes with house music beats, as Chico Mann chants over this high-energy rhythm. It’s the ideal tune for any DJ’s Tropical House set. This tune could get any dance floor pumping!
“Burbujitas” keeps the dance floor energy bubbling through your mind, and down into your hips and feet — another Latin house music super jam.
“Vamos a Batalla” adds a little Latin house dub flavor into the mix.
“Can’t Let Go” finds Kendra Morris getting funky with Chico Mann & Captain Planet on another smooth groove, highlighted by Funk guitar playing and a sublimely syncopated dance beat.
“New Bell” is a creative cover of Manu Dibango’s African Funk classic. The duo capture the essence of the original, and add a deep dance floor beat that propels the irresistible horn lines, and underscores cool electronic elements.
I love the joyful guitar groove on “Aguacero” because it sounds like Congolese Rumba. That gorgeous arpeggio, characteristic of Kinshasa guitarists, is one of my favorite sounds in all of music. Here they have it come in and out on top of yet another brilliant beat, and it builds the intensity of the song to fever pitch before it mellows and beautifully fades out.
“Tumbo Paredes” knocks down walls — no one can stop Chico Mann & Captain Planet on Night Visions! And, this tune features a little nod to Manu Chao. Hear if you can notice it.
“Cuentos de Anoche” (Stories From Last Night) is one of the more melancholy and downtempo tracks, but its cyclical melodic shapes and syncopated dancehall-influenced beat will really work their way under your skin. There’s even a cool little steel drum sample that comes in and out to give it a little extra Caribbean flavor.
“La Oscuridad” ends the album, and takes it full circle, having explored a fun, fascinating joyful night experiencing contemporary Latin American underground music at its finest.
Captain Planet told Sounds & Colours Magazine, “The idea of the darkness as a theme came up in a conversation we had that what people tend to think of when thinking of ‘la oscuridad (the darkness)’ is the easy idea of the dark side or bad things. But also there’s this liberation that can happen in the dark,” he said. “You can be free in the dark a little bit. There’s a deeper element. You are free to move and dance more at night. Love making happens at night and so on.”
I highly recommend you add Night Visions to your record collection because it represents the best of the underground sound of modern Latin music. It’s diverse, distinctive, danceable, imaginative, and just makes you feel good every time you listen to it. Buy Night Visions on vinyl here.
Watch Chico Mann & Captain Planet live…
16. Saturday Night Dogs — Funkallisto — Express Yourself
Their 2017 album, Saturday Night Dogs, is the band’s best record to date. You can tell they put a lot of heart & soul power into making this one. When in Rome…make it funky!
“Saturday Night Dogs,” the title track, gets the party started on a high-energy note. Bari sax, funky chicken scratch, potent percussion, and sensational keys stimulate the groove…and set the tone for 7 more diverse, funky songs.
“Take A Little Time” is the only song on Saturday Night Dogs with full lyrics. Jess Roberts sings a super soulful song with a positive message. The organ vibe gives it a greasy, early 70s feel.
“Rhythm” is exactly what it says it is. In this tune the rhythm section gets to show off. Powerful percussion, tight drumming, and a dope bass line hold down the groove for the horns to soar.
“The Devil” begins with super funky guitar, syncopated cymbals, and fiery horn lines. Listen for the heavy breakdown on drums just after the halfway mark. Hot horns jump back on the groove, and the wah-wah flows throughout.
“Piamose Trastevere” captures the band’s high energy — showing off its horny horns, old-school organ grooves, funky wah-wah guitar, and deep rhythm section. And, it’s one of my favorite instrumental Funk songs of 2017.
“Marcelito el Tropicano” captures the band’s sensational energy. The tune oscillates between a mellow Jazz groove and exhilarating Latin Funk. The percussion shines, the electric piano dances on top of the beat, and the impressive horns astonish alongside electrifying Funk guitar playing, and proper drumming.
“Fatebenefratelli” arouses even the most devoid-of-Funk folks because of its electrifying rhythm & impelling groove. This tune is totally irresistible, and must get people on the dance floor instantly at Funkallisto’s live shows.
Funkallisto is the dopest Funk band in The Eternal City! Saturday Night Dogs, is fabulously funky all the way through. Listen to more of their music, here on their Soundcloud page, and hopefully catch them live in Rome.
They have a very clever & creative video for “Rhythm.” Watch it here…
17. Liberated Thoughts — Dem Juju Poets — Matasuna Records
Starting with bold brass, and bright boom-bap beat — the dopest DJ duo in Germany, Dem Juju Poets — bring the Afro-Funk strong on “Mala Mali.” This delicious groove turns into a dynamic dance jam with a smattering of Malian music influence, and is just one of several amazing tunes from Liberated Thoughts. They bring the Funk strong on “People’s Republic” — a horn propelled, jazzy joint with plenty of funky flute to boot. “Fubica” keeps the party going with a bouncy, joyful jam featuring horny horns & big beats.
Listen to “People’s Republic”…
18. Spirits — Zem Audu — Origin Records
Spirits is a phenomenal, funky Jazz album — and my favorite pure Jazz record of 2017. This is joyful music all the way through. Each song is an extended groove — complex, yet happy. You can hear how the band harmonizes perfectly, and is at one with the spirit of the music.
Watch & listen to Zem Audu & his brilliant band play “Big Qi” live…
19. Downtown Funk ’74 — Speedometer — KPM Music
Listen to Speedometer’s “4 Flights Up”…
20. Harmonies — Lord Echo — Soundway Records
His brilliant cover version of Manu Dibango’s “Soul Makossa” — “Makossa No. 3” — pays homage to the heart & soul of the original, while creating something fresh, modern, and new — New Zealand meets Cameroon in the 21st Century.
“The Sweetest Meditation” & “Just Do You” are soulful, jazzy, downtempo dance tunes perfect for those serendipitous nights out. “Low To The Street” deftly captures the modern Reggae vibe. “I Love Music,” with Lisa Tomlins on vocals, is another phenomenal cover song that reinvents the original as a groovy Reggae song with gorgeous arrangements.
Harmonies is full of sweet, sweet music. If you love music, get Harmonies on vinyl here.
Check out a cool little teaser mix video of Harmonies…
The Best Funk Singles Of 2017
Watch the dopest music video of 2017 & listen to the high energy Eric Boss single from Mocambo Records, “Closer To The Spirit” — one of the most exciting Funk songs of 2017 for its old school Hip-Hop vibe and modern, fresh style.
Sexy Disco Funk Party Banger
Watch The Motet live at Red Rocks…
Listen to “Get It Right” on Spotify here…
Take Care Of Your Brain
Listen to “Concussion” by Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio on Colemine Records…
The Best Re-Issues, Compilations, and Live Albums of 2017
Listen to the Best Remixes, Reissues, Compilations & Live Albums of 2017 in this Spotify playlist…