The Bands Leading St. Louis' Ass-Shaking Groove Revival

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Ransom Note at Off Broadway, April 14, 2012 - ROY KASTEN
  • Roy Kasten
  • Ransom Note at Off Broadway, April 14, 2012

Editor's Note: The end of 2012 is upon us (also the end of the world, if you believe in that sort of thing), so we thought we'd put a cap on things by sharing some of our personal favorite shows, albums, events and general shenanigans. Join us as we indulge in some navel-gazing!

I'm a music writer staring down the barrel of my 50s, which means, by definition, I don't slutdrop, Gangnam trot and/or otherwise shake my lily-white ass.

But if I did, 2012 would have provided more than enough St. Louis rhythms to snap me out of my shoegaze.

This year witnessed the consolidation and expansion of a heady funk 'n' soul 'n' groove scene, anchored in no one club, led by no single band and still, astonishingly, without a label to underwrite its efforts.

The following makes no attempt to cover the totality of this vast landscape. Consider it the first, provisional draft of a road map (which you should feel free to amend in the comment section).

Throughout 2012, veteran groups Soul Alliance (featuring CocoSoul and Mo Egeston), the Dogtown Allstars and the Funky Butt Brass Band built their audiences and increased their profiles. The latter two did so with upscale gigs at Jazz at the Bistro, and the former with contributions to a number of excellent recordings, including Brothers Lazaroff and the forthcoming LP from Melody Den -- plus, drummer Grover Stewart also drives the groove of Superhero Killer, who released an aggressive EP in January.

Bassist for the Allstars, Andy Coco (full disclosure: a co-worker and friend of mine at 88.1 KDHX) has also been leading Hip Grease and the Rhythm Section Road Show, and taking the annual Funkfest into its seventh year in St. Louis. This past September the event jammed the Broadway Oyster Bar stage with the likes of Lamar Harris, Teddy Presberg's Resistance Organ Trio, Fresh Heir and Big Brother Thunder and the Master Blasters, one of the newest and hardest of all funk bands in town.

And if the Broadway strip remains home to the most consistently greasy sounds around -- rising blues star Nikki Hill keeps a residency at BB's Jazz, Blues & Soups and Kim Massie still holds forth twice a week across the street at Beale on Broadway -- Lola on Washington Avenue remains ground zero for urban music gatherings. DJ Hal Greens, impresario of Leisure Studies, has been promoting some excellent and sweaty events, including one of the best shows of the year: Lee Fields & the Expressions on September 16. Look for more in 2013.

2720 Cherokee and the Gramophone continue to keep things exceedingly funky, booking reliable and fresh artists like Nappy DJ Needles, 18andCounting, Thelonius Kryptonite, Theresa Payne, Illphonics and Teresa Jenee. The Old Rock House is doing much the same, and closing out the year with two notable shows from LA's Afrobeat titan Orgone.

Finally, two relatively new bands, the Ransom Note and Jungle Fire, have brought a welcome dose of sexy to the venerable South City scene and the Tower Groove collective. The former -- led by Merv Schrock, ex-Nadine drummer and future Lord of the Lava Lamp Lounge -- is simply the smoothest band in town, somehow transcending its own shtick to make psychedelic soul music Curtis Mayfield would have loved. The latter features the voice of James Fields, the Farfisa of Adam Barr, the flute of Kristen Luther and an astonishing ability to fuse catchy rock and funkadelica into something wholly original. Plus, they've written "Saint Louis Walk," the toughest St. Louis shout-out song since "St. Louie." Jungle Fire is very much a band to watch -- and, much like its many prolific contemporaries listed in this article, to get up off your own ass, lily-white or otherwise, and shake it to in 2013.

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