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Thirty-eight years passed between the time George Clinton’s Parliament dropped its ninth and tenth studio albums. The lead artists comprising the group would spend the time in-between producing other work, including narratives on Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly (George Clinton), features for Snoop Dogg (Bootsy Collins) and writing for Drake (Walter “Junie” Morrison). But the funk never faded.
Instead, p-funk grew into a reproduction of the African Diaspora, taking cues from swaths of artists that had, at one point or another, found solace in the psychedelic musings of Parliament-Funkadelic.
The self-titled, debut LP from funk collective Smudge All Stars is constructed from a similar mold. Released on Nov. 27 on Pegdoll Records, the 10-track album, arranged by drummer, percussionist and producer Richie Stevens, maintains a parliamentary open door policy, uniting voices from p-funk past and present to foster a welcoming refresh of a classic sound.
The album opens with “Brutal Funk,” which lobs the ever-present question: “Everybody wants to know, ‘what’s the story of the funk?’” For Smudge, the funk is fueled by decades of practice, bolstered by the likes of Clinton, Jamaican innovator Lee “Scratch” Perry, Jamiroquai’s DJ D-Zire and Alfred “Pee Wee” Ellis.
That cast means that Smudge All Stars’ brand of funk isn’t monolithic. Tracks like “Up Is Just a Place” and “Headache” emanate from a strict p-funk tradition, complete with echoing synths, gravelly, disembodied Clinton lyrics and strikingly soulful vocals. On the contrary, “Freaky Toe” vibes closer to down-tempo R&B thanks to Charlotte Kelly’s sultry vocals slithering over a luscious and buoyant base arrangement.
Steven’s ability to merge the collective’s sounds into a variety of musical traditions, including the reggae-infused bop “Our Lives” and the synthed-out vaporwave interlude “Starkiller,” is the record’s hallmark.
Regardless of the genre, Smudge All Stars maintains an unrelenting, iconic bounce. Where hip-hop lives in cranial bops and R&B churns at the hips, the funk hits below the belt. These top heavy grooves ripple down to the knees in both spiritual and revelatory fashion.
“B Side” characterizes this sentiment perfectly, as Mary Pearce, MWS, Derek “Dr. Mouthquake” Green and singer-songwriter Omar join forces for an upbeat ditty that runs counter to the general despair of 2020. “What’s the use in hiding on the a side?/ The sun is always shining on the b side,” the group sings, signaling brighter days while paying homage to Parliament’s Dr. Funkenstein.
Evidenced by the ebb and flow of groups like Parliament or the Soulquarians of the early 2000s, striking the right sonic balance for an album like Smudge All Stars is not an easy feat. Though Stevens clearly walks in the footsteps of musical giants, the care with which he arranged the album — eight years passed between receiving Clinton’s vocals for “Up” and the 2020 release — speaks to his love of the craft. Smudge All Stars is funk at its finest, fitted with its proficiency in genre-hopping and multi-layered productions to boot.