Saturday, March 16, 2013

Item 9 and the Mad Hatters: The Chronic Illness

The Chronic Illness: Freshly Baked (Earthtones Studios) 

Not since Blood Sugar Sex Magic have I heard a funk album with this much attitude.

Item 9 and the Mad Hatter's latest CD, The Chronic Illness: Freshly Baked is a heavy exhalation compared to their previous release, Old Style. In the time in between the two recordings, the band had obviously spent more time playing together because with this latest release they are much tighter musically, a bit more daring vocally, and overall a helluva lot more funky.

Don't get me wrong, Old Style was a good record. But The Chronic Illness: Freshly Baked is Old Style and  say... three or four shots of purple Mad Dog. Plus about two rips from the Graffix.

Press photo from their website
(Click to enlarge.)
Iowa City has a rich tradition of producing prominent funk bands, from Funk Farm and Captain Barney from the '80s, to Dagobah in the '90s to modern bands like Zeta June and Dead Larry. Item 9 falls right in place with these guys, and have become a prominent part of the funk evolution that has occurred in eastern Iowa.

The album starts off with "The Queens," a rapid fire mental intrusion that seems to fire a warning shot that this indeed is a step above Old Style. Adam Maxwell's vocals almost take you by surprise with his Danny Joe Brown-esque throatal assault. The guitars are solid, the drums are better than average, and the bass is ridiculous. The foundation to any good funk album is a ridiculous bass player, and these cats have that with Amo Montgomery. I am always amazed at the fluency at which the great bass players play their instruments, and Montgomery meets that protocol. He's all over the place, in a way that is expected within the funk genre. Along with Rob Abrams' precise drum playing, Montgomery delivers a snappy backbone to the band's attitude-driven sound.

The attitude is evident in the music, but mostly in Maxwell's vocal delivery. The lyrics are delivered with an intensity that causes the listener to take a break from breathing, as if  he or she is waiting for a chance to exhale. His rapid fire delivery is impressive enough, the fact that he lays down the rhymes without stumbling  is mind bending.

The guitar work on the album is sharp and clean, dirty and mean. Pete Lower and Matt Bryks trade barbs back and forth, reading off of each other like a crispy audio reflection. Funk is especially good when it's greasy AND sticky, a combination that seemingly contradicts itself, but is somehow pulled off by these two young axe slingers.

Item 9 and the Mad Hatters live recently at the Hull Avenue Tap
(Photo by Bigfoot Diaries, click to enlarge.)
The entire album works this way, from the opening track to the final one, all of which make a freewheeling statement about the band's passive attitude when it comes to social interaction, enjoying fine drink, and passing the glow stick. The Chronic Illness: Freshly Baked is about good times and enjoying life only as one can while they are still young enough to do so, before all the heavy shit comes down later in life. 

As a man who is already old enough to be dealing with the heavy shit, I can certainly get behind that. 

I caught these guys live at the Hull Avenue Tavern in Des Moines about a  month ago. Simply put, these guys are a must see live band if they come to your area. I'm not going to say that they are one of those bands that one must see live to appreciate, because the Chronic Illness: Freshly Baked clearly stands on it's own. But  I will say that when they do play live the energy that they create is fantastic, and much like their record, their stage performance is all about the party. I've rarely seen an audience having so much fun at a gig.


Pertinent Links:

Item 9 and the Mad Hatters Official

Item 9 and the Mad Hatters Facebook

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