Nostalgic folks no longer have to keep rewinding their old Stevie Wonder or Marvin Gaye records. You can have the rich, funky sound you keep telling friends is gone and will never come back. Have it without the oversize disc and record player, and mastered to contemporary standards. What am I on about? Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Ron Littlejon and the Funk Embassy. Embassy is damn right, Ron Littlejon are committed to representing the funk in an age that seems to have forgotten its musical roots. This is funk, soul, blues, jazz and gospel like you had it in the golden age, when music was music, not computer-generated noises.
Who are Ron Littlejon and the Funk Embassy and where are they from (and where have they been all my life!)? Believe it or not, the story of this funky septet starts in France’s third-largest city, Lyon. Believe it or not, the visionary behind the Funk Embassy was out to start a hip hop outfit. Thierry Matrat, a French hip hop veteran, dreamed of starting a rap group that would tear down bars in a soulful, funky environment. The result was the Funk Embassy project which first saw the light of day in 2009. Sadly, the marriage of hip hop and funk never quite worked out and Thierry turned to Craigslist to find the best musicians to make the most of his sound. This is how he met Ron Littlejon. It didn’t take much to convince Thierry that he had the right man in Littlejon. Five seconds of a song recorded with Ron’s Toronto-based band Planet Earth was all it took.
The Craigslist recruitment drive also brought abroad talented instrumentalists Olivier Babaz, Dwight Chase and Joe Hackl, all based in Montreal. After the meeting together of Ron and Thierry, other musicians were assimilated, including Alana Bridgewater who was the voice of Canada’s 2008 Olympics bid. It really was an assembly of great minds and talents, so the resulting project had no choice but to be awesome. And the ‘Shining On’ EP, released this fall, is outstanding by all standards.
Shining On is a ticket for a trip back to the seventies when the likes of Stevie Wonder, Isaac Hayes and James Brown monopolized the airwaves. And the sepia-tinged cover bearing Ron and his band in session cues you on what to expect. The opener is the heavy ‘Shining On’ that flows into the ear like thick porridge. But the emotion in the song is real, especially for Ron who penned the lyrics during a difficult period in his life. He was expecting his first child, and on realizing that Ron’s priorities were about to change, some friends started to act ‘resentful’. So he wrote a song encouraging the soon-arriving child, and himself, to pay no mind to negative influences. You can hear Ron’s hurt in the passionate growls as he pours his heart to his unborn daughter “…don’t give a damn about what anybody might say…’cause you got soul…”
Old meets new in ‘Seems Like Yesterday’, the bass pushing your head gently from side to side while the guitars flare and strings search. As the beat leaked from my speakers, an image of Richard Roundtree cruising the block in a convertible, breeze blowing through his afro, neon lights flashing by leaped to my mind. But DJ scratches are sagaciously sprinkled to remind you which side of the twenty-first century you are. It is a less intense, yet soulful cut, much like ‘My Magination’- pure ear candy. The countrified ‘Emma Lee’ tells the story of a girl from the country who was the scourge of Texan boys.
There you have it, funk/soul in its purest form for those who grew up in waistcoats and platform shoes, or those who have a nose for good, organic music. Sample Shining On on Bandcamp or download it from iTunes.
Miami Based International Known