The Bamboos ‘Hard Up’ 2LP/CD (Pacific Theatre) 4/5

‘Hard Up’ marks the brand new – and tenth – studio album by Australia’s deep funk collective, The Bamboos.

The release of ‘Hard Up’ marks something of a new era for The Bamboos having last year celebrated twenty years as a music-making collective. Their incredible milestone was lovingly capped off with an exclusive 7″ vinyl release of tracks from ‘Rawville’ (2007) and ‘4’ (2010) courtesy of their one-time long-standing label home of Tru Thoughts. For the year prior to that, the release of ‘By Special Arrangement’ was another way to affectionately lament on a staggering career courtesy of these lush orchestral accompaniments providing exquisite new perspectives to the hundred-miles-an-hour funk typically associated with The Bamboos.

As well as having solidified ‘The Bamboos’ as a cherished name within funk and soul music, their tenure has also made stars of the band’s producer and guitarist Lance Ferguson – a name synonymous as a solo artist in his own right along with associations with celebrated projects including Menagerie for Freestyle Records – and also the band’s vocalist Kylie Auldist. As a vocalist for The Bamboos since 2006, and with four solo albums to her name, Auldist has yet to appear on any album without captivating listeners with her sincere and powerhouse vocal.

Released through Pacific Theatre, the recording sessions for ‘Hard Up’ took place over the course of a week and just prior to quarantine rules having come fully in effect. It was during these recording sessions when the band stumbled onto their ingenious selection for the project’s lead single…

There’s something of an exciting trend for funk and soul acts to pick really out of the box suggestions for songs to reinterpret in their own style. Australian trio from Choi Records, The Traffic, have built a strong reputation off of their blistering covers of tracks by Michael Jackson, Rick James and Daft Punk, while Cookin on 3 Burners too boast an excellent rendition of ‘Feel Good Inc’ by the Gorillaz. ‘Hard Up’ however finds itself preceded by The Bamboos inspired take on Black Box’s 1990 dance classic, ‘Ride on Time’. Reimagining the track as a horn-heavy, inimitable Bamboo workout with Auldist as a more than adequate substitute on vocals, the album’s lead single set the tone for the infectious grooves to follow.

But although the album is indeed packed with these infectious grooves, ‘Hard Up’ still takes some of its most significant moments to delve into more socio-political commentary like the damning ‘Power Without Greed’ and the album’s organ-drenched title track addressing corruption and society’s disproportionate balance of power. But conversely, the album soars within its quintessential soul numbers as well like the Ev Jones-assisted ‘While You Sleep’ with the catchy, sing-a-long nature of the song’s chorus, or the Northern Soul-esque ‘The Thing About You’. US vocalist Durand Jones (from Durand Jones & The Indications) makes for a dream inclusion as guest vocalist for ‘If Not Now (Then When)’ delivering a typically superb vocal and another of the strong album highlights.

While easy to rest on their laurels and the milestone of twenty years, ‘Hard Up’ musically and thematically presents The Bamboos as still a band hungry to create and justify their indelible contributions to the scene, and have delivered an album to brilliantly spearhead their efforts for the next twenty years.

Imran Mirza