Since breaking out with its debut EP in 2012, which included its ready-made anthem "St. Louis Walk," the Jungle Fire has provided yearly bursts of south-side soul. The band came together as a refuge for punks, band geeks and ska survivors, all operating behind the raspy-but-powerful vocals of James Fields. Its EP releases are smartly timed for the summer months, when we're accustomed enough to the sweat and humidity and don't mind shaking our asses a bit. The title of this year's EP, the three-song Peace is Our Profession, gives a good hint of the band's mission of positivity and its lyrical focus on the violence and discord that mars our town. That the Jungle Fire packages that message with undeniably buoyant, hipbone-shaking funk and soul music underlines those good intentions, but the band wisely refuses to wear rose-colored glasses on this seven-inch/digital release.
Dan Johanning allows himself a rare guitar lick to herald the opening of the first track, the paternal love song "Josephine." The band leans into it, offering communal backing vocals for a tune that is ostensibly a father's ode to his daughter, but that takes a grander view of the promise that each generation brings. Elsewhere on the 45, "Blade Brown" begins almost like a Jim Croce song, telling the tale of the baddest cat on the block and his low-down ways. But there's no humor, no irony and no twist ending as Fields uses its second half as a falsetto-aided plea for peace. An instrumental passage provides a showcase for Kristen Luther's pensive flute solo atop Adam Barr's electric piano underpinnings; her instrument is something of a wild card in a funk and soul outfit, but she uses it to add an almost ethereal timbre. As a coda to "Blade Brown," Luther's flute adds a secondary voice of genteel thoughtfulness to an otherwise rough-hewn song.
The gritty urban funk of "Freedom" closes out the program, complete with wah-wah guitar flicks and throaty Clavinet; the Isley Brothers' "Fight the Power" could have been a touchstone, and rightly so. It's a more aggressive approach to the band's soul/punk mashup — even John Wright's tenor sax gets skronky — but "Freedom" illustrates some of the band's songwriting limitations. Fields intones the song's title throughout half of the track and makes too-vague allusions to the struggles and sacrifices that freedom demands. As a jam the track works just fine; as a "message" song, it's undercooked. (A worthy, digital-only bonus track, "Big Money Grip," treads some of the same sonics and approach as "Freedom.") It's an honorable thing, what the Jungle Fire is aiming for: a mission statement to match the feel-good soul grooves. On Peace, the band moves the needle closer than ever to a point of ideological and musical equilibrium.
Want your CD to be considered for a review in this space? Send music c/o Riverfront Times, Attn: Homespun, 6358 Delmar Boulevard, S uite 200, St. Louis, Missouri, 63130. Email [email protected] for more information.