By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
This South London collective of delightfully cracked and activist musos and DJs serve up wickedly ingenious music that smashes genres with every pummeling drum beat. Then they slather the crust of their sinfully delicious concoctions with canny commentary and observations, keen literary allusions and a firm grip on musical history and its future. And you can dance to it.
Best known for "Woke Up This Morning," the percolating pastiche that serves as the theme for The Sopranos, A3 can be referenced but hardly encapsulated as a "techno-roots" act. What they do is stand tall atop the mighty junk heap of popular music and haul up snippets here (a Hank Williams reference) and there (mighty trance grooves) and over there (a gospel chorus and/or a wailing blues harp) and back here (a sizzling hot sample). Then they pull from the post-Beat bookshelves (writers Nick Tosches and Hubert Selby Jr. guest on adjacent tracks) and the crazy tenor of our times. And then they weld what some may think are disparate elements into a Mad Max vehicle capable of wielding deadly power and blasting away at the complacency, trendiness, poses, divisiveness and downright dumbness in today's little camps of cool.
Power in the Blood is one of the few albums that actually feels like 2003 in these times when attentions are captured by the weapons of mass distraction. They call a song "Woody Guthrie" and start it with a lil guitbox'n'fiddle reel, and then funkily walk their way into channel surfing the everyday terrors in our world (and name check a T Rex song to boot). A3 grok the sonic possibilities of our high-tech age at the same time they dip deep into the musical well. Imagine Bob Dylan fronting the Fabulous Flames with Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five along for the ride at an all-night rave, and that'll give you an idea of what this album feels and sounds like. It has boogaloo for the booty, food for the noggin and musical flourishes that burst like fireworks from all the colors of the stylistic spectrum. And for anyone who thinks this is all studio trickery, there's a six-song Acoustic Power bonus disc (including a stripped-down "Woke Up This Morning") that plays like a nifty Brixton town hoedown. All told, it's a night of wit and revelry at the Blade Runner Bar that addresses the new millennium atop the best lessons of the past.
The current album this most resembles in method and intent is the (way nifty) OutKast twofer, unusual when one considers how A3--even after three stunning releases--sells only a comparative smidgen. Maybe it's the lingering discophobia so rampant in the white rock world. And while the trendies and self-anointed, waxy-eared cognoscenti may urge you to stare into dim Bright Eyes or don cheap and tattered Morning Jackets and Stroke-by-numbers, don't believe the hype. Power in the Blood is this year's premier modern musical listening experience, everyone else's Top 10 term papers be damned.