Album Of The Week: Camden Session by Butcher Brown

 In Features, Reviews

Butcher Brown is a band that needs no introduction. Devoted fans already know what to expect, casual appreciators can piece together what’s about to unfold, and newcomers need only open their ears fully in order to take in, and enjoy, the full scope of music coming from this dexterous quintet.

Their latest release, Camden Session out today on Gearbox Records, is the seventh entry in their illustrious, yet relatively new discography, and another shining example of their musical acumen, effortlessly blurring the line between turbulent funk and ingenious jazz with detectable elements of a dozen genres that help disrupt your sense of sonic direction. For Butcher Brown, there seems to be no “true north” in terms of style as their compass is just as drawn to rhythmic stride music as it is to introspective soul, best represented as a spinning needle awash in a world of opaque polarity.

It’s no secret that each of the five members that make up Butcher Brown possess other-worldly talent, and an imposing credit list coveted by any musician worth its salt. But within the hallowed halls of Butcher Brown’s rhapsodies, it’s futile to signal out any particular instrument. For every solitary part that’s confounding listeners while basking in the spotlight, there are several others in the background feverishly working, pushing, and bustling to help boost the melody and song further and further towards musical pageantry. At times, the robust foundation is tangible, perceived in the form of an about-face tempo switch or a half-beat drop to punctuate a new section. Other times, it’s obscured, as the band hunkers down over a fluid groove to make it as solid as possible so it can support the hefty melody, invention, and talent being stacked on top.

In the same sense, it’s ineffective to loftily throw out funk bands, jazz artists, and soul musicians as milestones to observe along the way. It’s silly to think that any five bands you come up with can even scratch the surface of the brilliant creativity at play here. The band itself name-drops Earth, Wind & Fire and Frank Zappa as inspiration in the same breath, separated only by punctuation, leaving the scope of influence impossible to contain within any written article or spoken lecture. It harkens back to a great scene in Gilmore Girls (yes, Gilmore Girls) where aspiring drummer Lane Kim seeks out a band via a newspaper ad, but can’t cut down her three page, single-spaced list of influences that begins with obscure jangle pop band The Accelerators and hardcore punk legends Adolescents. Faced with the horror of cutting her list down, she pleads, “But this is the cut-down version. I mean, just from the letter A, I excluded AC/DC, The Animals, and a-Ha, footnoted as a guilty pleasure.”

As ludicrous as the connotation of a-Ha and Butcher Brown may be, each musician here is such a devoted student of sound that it’s by no means a stretch of the imagination to conceive that they may one day hear the high-pitched warbling of Morten Harket and be inspired to imitate or transform it with an instrument. The best musicians are like this, from Chick Corea and George Harrison all the way up to Kamasi Washington, who the band is currently touring in support of. And trust me — listening to Camden Session will definitely make the phrase “the best musician” feel accurate.

It may seem recusant to pick a stand-out track on this record, as the album is surely best enjoyed together as a collection, but damned if I don’t keep falling back on the fantastic closing track, “918.” With voluble guitar, keyboard, and trumpet parts splitting the sonic oration on top of a tenacious rhythm section, the song nimbly moves around as if the band is passing a metaphorical ball around the studio to make sure every single person gets a chance to score. And they do… with buzzer-beater theatrics that will have you constantly coming back for more.

Falling back on my previous points, if you were to knuckle down and pick out each part that reminds you of something, you’d find yourself staring at a list that could have Herbie Hancock on one end, Django Reinhardt on the other, and Cymande resting solely in the middle. But if you sit back and enjoy, you’re left not with a great example of sonic fusion, but a great song that provides endless joy and wonder.

The other songs on this premier release fall right in line with the harmonic technicality of “918,” with “Flat” offering up some dynamic punches and “Street Pharmacy” relaxing into a soulful stroll, but as I said before, these songs are best enjoyed together so you can behold the full range of Butcher Brown that comes through as vibrantly through speakers and headphones as it does in person with our own ears.

Butcher Brown is available now across all platforms, and Richmonders can see them next on November 14th when the play The National in support of jazz titan Kamasi Washington.


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