London duo Ollie Teeba and Jake Wherry have, in their fifteen years together as Herbaliser, found new skins for old wine over and over. Encyclopedias of beats and of the history of funk and soul, they have consistently looked to the past while being the bridge to the future. Same As It Never Was finds them, with the help of several guests, expanding their palette even further. Rap, funk, soul, blues and only the most tasty of fusion nods are blended into a powerful mix.
Always literate, always groove-y, Herbaliser here enlists the help of rappers Jessica Darling and Jean Grae, as well as Easy Access Orchestra and bass legend Pino Palladino (De La Soul, The Who). The title track is a funky, horn-driven manifesto for change and hope, and it leads directly into Darling’s first appearance, “On Your Knees,” which is all about bottom-heavy hard funk.
Darling also shines on “Can’t Help This Feeling,” with its lyrical homage to the classic soul tune “Get Ready,” as well as on “Clap Your Hands,” a cool go-go shaker. She also ships in on “You’re Not All That,” which is cool retro-’70s funk that would have fit perfectly on the “Car Wash” soundtrack.
Several instrumentals expand the duo’s sound. “The Next Spot” is a groovy-semi-psych piece, a good complement to “Amores Bongo,” with its light I Dream of Jeannie vibe. “Blackwater Drive” is a sax-driven, Tower of Power funked-up jam. Again, horns are the unsung heroes of Same As It Never Was.
Other highlights include “Street Karma (A Cautionary Tale),” a short-story rap from Jean Grae about family and street choices, delivered over and understated backdrop of minimal bass and guitar riff, with well-placed horns. And “Game Set & Match” is a not-so-sublte take on Eminem that could almost pass for math-rap.
Darling returns to close out the set with “Stranded on Earth,” a slow deep jam that seems an odd way to end the set, until five minutes in when Darling’s vocals kick and send it soaring to a proper finish.
Orchestrated, mind-expanding funk lives, and lives strong and hopeful here.