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Non-Prog CD Reviews

T. M. Stevens

Shocka Zooloo

Review by Gary Hill

Although this disc was released worldwide in 2001, it is just now being put out in the US, so I am considering it a 2003 release. Stevens is an awesome bassist who has recorded with everyone from James Brown to Steve Vai, Billy Joel, Tupac and many many more. Shocka Zooloo is his latest solo endeavor. The main pulls off an incredible feat with this release. Many have tried, and still do, to merge the types of musically typically associated with black listeners and those with white. The list goes back at least as far as Sly and The Family Stone and includes such artists as Living Colour, Lenny Kravitz and Limp Bizkit. Other than, arguably, in blues, most times these efforts, as good as they are, just don't quite pull off the synthesis. Well, Stevens has done an awesome job of pulling it off. His music shows elements of funk, R & B, hip-hop, reggae and heavy metal, all in a cohesive mix that works far more often than it doesn't. Truly, only one attempt here, his appropriately entitled "Thrash" seems to fall flat. The remainder of the album showcases a strong mixture of two cultures. It seems a bit redundant to bring up, but the bass work on this CD is impeccable, making it a true find for fans of bass guitar, especially of the funk variety. All in all, this is a great disc, and a true find.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2003 Year Book Volume 2 at lulu.com/strangesound.
Track by Track Review
Thumb
Party sounds start this cut, and as the music enters a very funky bass line screams in, and we are off. The song feels like James Brown with a Parliament sort of arrangement. It is high energy, killer funk guaranteed to get you up and on our feet. It drops to a melodic, mellower groove as a bridge then flies out of that into an instrumental break. That segment begins with screaming guitar, then bass solo that will nearly take your breath away carries through. The bass solos again at the end, and this song really smokes!
Maximum Respect
The intro here, with its spoken word over truly feels like Parliament. As the guitar enters, a reggae texture is brought in by it. The overall effect of the composition is that of a Jamaican reggae party tinged with an R & B funk jam. This is a bit lower key than the opening piece, but no less fun. The chorus is a thundering combo of vintage Motown and a modern hard rock. This one gains intensity and power later as the instruments start to really move. It includes a Jamaican styled rap followed by a more standard hip-hop one.
Stand On Up
This starts in a hip-hop mode, then the full-scale funk bass enters. The song is really a hip-hop number with the musical element being sparse funk guitar, a ton of killer bass and some percussion. This is quite cool and shows yet another side of this versatile artist. At times it feels a bit like Prince's work with The New Power Generation. It includes more killer bass soloing, this time as T. M.'s "rap"
Family Man
Another hip-hop oriented piece, this takes its great R & B balladic chorus from Sylvester Stewart's "Family Affair".
Stay Together
This is a more standard R & B cut, that is balladic and old school. It is a nice respite and a chance to chill out a bit.
The River Flow
This has a more pop-oriented tone, but still is based on a rather old school R & B approach given a modern rework. It includes a fusion oriented guitar solo.
No Good W/Out The Bad
Psychedelic Indian sitar type tones and percussion begin this and make up the entire intro. Then a loud burst of Eastern mystical hits hard. The next segment is metallic fury with eastern tones. The vocals are very strong here and this cut has elements of Hendrix, but is overall really prog metal with a soul sort of edge to it. This includes some awesome changes and instrumentation. It is a very proggy number and exceptionally strong. It drops to a cool atmospheric tone to end.
Go My Way
Nope, not a cover of the Lenny Kravitz hit, this one is another that comes across as James Brown meets Parliament, with a little Ohio Players thrown in for good measure. Portions of the chorus do call to mind Mr. Kravitz, though. A music interlude here truly rocks. This is a standout cut on an album nearly full of winners.
Spank
More true funk, this track is strong. It drops to a mellower R & B mode, then jumps back up to the funky groove. This is another that reminds this reviewer a bit of Prince's NPG tenure.
Got Nothing To Say
This starts in hard and frantic. It comes across as a metallic take on a funk rap thing. Don't interpret that as "yo metal", though, because this has a more integrated texture than that genre ever pulls off. It screams out at times, but is not really a stand out.
Shocka Zooloo
This is a more old school funk/R & B jam. It's high-energy and fun, and is another that calls to mind Parliament, especially on the chorus. Stevens really shines here. The guitar solo is quite tasty, as well, but the song can get a bit repetitive.
Give It Up
This one is a metal stomper that rocks out very well. It shows old school R & B elements, too, though, mostly in the vocal delivery. It is an extremely potent rocker and one of the high points of the album. It drops to a more pure R & B bridge, but then rushes back up to the metallic fare.
Thrash
Another metal scorcher, this one is appropriately in the thrash vein. It features some cool elements, but is a bit much. Still one weak cut on an album is not bad at all.
Thumb (Instrumental)
An instrumental take on the opening cut, this is equally effective in that format.

 
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