Menahan Street Band: Make the Road By Walking

The Menahan Street Band is the kind of outfit that sounds like the best band in the world after you've downed four beers in a packed bar on a hot summer night. The group's debut Make the Road by Walking is vital and “real” music made by human beings (from Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings, El Michels Affair, Antibalas, and the Budos Band), all of whom somehow managed to squeeze themselves into the bedroom of ringmaster Tom Brenneck's Menahan St. apartment in Bushwick, Brooklyn to lay down the tracks. If Brenneck's name doesn't ring a bell, chances are you've heard him, as he's played guitar for the Dap-Kings, the Budos Band, and Amy Winehouse. Previously issued as a 45 rpm single, the title track was sampled by Jay-Z for the American Gangster cut “Roc Boys (and the Winner is…)” so you've probably heard the Menahan Street Band too whether you knew it or not. Most of Make the Road by Walking's instrumentals are in a smooth soul-funk vein that's “old school” in the best sense of the world, and the songs are three minutes on average in length so bloat's never an issue. Soloing is kept to a minimum too as most of the time is spent working through ensemble arrangements.

Opener “Make The Road By Walking” not only establishes the tone for the album but sets the bar high for what follows. All of the band's elements are in place: a mobile and almost dubby bass line, robust horns, a funky and earthy drum attack, guitar accents, glockenspiel, piano, organ, and assorted percussive colour. Lush horns and a soothing midtempo groove lend “Tired of Fighting” a strongly appealing laid-back vibe while the uplifting melodies and soulful groove in “Home Again” are sweet enough to induce a chill or two; the band also tackles reggae to convincing effect in “Montego Sunset.” Admittedly instrumental music won't appeal to everyone but the Menahan Street Band's soulful delivery goes a long way to bridging the gap, furthermore, while Make the Road by Walking is hardly visionary, it exudes a likeability and charm that's winning, and the soaring lines of trumpeter Dave Guy and woodwinds player Leon Michels in particular are a joy to hear throughout.

December 2008