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GALACTIC | YA-KA-MAY | ALBUM REVIEW

CONTRIBUTING WRITER : JASON TURGEON

Galactic lets you know that they’ve been bitten by the mash-up bug right from the get-go of their new album, Ya-Ka-May. The cover itself is a mix, a collage piece that’s part homage to Sgt. Pepper and part tribute to New Orleans, with a polar bear thrown in for good measure. If you missed the obvious symbolism in the cover, then the intro track, “Friends of Science,” should clue you in within the first few seconds. “Friends,” a short throwaway that intersperses vocal clippings from a forgotten B-movie’s mad scientist in with the band’s trademark horns and bass is a gimmick, but it works, and it’s a good way to set the stage for what’s coming down the line.

Starting with the second track, all the tracks save one feature a different New Orleans artist. This is a similar approach to the band’s last album, From the Corner to the Block, which paired the band’s signature wailing funk with some of the underground hip-hop’s brightest stars. This time around, the band works with everyone from legends like Allen Toussaint to relative unknowns such as “bounce” artist Big Freedia. Ya-Ka-May does its best to put a spotlight on all of the different musical styles that are keeping the streetcorners and late-night clubs of New Orleans hopping in 2010, and in that regard the album’s a complete success. Individually, each track is tight, well-produced, and entirely listenable. As an album, however, it lacks a cohesive start-to-finish vibe, and fans who were introduced to the band back in the days when Theyrl DeClouet was belting out the vocals might put down their headphones a bit disappointed.

GALACTIC

The best way to regard this album is as a collection of really good singles. Listened to that way, it’s a real winner, and as a business strategy in the age of 99 cent downloads it makes sense. Although it’s unlikely that most fans will love every track, there is something for everyone on Ya-Ka-May. Old-timers missing the bad-ass lyricism that Theryl brought to the band will be thrilled as Irma Thomas’s stellar turn on “Heart of Steel” battles Glen Davis’s heartfelt performance on “You Don’t Know” for overall best track. Newer fans who were introduced to the band through the hip-hop tour supporting From the Corner to the Block will swoon for Big Freedia’s bounce on “Double It” and Cheeky “hey, motherfucker” Blakk’s pull-no-punches verbal assault on “Do it Again.” New Orleans traditionalists get plenty to choose from with standout instrumental tracks featuring the Rebirth Brass Band (“Boe Money”), Allen Toussaint (“Bacchus”), and Trombone Shorty (“Cineramascope”). Those who like their funk served up with a side of blues get their dues with two spectacular slow, dark grooves on “Speaks His Mind” (with Wolfman Washington pulling at your heartstrings) and “Liquor Pang” (with Josh Cohen and Scully laying down a downright unnerving wail). There’s even a track that sounds as much like dancehall as anything, the eponymous “Katey vs. Nobby” featuring Katey Red and Sissy Nobby.

Overall, this album is a winner, even though you’ll probably only like at most 2/3 of the tracks. Pick your favorites and put ‘em into heavy rotation, because there are some damn fine songs on this album. This is not a wear-out-the-needle winner like 2001′s live masterpiece We Love ‘Em Tonight, and old-school fans may finally have to come to grips with the fact that that particular era of Galactic is gone for good. But the emphasis here is on the “for good” part, because with these last two albums of collaborations the band has found a way to remain musically fresh and relevant. It’s a trick that many bands fail to pull off–or worse, never attempt–and it’s good to see musicians as talented as these take some risks by stretching out into new genres and working with new partners. You probably won’t drop the CD into your player and listen to it from start to finish more than once, but you will find a handful of tracks that fit right into whatever your particular notion of Galactic may be. Jazz funk, vocal funk, instrumental funk, hip-hop funk, or just plain funk, it’s all here, and it’s all good.

Galactic kicks off a winter/spring tour on Wednesday, Feb. 3, in Boston with guests Cyril Neville (The Neville Brothers) and Corey Henry (Rebirth Brass Band).

The new album Ya-Ka-May is due out Feb. 9th but an advance copy is streaming now at Paste Magazine: http://www.pastemagazine.com/action/paste_station?track_id=2464

Feb 3 2010 7:00P
Paradise Rock Club Boston, Massachusetts
Feb 4 2010 8:00P
Theater of Living Arts (TLA) Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Feb 5 2010 9:00P
Terminal 5 New York City, New York
Feb 6 2010 8:00P
9:30 Washington DC,
Feb 9 2010 7:30P
The Lincoln Theater Raleigh, North Carolina
Feb 10 2010 8:00P
Music Farm Charleston, South Carolina
Feb 11 2010 7:30P
Visulite Theater Charlotte, North Carolina
Feb 12 2010 7:30P
Variety Playhouse Atlanta, Georgia
Feb 18 2010 6:30P
The Pageant St. Louis, Missouri
Feb 19 2010 7:00P
Granada Lawrence, Kansas
Feb 20 2010 7:00P
The Fillmore Denver, Colorado
Feb 21 2010 9:00P
Belly Up Aspen, Colorado
Feb 23 2010 8:00P
The Wilma Missoula, Montana
Feb 24 2010 8:00P
The Nightlight Bellingham, Washington
Feb 25 2010 8:00P
Whistler Live! Whistler, British Columbia
Feb 26 2010 8:00P
Showbox Seattle, Washington
Feb 27 2010 8:00P
Roseland Theater Portland, Oregon
Feb 28 2010 8:00P
The Crystal Bay Club/Crown Room Crystal Bay, Nevada
Mar 2 2010 8:00P
Moe’s Ally Santa Cruz, California
Mar 3 2010 8:00P
Belly Up Tavern Solana Beach, California
Mar 4 2010 8:00P
El Rey Theater Los Angeles, California
Mar 5 2010 8:00P
The Fillmore San Francisco, California
Mar 6 2010 8:00P
The Fillmore San Francisco, California
Mar 7 2010 9:00P
Wasted Space Las Vegas, Nevada
Mar 26 2010 6:00P
Club Quattro (Osaka) Osaka
Mar 27 2010 8:00P
Club Quattro (Nagoya) Nagoya
Mar 28 2010 8:00P
Club Quattro (Tokyo) Tokyo
Mar 29 2010 8:00P
Club Quattro (Tokyo) Tokyo
Apr 1 2010 6:00P
Bluesfest (Byron Bay) Tyagarah, New South Wales
Apr 3 2010 6:00P
Bluesfest (Byron Bay) Tyagarah, New South Wales
Apr 8 2010 8:00P
Majestic Theatre Madison, Wisconsin
Apr 9 2010 8:00P
Cabooze Minneapolis, Minnesota
Apr 10 2010 7:30P
Vic Theatre Chicago, Illinois
Apr 11 2010 7:00P
House of Blues Cleveland, Ohio
Apr 13 2010 8:00P
Buster’s Billiards & Backroom Lexington, Kentucky
Apr 14 2010 8:00P
Orange Peel Asheville, North Carolina
Apr 15 2010 8:00P
Exit/In Nashville, Tennessee
Apr 16 2010 8:00P
Minglewood Hall Memphis, Tennessee
Jun 6 2010 8:00P
Michael Arnone’s Crawfish Fest Augusta, New Jersey