The latest release from throwback funksters Lettuce is a tour of your dad’s old record collection, minus the mildew and mouse crap. “Rage!” is a decade-trotting encyclopedia of grooves and textures that makes pit stops at the altars of past greats without losing any of its own forward momentum.
Blaring horn stabs in “Blast Off” and the quacking sax of “Sam Huff’s Flying Raging Machine” make for an impressive opening. These tracks take cues from both Tower of Power and Parliament Funkadelic, immediately establishing a sort of flamboyant precision, equal parts tacky and tact. “Speak E.Z.” is a juicy, Meters-inspired workout later in the album that introduces New Orleans grit into the dynamic. The effect is pleasantly jarring.
Well-chosen covers, including Curtis Mayfield’s “Move On Up” and Charles Wright’s “Express Yourself,” offer a refreshing perspective on established styles, but the album’s most impressive track is easily the original “Makin My Way Back Home.” Featuring soul singer Nigel Hall on vocals, it blends beefy rhythmic hits with the
eerie whistle of Scooby-Doo synth. The song’s lyrical reference to “Chocolate City” is undoubtedly a nod to George Clinton, though this particular city might be a bit too rough for the old man.
When Lettuce is not reaching directly back in time, the product can be a bit monotonous. “The L.E.S.” would work well as a DJ’s breakbeat but offers little in the way of musical dexterity; “Mr. Yancey,” a tribute to the late producer J Dilla, is also numbingly repetitive. These tracks can be better used as interludes, shortened or removed altogether from the album’s generous 15-song repertoire.
Still, boisterous performances from drummer Adam Deitch and bassist Eric Coomes make up for most weaknesses. The two musicians, who excel at steering such a large band, maintain a firm grip where a weaker duo might wriggle and writhe. Adeptly maneuvering across rhythmic boundaries, they create the tension so essential to the disc’s funkiness.
The musical simplicity of “Rage!” is perhaps most integral to its success. Where 2002’s “Outta Here” was at times a melee of competing ideas, “Rage!” is especially effective in its moments of space and silence. Greased up and stripped down, it reflects a group of players enthusiastic about their craft but careful not to get carried away.
For the musicians in Lettuce, “Rage!” isn’t a characteristic, it’s something they do. If you’re a fan of classic funk, it’s something you should probably get around to doing — if you haven’t started already.
“Rage!” by Lettuce received three out of four stars.