Personnel: Thomas Brenneck (guitar, autoharp, ukulele, electric piano, synthesizer); Leon Michels (tenor saxophone, organ); Dave Guy (trumpet); Mike Deller (piano); Victor Axelrod (organ); Nick Movshon, Homer Steinweiss (drums).
Audio Mixers: Gabriel Roth; Thomas Brenneck.
Recording information: Dunham Sound Studio, Brooklyn, NY.
After Jay-Z scored a hit with a song that sampled the title track of the Menahan Street Band's debut album, Make the Road by Walking, the band sunk the royalty money into building a studio and toiled for many years on its glowing sophomore effort, The Crossing. The Brooklyn-based instrumental band is comprised of players from some of the bigger names in the soul/funk revival of the late 2000s and beyond, including key figures from the Budos Band, Sharon Jones' Dap-Kings, and Antibalas, not to mention being spearheaded by Dunham Records (a Daptone Records sub-label) founder Thomas Brenneck. The Crossing expands somewhat on the band's debut, with the group plucking inspiration from a wide spectrum of soul and funk subcategories. The breezy springtime shuffle of "Everyday a Dream" draws on subtle hints of psychedelic soul, while darker numbers like "Three Faces" and "Lights Out" re-envision the moody horn arrangements and distant drum sounds of '70s funk and soundtrack composers like David Axelrod. The band also introduces more abstract keyboard sounds on The Crossing, as with the wobbly synth that sits high in the mix on the faux spaghetti Western-flavored "Bullet for the Bagman." Between the newfound electronics and a more heightened use of fuzz-faced guitar tones, the album has a fierceness and darkness that were absent before. A somewhat convoluted influence can also be heard in the band's staggered beats and use of negative space, calling to mind the earliest rudimentary production work of the Wu-Tang Clan's RZA. In a roundabout way, it makes sense that the Menahan Street Band would find as much influence in work that samples obscure '70s funk and soul as they do the original artifacts themselves. Somewhere between the two, the band cultivates a rich collection of emotionally complex instrumental soul, with precise musicianship meeting inspired production and a deeply studied obsession with the often sampled and less often acknowledged obscure geniuses of soul music. ~ Fred Thomas