There’s something of a soul and funk renaissance happening these days, and one of the labels at the forefront of the movement is Loveland, Ohio’s Colemine Records. They’ve released albums by some of the most exciting acts of the last ten years, counting names like Durand Jones and the Indications, Black Pumas, Kendra Morris, Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio, Neal Francis, and Ghost Funk Orchestra among their ranks. Joining that impressive lineup is The Ironsides, a project that has deep ties to Monophonics, another long-running Colemine outfit. Spearheaded by Monophonics bassist Max Ramey along with his brother Joe, guitarist James Payne, drummer Dan Ford, and arranger Louis Robert King, The Ironsides have turned out one of the strongest albums released this year with their debut LP, Changing Light.
While instrumental soul records are nothing new, Changing Light is the kind of album you just don’t hear much these days. Each of the album’s eight tracks are downright cinematic, feeling like miniature movies in musical form. A big part of that larger-than-life feel is courtesy of Louis Robert King’s orchestral arrangements: sweeping strings give the songs a widescreen scope, while tasteful horn charts add just the right amount of texture. At the core of the band’s sound is the four-piece lineup of bass, twin guitars, and drums, often augmented by Monophonics frontman (and fellow Colemine artist) Kelly Finnigan on keys and/or vibraphone.
The combination of tightly-played psych-soul and King’s orchestral accompaniment recalls big-budget film soundtracks of the late 60s and early 70s, and at times makes you feel like you’re part of a gritty urban crime drama .There’s not a whole lot of variation from that base sound, but that’s not to say the album gets repetitive—if anything, Ramey and company show how many different moods you can pull off with the same sonic toolbox, ranging from soothing, nocturnal epics (closer “West Wind”) to tense, tightly-wound symphonic-funk trips (“The Web”).
Frank Zappa famously called his 1969 masterpiece Hot Rats a “movie for your ears,” and while it’s a very different sort of movie, the same might be said about Changing Light. The album’s ambitious scope, meticulous arrangements, and thoughtful songwriting make it one of the most impressive debuts in recent memory—one that will almost certainly be near the top of several our best of 2023 lists.
“Changing Light” / “The Web” / “Outlines”
ARTISTS WITH SIMILAR FIRE
Ghost Funk Orchestra / Dorothy Ashby / El Michaels Affair