Jelly Bread is a fitting moniker for this Reno funk band. The mix of in-the-pocket drum and bass grooves, swampy lap steel guitar, take-’em-to-church organ and fun, funny party-time vocals is downright appetizing—bright colors and sweet, funky flavors.
“Infectious Grooves,” the opener of the band’s new disc No Dress Code, sets the tone proper. Drummer Cliff Porter lays down snare-poppin’ grooves that lead the music. On this first track, the group members wear their influences on the sleeves—there are name drops and musical references to Parliament-Funkadelic and Robert Randolph and the Family Band, among others—and when the songs ends with an on-the-dime change into a few bars of Stevie Wonder’s “Higher Ground,” someday exclaims, “Wait a minute—whoa! We didn’t get clearance for this!” It’s fun stuff.
Four of the five band members sing on the record, and the mix of vocal styles, often in goofy dialogue with one another, is yet another pleasant throwback to P-Funk—as are the wah-wah guitar solos and swanky horn blasts. But the band covers a lot of ground of the 14 cuts on this disc. One highlight is the stanky “Laid Out,” one of a handful of tracks to prominently feature some great bluesy lap steel playing by vocalist and mutli-instrumental Dave Berry (the winner of RN&R’s big songwriting contest back in ’09).
There are some nice guest spots, including a soulful lead vocal by chanteuse Whitney Myer on “You don’t Want Me,” and Tim Snider’s dynamic violin is a great foil for Berry’s lap steel on “How Long.” But the guests never overwhelm the tight-as-a-duck’s-ass core group: Porter, Berry, bassist Brady Carthen, guitarist Michael Grayson and keyboardist Kevin Stewart.
One misstep for the band is the album cover, which is either an inadvertent rip-off or an unsuccessful homage to Notorious B.I.G.’s masterpiece Ready to Die. And not all of the songs work quite right. Some of the smoother grooves land a little too close to Jack Johnson-style beach bum music or brunch jazz, but they’re part of a well-rounded overall album that’s mostly gritty and occasionally even raunchy. The best tracks are definitely the thicker, crunchier ones—whenever Jelly Bread adds a little peanut butter to the mix.
There’s a kind of folk music—aggressive, pirate-like, nearly punk but mostly on unelectric instruments, with a little bluegrass and Spaghetti Western music—that, for a brief period a couple of years ago, seemed like it might become the “Reno sound.” Handsome Vultures are among the foremost bands practicing this sound. The group is a seven-person sprawl of drums, bass, fiddle, banjo, accordion—maybe even a kitchen sink. It’s junkyard rock, descended from Tom Waits and the Pogues.
The vocals range from a gruff, hoarse shouts on “High Tide” to a gutter croon on “Broken Record,” but possibly the best song on their new five song EP, Scrapes, is the slow, banjo-lead instrumental “Interlude.” It’s melodic and upbeat, but with a hint of melancholy, loneliness and perhaps even dehydration. It’s a song of the high desert.