Picks and Pans Review: Animal
This is a soul band with a history. The Bar-Kays were the house band at Stax records during the label’s seminal period in the ’60s and early ’70s. Four original Bar-Kays, in fact, died in the same 1967 plane crash that claimed singer Otis Redding. With shifting personnel, the band has been kicking around for more than 20 years. As Animal attests, there’s life in the old group still. The Bar-Kays, now a trio—Harvey Henderson, Winston Stewart and singer Larry Dodson (a relative newcomer)—get a fast start with the title track, which is brash, bass-heavy funk in the Cameo vein. Making a genre-blurring appearance, rocker Joe Walsh contributes a synapse-snapping guitar solo to that mix. That’s followed by “Struck by You,” a song with a beat so righteous and strong that it could make a mailman dance on his day off.
With one notable exception, the rest of the record is derivative, especially the ballads “Someone Else” and “Leaving You.” That exception, “Just Like a Teeter-Totter,” however, makes this the essential Bar-Kays record of the ’80s. Produced by James Mtume and written and performed with ’60s soul superstar Sly Stone, “Teeter-Totter” weds a slinky funk accompaniment to a tricky beat. It’s a synthesis of the dominant funk styles of the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s, those of Sly and the Family Stone, George Clinton and Prince. That’s no small accomplishment. It’s no surprise that it took a band with three decades of experience to pull it off. (Mercury)