There was this note. This one note. THE note. In the back of my head, I was thinking: “dayenu:” it would have been sufficient. It would have been sufficient if all I had heard was that ONE NOTE. Or if all I had heard was Carly Foster’s powerful voice. Or if all I had heard was the excellent trio on guitar, bass, and drums. Or if all I had heard was the superb wrangling and intertwining saxophones. It would have been sufficient.
But I heard ALL of it. I first saw New Earth Army at the inaugural Downtown River Jam in Ybor City in December. I was totally captivated and was certainly looking forward to a second helping. NEA hails from Destin (and parts east and west, I think), so it was great to see them make a brief foray out of the Panhandle to points east and south.
NEA plays jazzy, funky rock and blues, and they play with power, grace and style. You have to start with a solid rhythm section, and that is an understatement speaking about Mike Flatau on bass, one of the founders of NEA, and Jacoby Jackson, a recent replacement in the drum seat. Jacoby’s time is spot-on, and Mike works in tandem with him to provide that rock-steady beat. Chavis Hobbs (another NEA founder) is a great guitar player (Florida has so many truly excellent guitar players!!!), and this trio just plain rocks.
On the first NEA CD, “Action,” the group was a quartet with Foster on vocals. More recently, they wisely decided to add Josh Zook, alto sax, and Ben Johnson, tenor, to the mix. The addition of the two horns sends the music through the roof! At one point, they were deep, deep in the funk pocket, and I thought, as I often do, “Where in the world would we have been without James Brown?” Not a random thought: the heavy funk that NEA and almost every other band in the “jam” or “funk” genre mine so lovingly all goes back to James Brown. If you’re not convinced, you better sit down and re-listen to James Brown at the Apollo, Vol. II (1968).
NEA mixes interesting covers with some great originals. Visually, it is impossible not to watch slinky singer Carly fronting the band. Let me amend that: she’s not “slinky;” she IS a slinky, dancing and gyrating with grace as she sings up a storm. I again have the thought that her voice and that of so many of the vocalists in the bands on our circuit are so vastly superior to the rubbish on commercial radio and the hit charts. Carly’s is lilting and powerful all at once.
And there was that note. You remember the one. That one note. If that’s all I had heard, I would have gone home happy. Seriously. If you are familiar with Lee Michaels’ version of “Stormy Monday” on his self-titled album, you’ve heard THE NOTE. It penetrates right down to your soul. Carly hit it during a great original called “Lens of Love.” My soul took notice. I introduced myself to her at setbreak and asked her about the note. “You mean this one?” And she sang it, albeit not with the thrust it had on stage. Yep, I said, THAT one. And she smiled!
New Earth Army has a new CD in the works, almost ready for release. They have a Kickstarter project if you are interested. And watch for them to tour our way again. You can bet I’ll be front and center when they hit the Orange Blossom Jam stage in May! [Note: I was NOT front and center, sad to say. Life happens.]