Friday, June 29, 2012

Review: Bubonik Funk "Zabooki"

Bubonik Funk’s third release “Zabooki” begins with a typical blues lick, but the direction and scope grows from there. When the fourth track “Mung Beans” bursts from the speakers with vocalist Dylan Ellett declaring “Life isn’t fair!” like the extroverted offspring of Anthony Keidis and David Lee Roth, the group really hits its stride. Ellett approaches the half rapped vocals like a blues singer while guitarist Stefan Kallandar provides playful notes that are just as engaging as the lyrics about origami birds and a cane-playing bum that fancies himself a member of ZZ Top. It escalates into a fun guitar workout even adding some bouncy, subtle horns to the track's close.

Since the Charlotte jam-funk quartet’s first EP, “OTB,” in 2008 the band’s arrangements and vocals have become more refined. Ellett’s low raspy vocals and interplay with Kallandar is more seamless. The direction isn’t always obvious. Take “Organized Crime.” It swells into a soulful funk with a nice layer of backing vocals, while “Mystic Feeney” grows from a hypnotic intro that’s fairly serious and sympathetic to its subject into a wild blues-funk romp about mental instability and hallucination. The dynamics drive it back and forth between those two extremes. That approach works well considering its subject matter.

“Baby Equipment,” which closes the album, is another highlight. With its synthed-up bop-bop-bop-bop verses it’s easy to imagine it on classic rock radio (although it varies between `70s and `80s in feel). But it would also fit on modern rock radio today. And while guitar solos can often sound stuck-on last minute and extravagant (more for the player than the song), “Baby Equipment” includes one of the most fitting solos in recent memory. It begins with an irresistibly classic feel then swerves into a psychedelic funk frenzy of wah wah and distortion aided noodling.

As usual the lyrics are quirky and interesting. I can’t tell if the vocals are a more prominent part of the mix on this record, but the lyrics certainly draw listeners in. Some are direct such as “This’ll Be the Day” - a hopeful tale of romantic chase - and “Mystic Feeney,” which riffs on mental illness. Others, like “Organized Crime,” are more mysterious (“My trophy wife bites”, huh?).

The songs sound less improvisational and more intentional, possibly because some of them were written through email exchanges while its members were off at college. Bubonik Funk didn't seem absent from the Charlotte music scene because it’s gigged fairly regularly, but in actuality tonight’s show at Evening Muse marks its first in four years as a truly Charlotte-based band. In that time Kallander has studied music at Berklee in Boston while Ellett (who also plays keys) was at Eastern Carolina University studying film. Meanwhile the rhythm section of Daniel Allison (drums) and Nick McOwen (bass) remained in town.

The band celebrates the release of “Zabooki” tonight, June 29, at Evening Muse at 10:30 p.m. with Vagabond Swing. Admission is $5 to $7. 704-376-3737;