Galactic, Ya-Ka-May (Anti-, 2010)

On their 2007 CD From the Corner to the Block, featuring guest appearances from a broad assortment of rappers, Galactic positioned themselves on the vanguard of the music emanating from post-Katrina New Orleans.  The quintet of Jeff Raines (guitar), Rich Vogel (organ), Robert Mercurio (bass), Stanton Moore (drums), and Ben Ellman (saxophone) grounded the modern urban sound with a solid backbeat of funk and soul rooted in the timeless music of their hometown.  Now Galactic return with a new album called Ya-Ka-May.  They again work with a variety of guests, but instead of focusing exclusively on rap and hip-hop, Galactic bring in performers covering the broad musical spectrum of New Orleans.

The guests on Ya-Ka-May range from Allan Toussaint, one of the founding fathers of New Orleans funk, to contemporary local rap artists like Big Freedia, Katey Red, and Sissy Nobby. In addition to covering a broad range of performers and styles, the album broadly spans the quality spectrum as well. The best song by far is "Heart of Steel," sung by the venerable Irma Thomas. (Her version of "Time Is on My Side" inspired the more famous cover by The Rolling Stones.) "Boe Money," featuring the spicy hot horns of the Rebirth Brass Band, is a rock solid instrumental. Unfortunately, none of the hip-hop selections come close to the best songs on From the Corner to the Block. "Do It Again," rapped by Cheeky Blakk, has the kind of profanity for profanity's sake that just gets tiring after a while.

If Ya-Ka-May has flaws, though, they have nothing to do with the performance of Galactic itself. The band are superb instrumentalists, capable of taking their songs in a bunch of different directions and still making them work. Their sense of all-inclusiveness makes for an uneven overall recording here, but there is still enough quality to justify giving the album a listen.

Overall grade: B-

reviewed by Scott

"Heart of Steel"

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