Thursday, October 13, 2011

Felonious Groove Foundation

"Give the people what they want when they want, and they wants it all the time"

Felonious Groove Foundation was founded as a party band. Vocalist & guitarist, Cali Soberanes was once quoted as saying, "If the audience can't bust into a 'Soul Train' line at any moment, then we're not doing our job right." Their music is an infectious mix of hip hop, r & b and latino vibe, nothing ground breaking, just solid dance beats. The brainchild of Cali Soberanes and Todd Lovato, Felonious Groove Foundation came together at UNM in 1999. The two high school classmates from Santa Fe, called on a few members of the UNM music dept with a taste for that groove thang.

Felonious Groove Foundation's best known line-up included, Soberanes- vocals,guitar, Lovato- vocals, bass, Noah Wolters-keys, Chadd James-sax, Josh English-drums (of The Withdrawals) For the album “Felonious Groove Foundation Presents…Fantastic Planet” (a release that ushered in a change in musical direction and style) The roster included Paul Cornett- bass, Ragon Espinoza- drums, Noah Walter-keys, Bryan Highill- trumpet and David Diaz-sax (Sadly, Diaz passed away while the album was still in  production)  FGF's most recent (and final?) lineup has Colin Darby- tenor sax, Mike Jaramillo- percussion and Rick Moraga- percussion, joining Soberanes and Lovato.

FGF has an extensive discography starting with "Brand Name Funk" released in 2000. The band's first full length album was "Sixth Dynasty" (2003) followed by "Paper Tiger" in 2005. "Felonious Groove Foundation presents Fantastic Planet." in 2009. That album was recorded as Fantastic Planet and not FGF.  There's also another release "Great, Great, Great Gran' Pa?" (2004) which is credited to Skinnyfat, Todd Lovato's alter ego and a hip hop collective that also featured Cali Soberanes.  All recordings were released on Penguino Records, a label operated by Cali Soberanes & Todd Lovato and home to Felonious Groove Foundation, Fantastic Planet & Skinnyfat.

"It was cool, but can you imagine Doobie-in' your funk"

After the release of "Fantastic Planet" Lovato who now performs as Todd Eric Lovato, announced his departure from the group. It seems that Todd Eric has always been a banjo picker at heart (Say What!!) He's teamed up with Erik Sawyer to form Todd and the Fox. It's a hybrid form of country gospel, bluegrass, blues and electronic music. Since Todd Eric's split from FGF, Cali Soberanes has performed with an acoustic trio, quite a radical departure from that funky sound (he does versions of Somewhere over the Rainbow & Folsom Prison Blues)

"Felonious Groove Foundation presents Fantastic Planet" was in retrospect, a template for what was in store. Todd Eric Lovato had integrated banjo & lap steel guitar into the mix on that album. "Fantastic Planet" did signal that the group was moving away from their mantra of "we want the funk, gotta have the funk" but nobody expected such a radical change. It's a head scratcher, it's akin to George Clinton suddenly becoming a country singer or Carlos Santana taking up an acoustic guitar and playing nothing but John Denver songs. 

It appears that for the foreseeable future Felonious Groove Foundation is devoid of funk. We should have seen this coming, when "Felonious Groove Foundation presents Fantastic Planet" was released both Cali & Todd gave us clues of what was coming “We spent years thinking that making a club go crazy was the ultimate goal. So in many ways, ‘Fantastic Planet’ is our anti-funk album,” said Todd Eric Lovato in an interview. Cali would reiterate that statement in a later interview. Todd obviously felt constrained by the music they played. "You get defined as a Latin band, and that bugs me" Todd said.  

Damned if people don't categorize you as Latin, if you incorporate reggeton and contemporary Latin jazz rythyms into your music. For ten years it seemed to suit them just fine.  One thing for sure, when Todd Eric Lovato stands up on that stage holding a banjo, nobody will expect him to play Porcelana anymore. Although I'm sure he could and I would love to hear it. These days, people seem to gravitate more towards old timey music, but did Santa Fe really need one more banjo player and one less funk band?    

Back into the hinterland for another in a series of MySpace music reviews. The Band has five tracks and one video posted on their MySpace Music page, all music is from the album "Paper Tiger"

"I just heard it's gonna be one of those funky thangs"

Down Syndrome
Clocks in at over 8 minutes, but it never sags or drags. It's a kitchen sink tune chock full 'o chipmunk voices, funky breaks, scat singing, and Manu Dibango horns. "Yo let's shake-'em on down!" There's so much fun to be had, that you almost don't mind the unfortunate choice of song title. A lapse in taste that we can blame on The Black Eyed Peas and that Barack Obama theme song "Let's Get Retarded"  "When the syndrome is around.. don't let your guard down"

Founky Roads
FGF takes country boy John Denver's "Country Roads" and totally craps on it. With Toots & The Maytals having set a precedent on how to make Mr. Denver's music cool. This lyrically restructured version should have been better. Sadly, the new lyrics poop on the party  "eating moldy bread crumbs, dose of "penicil.... funky penicillin that is"  "it's almost heaven with it in ya" "founky roads shake me home to outer space where I belong" They should fling this stink bomb far into deep space to another galaxy.... far, far away.

This sounds so much like Smooth era Carlos Santana that I kept expecting Rob Thomas to saunter in and shove Cali aside to do the vocals. That's not to say it's bad, quite the opposite... just a wee bit derivative. Porcelana is a morenita with a taste for la lana, she calls and leaves a message asking if he's still going to lend her some plata. My advice is to lend her five dollars at first, if she pays it back lend her ten, if she doesn't pay it back then you're only out ten dollars. Ciao!

I Be Alright
Take a ride on the double dutch express, groove on old school beat while cruising through the heart of Funkytown. As with most of their funk tracks FGF nails it down, this song plays like a Bootsy Collins acid flashback. Never a dull moment when these guys are on. P-Funk, Sly Stone and a revolving cast of characters float in and out of the mix, the slice & dice of the turntables adds a hint of breakbeat funkiness to the party.  

My Sky
Are you up for the down stroke?, Felonious Groove Foundation at their finest. A languid mood piece that kicks off with a guitar laying down chicken scratch licks at our feet like rose pedals. "Your love comes like a bunch of grapes, first you refresh me then you intoxicate me" The flow is slow....set in motion by a simultaneous feeling of floating and sinking. "Lift me up and then set me down" Horns buzz and dive like angry hornets, keyboard notes wiggle like worms. Love and grapes, "everybody's got a little light under the sun."