(2009 Hecht Records)
Madison’s Primitive Culture has been steadily gigging, performing in clubs and at festivals with a regular clip since forming in 1998. It’s surprising then that Fantasy is the band’s first recording, especially when you consider the close connection to the now defunct E-Labs Multimedia recording facility vis a vis the brothers Nevaiser (Bruce plays bass and Jerry plays drums) and the combined recording experience of the members of this band, which is significant.
Musically, Primitive Culture is all about the groove, feel and rhythm. The high caliber of musicianship in the band allows them to move seamlessly from funk-infected blues to reggae to island music to calypso and more, all in the context of a rock ensemble with horns. And the horns play a significant part in the makeup of Primitive Culture and in the songs that make up this recording. Heavyweights Bob Corbit (saxes) and Phil Lyons (trombone) get some help from Al Falaschi (sax) and John Schipper (trumpet), both of Phat Phunktion, to make as good a horn section as you’ll find anywhere in the country. They perk up these already sprite tunes with precision and finesse. Most of the songs also feature Corbit’s soloing, perhaps even two saxes at once, which he is known for onstage.
The songs also benefit greatly from exceptional Hammond B-3 performances turned in by the incomparable Jimmy Voegeli. He really spices up the opener, “What I’ve Been Told,” a funky tune with punchy horns. Here Corbit takes the band out in grand style in the coda. Voegeli also turns in a superb solo on “Steppin’ In, Steppin’ Out.” One of the recording’s best tracks, this one is steeped in Stax/Mowtown soul with a funky undercurrent. Guitarist David Hecht turns in a tasty guitar solo on this one as well, one of the few on the album.
But the band doesn’t need all that help as they demonstrate on the live track that closes the album. Here they are in full island music fun mode, ultimately cementing themselves as an ultra-tight performing band and good-times generator.
The band’s message is mostly about love relationships: the breaking-up-is-okay strut of “What I’ve Been Told,” the new woman in the calypso-groovy “Hook Up,” the infidel woman in “Steppin’ In, Steppin Out,” the alcohol-and-cocaine abuse of the problem-laden woman in “Lonely Dreamer,” the my-baby-is-so-fine woman in the blues-rocker “Feel Like Wood” (yes, it’s that wood), and the “sex muffin” described in the reggae-soaked title track, a real game-player who likes to wear rubber suits. But perhaps the song that really points out where these guys are coming from is “Pile of Money,” where the protagonist turns down the big city job to lead the relaxed life. Here the band is not afraid to expose a penchant for weed with lines like “No sir, thank you no I won’t be round / I’ll take the clear blue skies with my feet on the ground / The ship of fools won’t sail too long / I’ll stay right here and sing this song / With my baby / Sit on the beach and smoke a big spliff / With my baby.” It’s clear these guys know what’s important when they say, “It’s alright / Sit on a beach and roll ‘em up tight.”
“No Justice in Babylon” allows the band to get its rasta on with lead vocals from Corbit, who sounds like he was raised in Jamaica. Great sax solo here again and some nice echo on Hecht’s guitar.
Primitive Culture is a reformation of sorts. Hecht and the Nevaiser brothers (three of them with brother Don) played in Harold and the Rhinos before Hecht went on to a very successful run with one of Madison’s best-loved bands Java. It’s Hecht who is the center of gravity in the band. He wrote six of the album’s twelve songs and co-wrote two more (the last four tracks are covers). His rhythm guitar playing goes unmatched locally. Credit should also be given to the band’s rhythm battery, particularly Bruce Nevaiser’s bass playing.
As the band says on “Love the Life,” “You gotta love the life you lead / Lead the life you love.” That sums up Fantasy perfectly.