Funkmata’s single releases “Is It True?” and “Realpayback” exhibit for listeners two of the musical faces Funkmata can summon for modern audiences. Their avowed intent to deliver an Africanized version of traditional soul and funk is fully realized with these tracks; they invoke the classic elements of each style while imprinting a rugged individual signature on each of the songs. Singer/songwriter Robert Bannerman and producer Roy C are responsible for much going on in these songs and enlisted stellar session players to round out the sound of each single, but the most critical factor in the success of these songs is the ace production, presumably courtesy of Roy C, framing the performances. This is work that captures both the spirit of a vocal performance, in the case of “Is it True?”, and manages to carve out a sharp sense of balance between competing instrumental voices, particularly in “Realpayback”. This is some of the most invigorating commercial pop you’ll hear in recent memory and it stays with you long after the song is over.
“Is It True?” delivers both musically and vocally. The lyrics are, perhaps surprisingly, not too shabby at all; all too often, artists working in this style treat the lyrical content as a mere afterthought, but that isn’t the case with Funkmata. It’s obvious that the musical side of things falls more squarely in their wheelhouse, but they’ve likewise taken the obvious care and time to craft a lyrical message that Bannerman brings to the fore with intelligence and nuance alike. The upbeat lift of the arrangement hinges on the piano playing, but the drumming sets a nice pace for the piano while it carries listeners along with effortless energy. The brief instrumental break near the song’s midway point is effective without being overwrought. Bannerman’s vocals have a deadpan quality to them, but it’s wholly appropriate for the song and he’s canny enough as a singer to up the emotional tenor when the song benefits from it the most.
“Realpayback” is a much different affair. This is an instrumental track that gives the players and Bannerman/Roy C’s arranging skills a chance to shine. Everyone gets a turn here – guitar, the horn section, even keyboards contribute mightily to the overall product. The instrumental exchanges define the song and they resolutely avoid any of the self indulgence common to these sort of tracks. The song has the feel of something cut live in the studio with all the musicians sharing space on the floor, but even if it isn’t a reflection of reality, capturing that vibe alone distinguishes the performance from similar fare unleashed on the marketplace. It’s a far longer track than “Is It True?”, running over five minutes, but never exhausts or tires listener’s patience. Instead, it’s a robust performance that catches your ear from the first and never lets go. Funkmata has crafted something truly their own with these two singles that, nonetheless, also pays tribute to the source inspiration fueling both songs. It’s a remarkable and highly entertaining achievement.
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