Funk is more than a musical genre, it’s a way of life. And since that mindset is what Yo Mama’s Big Fat Booty Band embodies every day, the collective titled its fourth studio album Funk Life.
The new record is as sassy and self-possessed as lead track “24/7,” a fearless plunge into contagious rhythms and bold horn hits. Recorded at Echo Mountain Studios in the Booty Band’s hometown, Asheville, N.C., Funk Life paired the musicians with engineer Julian Dreyer(Band of Horses, Avett Brothers, Zac Brown Band). The band was still arranging a couple of songs when tracking began, leaving room for the element of surprise. That spirit of excitement is captured on tracks like “Quick E,” an instrumental with plenty of swagger and vintage cool; the bold, woman-power manifesto “Mama Feelgood”, originally recorded by Lyn Collins; and “Wake Yo’Self,” a caffeinated dance track that builds to a keys-driven crescendo.
Funk Life is as modern as it is rooted in time-tested textures. The album was conceived in the back seat of a 1972 Impala while listening to a mix tape of P-Funk, Sly and the Family Stone, Buddy Miles, Aretha Franklin, Tower of Power, and James Brown. So pervasive are those influences that the track “Living the Dream” came to keyboardist/vocalist Mary Frances-Mama Funk when, in a sleep-charged vision, George Clinton and Garry Shider of P-Funk taught her the melodic riff.
But as much as Funk Life offered the Booty Band a chance to zero in on the roots of funk music, it also reflects the band’s never-ending quest to deliver its vision of funk and where the genre is heading. For trombonist Derrick Johnson, the album presented an opportunity to use different techniques and sounds in creating a full horn section. “I think the process illuminated some concepts that will continue to be Booty Band staples as the band moves forward,” he says.
Innovation aside, the group has a keen sense of immediacy. “When you walk away from a show, you want to remember something,” says Mary Frances, and that’s why the Booty Band focuses on contagious choruses. Funk Life’s title track is as much an anthem as a deep groove, at once choreographed and organic. It’s the kind of song that has fans singing along on first listen.
In fact, the Booty Band takes its cues from the crowd: “When the ladies are dancing, that’s when you know the vibe is right,” says Mary Frances. The band not only infuses its funk aesthetic with sparkle and buoyancy, but maximizes its onstage entertainment value. During a Booty Band show you might find band members in the crowd, on top of a bar, and definitely in yo face!
Adding to the Booty Band’s crowd-pleasing prowess is a knack for selecting prime cover tunes. Deep cuts and songs by female artists make the list, as do unexpected hip-hop offerings. “They fit in our ecosystem,” says Lee. “We grew up with Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg, but they sample P-Funk, the Isley Brothers and classic funk. It’s a nice mixture.” Plus, there are nods to Crescent City favorites like Dirty Dozen Brass Band because, as Mary Frances says, “Everybody likes to be taken to New Orleans.”
With the release of Funk Life, the Booty Band continues its exploration of past, present and future funk sounds. “It’s a constant evolution,” says drummer Lee Allen. But the band isn’t too worried about defining that mix: “For me, it’s more of a feeling,” Lee says. “If it makes my head bob, it’s usually gonna make people dance.”
The band, which formed in the college town of Boone, North Carolina, in 2002, has shared stages with the likes of Parliament Funkadelic, Galactic, Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe, Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Ivan Neville’s Dumpstaphunk, Maceo Parker and Bootsy Collins. They’re in high demand on the festival circuit, putting in appearances at Wakarusa, Bear Creek, Jam Cruise, Telluride Blues & Brews Festival, Aura Fest, Floyd Fest, DeLuna Festival, Jazz Aspen, Center of the Universe Festival, Purple Hatters Ball, Camp Barefoot and Trinumeral, among others.
True musical road warriors, their live show is an absolute must see! A musical experience rather than simply a band, Yo Mama’s Big Fat Booty Band is all facets of funk wrapped into one deliciously deviant package.