Galactic, From the Corner to the Block (Anti, 2007)

The New Orleans band Galactic have incorporated many of the sounds of their home city into their style, from jazz to funk to rock to hip-hop. While they have worked primarily as an instrumental act, they decided to bring in a bunch of different rappers and local artists to contribute vocals for their new album From the Corner to the Block. The album had a few delays in its completion due to a major stumbling block that went by the name of Katrina, but Galactic persevered and the result is a breath of fresh musical air.

To be fair, the idea of combining rap with the sound of a full backing band is hardly new. I'm really very surprised it hasn't been done more often, given that it has generally worked. Run-D.M.C. brought a rock edge to their raps that culminated with their hugely successful 1986 cover of Aerosmith's "Walk This Way" -- a hit that, ironically, catapulted Aerosmith all the way back from the abyss to the pinnacle of arena rock without helping Run-D.M.C.'s longevity much at all. MTV Unplugged had one show featuring an assortment of rappers performing with a full band backing them up; LL Cool J doing "Mama Said Knock You Out" during this concert was the best performance the program ever aired. So Galactic has basically put their own spin on a tried and true concept.

Despite the large number of guests on From the Corner to the Block, Galactic are clearly in charge of the proceedings, and the album generally works because they back up the raps with an ideal combination of groove and muscle. This combination is best embodied in the opening song and single "What You Need," a clever and funny rap about a shady but strangely endearing street vendor by San Francisco's Lyrics Born. The similarly aggressive "Hustle Up," with vocals from Boots Riley, is another highlight. The title track, featuring local rapper Juvenile and the Soul Rebels Brass Band, adds plenty of New Orleans flavor to the mix as well.

From the Corner to the Block is a fun and energetic mixture of a wide range of musical styles. With the music industry doing its best to categorize its "product" into easily discernible sub-genres, it's always refreshing to hear a band like Galactic stand against that trend and do their own thing.

Overall grade: B+

reviewed by Scott

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