The Bacao Rhythm & Steel Band ’55’ (Big Crown) 3/5

BC013-FL_HIRES(FRONT)A contemporary funky German steel pan band may not sound like a winning combination, but The Bacao Rhythm & Steel Band have carved themselves a niche in crafting 1970s influenced funk gems with a Caribbean twist. Having previously released four different 45s on various labels, BRSB now release their first full-length album on Brooklyn’s Big Crown Records, owned by DJs and vinyl enthusiasts Danny Akalepse and Leon Michels, with this being their debut label release.
The album includes 16 songs, including six that were only available previously on limited 7” vinyl pressings, but the album excludes their first two recordings, covers of The Meters ‘Look-A Py Py’ and ‘Ease Back’. And having found a market for their brand of 21st century funk, ‘55’ continues along the same pathway of raw funk instrumentals, which are very much aimed at DJs, funk fanatics and the Hip Hop community.
Highlights include the drum thick ‘Was Dog a Doughnut’, an infectious cover of the New York Cat Stevens club classic, the afro beat meets disco stormer, ‘Port of Spain Hustle’ and the spacey ‘Beetham Highway Ride’. The sped up Dennis Coffey ‘Scorpio’ remake unfortunately removes the legendary bass solo originally by Bob Babbitt of the Funk Brothers, but it gratefully keeps the drum and percussion parts flowing. And the Faith Evans ‘Love Like This’ cover will be an obvious DJ favourite.

Steel pan is played on all tracks and it does match the raw funk grooves provided by the group, but the only deviation from funk here is the John Holt ‘Police in Helicopter’ cover. And thus, maybe there is a predictability with the album; heavy funk breakbeat instrumentals mixed with fluid steel pan playing. Nonetheless, the album is very enjoyable and will undoubtedly be heard in the cooler clubs and parties around the world.

The origins of the band are said to be that multi-instrumentalist and bandleader Björn Wagner spent time in Trinidad & Tobago learning to play the steel drums before returning to Germany to incorporate the instrument within a new enterprise. And so it has taken nine years for the band to release an a full LP, but it was hip hop DJs who were searching for new dance floor friendly funky records who first noticed Bacao Rhythm & Steel Band. And as mentioned, most of their now collectable early 7” releases are thankfully added here including their now classic ‘P.I.M.P.’, originally by 50 Cent and which is thankfully much more interesting than the original, ‘Bacao Suave’, which is nod to J Dilla’s ‘Rico Suave’ (via a Milton Banana Trio groove) from his 2001 ‘Welcome to Detroit’ album and ‘Tender Trap’, which contains elements of Jaylib’s ‘Strip Club’ via another sample, ‘Opus Pocus’ by Jaco Pastorius.

The Bacao Rhythm & Steel Band tick a lot of boxes and if they begin touring they will surely be heard at a music festival near you this summer, and the album is a strong start, with very contagious grooves and DJs will gain a lot of mileage of this release.

Damian Wilkes