George Porter Jr. & Runnin’ Pardners – Crying for Hope
Controlled Substance Sound Labs – 2021
12 tracks; 48:23
George Porter Jr. is best known as the bassist for The Meters, the legendary New Orleans funk band. On Crying for Hope, an album made with his band, Runnin’ Pardners, Porter creates a wide-ranging musical experience that is funk-centric with plenty of stops in jazz and rock, every track steeped in the soulfulness of the blues.
Porter divides the mostly instrumental album into three sides, a funny nod to the vestiges of vinyl and their limitation for implementing odd-numbered concepts. The sides are usually a vocal track followed by instrumentals, making Crying for Hope feel like albums within albums. When you think of three sides, you think of a triangle. You often see triangles in construction, from bridges to the pyramids, because they’re such a strong shape. And Crying for Hope is a strong, three-sided album.
Side A begins with the title track, a cool, funky tune weighing in on the state of a world that features lots of talking, but not much listening: “People are saying lots of words / Saying all the wrong things.” The slow groove moves the tune along, organ swells and scratchy guitar reinforcing Porter’s bass, which is the song’s foundation. Porter’s vocals are earnest if not powerful, making them pair well with the lyrics.
Side A continues with some jazzy instrumentals, with “Porter 13A” led by beautiful piano from Michael H. Hemmler. “A Ladder,” enhanced by liquid-like guitar from Chris Adkins, isn’t a pure instrumental, since it has call-and-response vocal chanting, but Porter and his band root the gorgeous song in the interplay of the instruments, rather than a lyrical hook.
Side B is more funk-centered, which is saying something given how much funk is on the album. The side deceptively starts with “I’m Barely,” a 60s pop tune that’s light and bouncy, the kind of track you could imagine George Harrison covering. Porter’s voice has a weariness, but as with “Crying for Hope,” it works for the song, this time balancing out the song’s youthful-sounding joy against the weight of Porter’s life experiences.
From “I’m Barely,” the side goes wild, with tunes whose titles tell you everything you need to know. “Cloud Funk” relies on a propulsive guitar riff, a la Sly and the Family Stone, while “Wanna Get Funky” is bombastic. And “Spanish Moss” spotlights a catchy bass lick and angular guitar that, when placed with Hemmler’s keyboard swells, makes for a style best described as heartfelt prog-rock.
The album concludes on a rock and roll note, with more vocal-oriented songs. “Too Hot Too Cold” is a gentle ballad. While the keyboard here gives the track an 80s sound, the melodies are lovely. And “You Just Got Tired” feels like the Rolling Stones at their best, Porter and his band using an almost country beat, augmented by sweet slide guitar and mournful piano.
It’s tempting to call “You Just Got Tired” the album’s best track, but once the album starts from the beginning again (another thing vinyl didn’t do very well), you realize that most of the album is in contention. Funk fans will, of course, enjoy Crying for Hope, but the album contains a lot of great moments that will appeal to anyone who loves well-executed music that emerges from honest emotion. Porter and Runnin’ Pardners have taken the best of many styles and crafted a three-sided album that has the structural strength of the mighty triangle.