Soul music is here to stay, and it’s still evolving. The Dynamites Featuring Charles Walker are living proof. Lead singer Charles Walker doesn’t imitate, emulate or try to resuscitate a bygone nostalgic era. He is soul, the real deal, still carrying the flaming torch of funk and soul lit back in the late 60’s at the Apollo Theater where he opened up for icons like James Brown and Wilson Pickett.
Just as Ry Cooder thrust the nearly-forgotten Cuban heroes of son and bolero into international fame on the album Buena Vista Social Club, so have The Dynamites proven that national treasures of soul and funk like Charles Walker still walk amongst us. What’s more, the fresh songwriting approach of Bill Elder, a.k.a. Leo Black, continues to push the deep funk envelope, propelling Walker to sound equally at home singing a scorching hot, up-tempo rocker as he does on a heart wrenching 60’s-style soul ballad. The Dynamites aren’t alone. The burgeoning wave of the deep funk and soul movement is turning heads. A 2008 article in USA Today included The Dynamites in the short list of “acts that are wowing live audiences coast to coast with fresh songs and slamming performances.” The article also got it right in asserting the relevancy and freshness of the deep funk movement: “These critically lauded acts aren’t cover bands, paying homage to old heroes. They’re creating their own legacies in a genre that the industry seemingly shelved long ago.”
Apropos to being timely, The Dynamites second album, Burn It Down (out September 15, 2009), has something to say about life in 2009. From its raw opening notes, it wastes no time getting to the gritty heart of the matter: complacency has ruled the roost for too long and the old ways have got to go. Punctuated by staccato horn section bursts and Walker’s intense proclamation that “it’s been a long time coming,” the vibe evokes the ominous flames of incendiary times. But this isn’t about mere destruction, and vandals didn’t light this fire. It’s a song about moving on, and above all about clearing space for a new day and new possibilities.
On the tune “Somebody’s Got It Better (Somebody’s Got it Worse),” The Dynamites take quirky syncopation, ala James Brown, to the brink. Backed by the push and pull of Hammond B-3 organ and guitar licks that blend like pistons in a well-greased funk machine, Walker reminds us of the relativity of material success, in a world of haves and have-nots. “Somebody Stop Me” showcases the band’s deep ‘Nawlins roots. With a second line groove, playful horn lines, and keys reminiscent of a Dr. John classic, the tune simply grooves hard. Lyrically, “Somebody Stop Me” could be mistaken as a plea for help for a man who’s gone too far. But that would totally misinterpret Charles Walker, the man, who in his 60’s, is still at the top of his game. Rather than getting stuck in the stereotypical mire of rock n’ roll debauchery, Walker waves his finger in our face like a schoolboy, daring us to catch him if we can.
All in all, Burn it Down is a remarkably diverse album, covering musical terrain that crosses over decades and genres without sacrificing a coherent feel. Grooves that evoke the uplifting spirit of Curtis Mayfield like “If I Had Known,” are scattered amongst tunes like “Do the Right Thing,” a hypnotic, bluesy strut dominated by a sultry baritone-heavy horn line. “The Third Degree,” whose frenetic ska influence and high octane vocal interplay shows not only that The Dynamites aren’t afraid to explore uncharted territory, but more importantly that they can do it with undeniable finesse.
Burn it Down is the follow up to The Dynamites’ critically acclaimed 2007 debut release, Kaboom! Like Burn it Down, Kaboom! started with a potent wake up call called “Body Snatcher.” The tune underscored the band’s virtuosity while simultaneously dismantling its listener’s aural inhibitions. Also like Burn it Down, Kaboom! ran the gamut of funk and soul possibilities. A Boston Globe review said the album “comes across as nothing less than a new dictionary of old soul, hard funk, and vintage R&B. It’s both an update of, and a throwback to, a bygone era.” Atlanta zine Stomp and Stammer called it: “one of those rare recordings that manages to capture the dynamics of another place and time, while still sounding fresh and, well, just really damn funky.”
Studio prowess aside, their commitment to being a hard working touring act, throughout Europe and the U.S., has solidified an international following. When the band recently played the esteemed Austin City Limits Festival, a local journalist urged attendance but cautioned to: “just make sure you know where the nearest defibrillator is.” While their recordings capture much of the excitement, seeing the band live takes the experience to a whole other level. As Walker puts it: “You can only do so much on a record,” he says. “The performance is a lot different. I can’t stand doing songs exactly the same. I have to stretch out a little bit. That’s part of my thing.”
Bill Elder, the band’s composer, guitarist and producer has made sure that nothing was left to chance in creating The Dynamites’ sound. Elder spent two years of composing and fine-tuning prior to unveiling the band onstage. In a Nashville Scene article Elder explained why creating their sound took time. “The music is put together in a very calculated way, though it doesn’t necessarily give that impression. Every piece has to be looked at from a spatial standpoint, a rhythmic standpoint. It’s about every instrument having its own space to do its thing.”
An essential authenticity comes across in The Dynamites music and message. Without a doubt, Burn it Down acknowledges that not all is right in the world, but it doesn’t get stuck there. Times might be rough and people might be grumbling about doomsday, but Charles Walker and The Dynamites are here to remind us that “it’s a sunny day.” Sure we could bitch and moan. But we could just as well get down to some funky assed grooves and burn that negativity down.
The Dynamites are: Charles Walker (vocals), Bill Elder, a.k.a. Leo Black (guitar), Chris West (saxophones and flute), Jon-Paul Frappier (trumpet), Charles Treadway and Tyrone Dickerson (organ), Chris Patterson (percussion), Derrek Phillips (drums), Jonathan Jackson (saxophone) and Rich Brinsfield (bass).