Marlon McClain – TBC | Album Review

marlonmccliancd450Marlon McClain – TBC

Mac Man Music

9 tracks / 37:06

There are a few folks in the music industry that seem to always be busy and plugged into many diverse projects, and Marlon L. McClain is a shining example of this.  After cutting his teeth in Portland, Oregon’s favorite funk band of the 1970s’, Pleasure, he had a stint with the Dazz Band before demand for his writing and producing sent him behind the stage.  After many successes with artists as diverse as George Clinton, Tower of Power, George Benson, Kenny G and Joan Baez, he is finally back to making his own music for us to enjoy.

Over the past four decades, McClain has only had time to record three solo discs: Changes in 1981, TBD in 2010, and this year’s release, TBC.  Marlon wrote all nine songs on this latest self-produced album, and he also took care of the guitars and keyboards.  Al Turner laid down the bass lines, Thomas McElroy played the keyboards, and the drum parts were all handled electronically, with programming by McClain, McElroy, Soulpersona, and Ken Sato.  Do not get the impression that this is some sort of 1980s beat box album, though – the drums sound real and are spot on throughout.

The tracks are mostly instrumentals with vocals added here and there as needed to accentuate the action, including the opener, “Me & You.”  This is a super-funky tune with jazz influences that shows what a masterful guitarist Marlon is, and his playing is as smooth as silk.  Guest artist Curtis Salgado brought his harmonica in for this song, and he does a fabulous job of mimicking McClain’s lines, so that at times it sounds like there are two guitars playing.

After listening to the rest of the tracks, it would be difficult to categorize this record into any one genre, as there is a little bit of everything, but if you dig deep enough there a foundation of funk for all of them.  The most divergent song from the blues would be “Positivity,” a bouncy dance track with a disco groove and tightly intertwined guitar/vocal lines.  You will also find that “Step into the Light:” is quite danceable, though at a slower and sultrier pace.

Blues-rock is represented in the mix, too, with the harder-hitting “Radiation Blues” which has minimal vocals, round bass, tons of high hat, and smoking guitar from McClain.  This is a marked contrast from “That Ain’t Right,” which is more of a loose funky jam session, with a cool give and take between Marlon and Turner’s killer bass lines – it is almost like the whole song was built over a bass solo, which is not something you will find on your average blues album.

There are fairly drastic changes of pace and feel from track to track.  For example, “Tokyo Time“ is smooth and jazzy with a laid-back vibe, and then the listener is hit with “GWUWGWUN.”  This song has a lot plenty going on, besides a lot of consonants and an unpronounceable title.  Marlon’s guitars are up front in this fast-paced tune, but there is also a lot of synthesizer work with simulated flute and trumpet patches, and all of this is playing all over a popping and funky bass line.  Both of these instrumentals are catchy and could get stuck in your head for days, which is not a bad thing in this case.

The last song in the set is “You Know,” which is notable for its simple lyrics and complex guitar lines.  It is a healthy dose of funky rhythm and blues with more layers of guitar than you can count, and all of them are soaked with distortion and wah pedal galore.  After only 37 minutes the album ends, and it definitely leaves the listener wanting more – a few more tracks would have been welcome.  We can only hope that Marlon heads back to the studio again soon, as his songs are well written and are a pleasure to listen to.

There is a lot to like about Marlon McClain’s TBC – it has catchy songs that cross genres and hypnotizing grooves that would make it an awesome party soundtrack or even a nice pick-me-up for the morning drive to work to brighten up an otherwise gloomy day.  If you like your blues on the jazzier side with a healthy helping of funk, this might be just what you are looking for!

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