Oh my God, look at all those featured rappers, all those rappers mixing with Galactic. MY funky Galactic. MY Galactic as gone DJ Shadow on all of us, and From the Corner to the Block is their Outsider. I couldn’t have been more excited. But then again, I liked The Outsider.
After losing their vocalist Theryl DeClouet, Galactic was put in a predicament. They had lost a rather unique part of their band, which was still stellar. The question was whether or not they should go straight for the jam band type music, screw vocalists, or pick up another to replace DeClouet. The option Galactic took surpassed both of these, they called together a bunch of rappers including Blackalicious’ Gift of Gab (“The Corner”), Jurassic 5’s Chali 2na (“Think Back”), and Lateef the Truth Speaker (“No Way”). Then Galactic did their thing.
And things start well, the music is strong, with some hard funk going on while Lyrics Born raps through “I Got It (What You Need).” But the ultimate problem with From the Corner to the Block emerges even in this first track: this is less a Galactic album and more a collection of artists featuring Galactic as the backing band. Galactic does make one hell of a backing band, but the collaboration focuses more on the featured artists than on the band.
But again, this is only a slight concern, because what results in From the Corner to the Block is some great music, with some good rappers, all of them seem to be having a good time rapping along to Stanton Moore’s master beats (if you’ve read my Garage a Trois review or if you read my eventual review of Stanton Moore’s solo album, you know how I feel about him). Ben Ellman’s harmonica finds absolutely perfect moments to fit in, and Robert Mercurio’s bass lines are as funky as it gets. The keyboards (Richard Vogel) added a huge acid jazz feel to the other Galactic CD I own, Ruckus. Though still present here, the keyboards do get pushed out a bit, forced to do more with less space.
Even with a majority of the tracks involving someone else, there is a bit of consistency to the album. Numerous tracks reference the title, a lot of the songs are about corners. All of the songs feature some of that explosive energy that comes from hard funk, such as the fast paced, almost insensible rhyming going on in Gift of Gab’s “The Corner.” The Souls Rebels Brass Band takes over in “From the Corner to the Block” going crazy during the chorus, reacting to Juvenile throughout the verse. We completely forget that Galactic is still here.
But for most of the songs, Galactic’s presence is felt. The head-bopping rhythms save the featured artists who flop in “Squarebiz” (Ladybug) and “Think Back” (Chali 2na). “Think Back” isn’t really a bad song, Chali 2na just makes things hard on himself when singing the chorus: “I reminisce till my energy drain and take a trip down memory lane, let me say it again.” And he does say it again, and again.
A small trip-up in a stellar CD. But whenever there’s no rap going over the band, I’m reminded of how good Galactic is, it hits me full force. Luckily, not every track features a rapper, the CD does need some breaks; this is a Galactic album after all. The first is “Bounce Back” with some great tempo changes, cool keyboards, and Ben Ellman on sax. The better one is “Tuff Love,” a complete return to what someone else said, I don’t remember who, “steamroller funk.” Things start off slow, before kicking into a nice layered, energetic horn section, dark bass, keyboard and guitar (Jeff Raines) in the background. And then I realize, there’s been no actual instrumental solos, as a trumpet comes out of the darkness, with some nice comping from the rest of the horn section.
The last song “Find My Home” featuring Ohmega Watts and Vursatyl is a good end, the title forces me to remember where Galactic comes from. New Orleans is not mentioned in the song, it is mentioned in others, but the title of the song and Ohmega Watts saying “this is any corner I’m talking about,” after describing poverty stricken regions, I do think about New Orleans, the home of Galactic. I’m usually extremely wary of politics in music, but with the bluesy lone piano chord played every so often, Ohmega’s calm but pissed voice, I can listen to what’s going on in the song and not scoff.
Ultimately, From the Corner to the Block is not a Galactic album for me. You could argue it was, there’s proof with all the fine beats and funky instrumentation, but for me to fully enjoy the CD, I think of it as a damned good rap album. Maybe I shouldn’t, but it makes me enjoy this a lot more.
Recommended Tracks: I Got It (What You Need), The Corner, From the Corner to the Block, Tuff Love