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T Bird and the Breaks blaze a funky new trail

Thursday, September 8, 2011

(Photo)
T Bird and the Breaks
When the time comes for an act to make a second album, we typically expect it to go one of two ways. There's the big step forward and there is the dreaded "sophomore slump."

In the case of Austin, Texas-based T Bird and the Breaks, album No. 2 is more of a step sideways. While "Never Get Out of This Funk Alive," independently released in July, is a big leap forward in terms of the band's sound, the songs themselves struggle to match the quality of those on the 2009 debut "Learn About It."

Frontman Tim "T Bird" Crane has been busy since we last heard from this large ensemble of strings, drums and horns on a full-length record. The group released five digital singles in the interim, the songs of which compose five of the new record's 16 tracks.

Besides this, Crane released his solo debut "T Bird is Good for You in January. While the record again showed off Crane's chops as a soulful belter of funky music, it has a distinctly hip-hop flavor compared to the classic soul of the first record.

On top of all this, the band has been playing constantly, honing a sound they like to call "chunk music." According to information from the band, chunk music is a recent creation:

Chunk Music (noun): A form of twenty-first century American music consisting of equal parts funk, hip-hop, and rock and roll characterized by its rough sonic quality and energetic, visceral performance. Commonly served hot with a side of girls and brass.

The music is nothing if not rough, energetic and visceral.

The new record falls somewhere in between the group's debut and Crane's solo project, falling somewhere in the middle of the spectrum of the three genres -- just like the definition says.

It's a low-down, dirty mix of vocals, guitars, keys, brass, drums and samples that blaze a new trail.

Lots of artists can say they've made new albums -- very few can say they've created new genres.

Perhaps one of the growing pains, though, of blazing this new trail is in the songwriting. While this is another good set of songs from T Bird and the Breaks, it lacks the immediately relatable songs and hooks like "Blackberry Brandy" or "Two Tone Cadillac" from the first record.

That's not to say it's totally bereft of strong material. "The Piano Joint" is the closest the album comes to the straight-up soul of the first record, with its gospel pleas and driving piano.

Crane's performance on "Monkey In the Tree" reminds me of why I've called the singer at 20-something, white James Brown. It's hard to resist the temptation to dance when this funky track is cranked up loud.

Other strong numbers include the title track, "Rock That Skull," "Juju Baby" and "The Clap Hands Song."

My Spin: B-

On "Never Get Out of This Funk Alive," the chunk music of T Bird and the Breaks is irresistible. At times, the songs themselves are works in progress, but it's worth it. This band is discovering a unique sound, and it's fun to be along for the ride.

T Bird and the Breaks, Never Get Out of This Funk Alive

The band: Tim "T Bird" Crane-lead vocals, keys; Johnny "Too Bad" Allison-guitars, vocals; Cody Furr-bass; Sammy P-drums/percussion; Sasha Ortiz-vocals;

Producers: T Bird and Sammy P with Cody Furr.

Released: July 12

Learn more about it at: www.tbirdandthebreaks.com