After Jay-Z scored a hit with a song that sampled the title track of the Menahan Street Band's debut album, Make the Road by Walking, the band sunk the royalty money into building a studio and toiled for many years on its glowing sophomore effort, The Crossing. The Brooklyn-based instrumental band is comprised of players from some of the bigger names in the soul/funk revival of the late 2000s and beyond, including key figures from the Budos Band, Sharon Jones' Dap-Kings, and Antibalas, not to mention being spearheaded by Dunham Records (a Daptone Records sub-label) founder Thomas Brenneck. The Crossing expands somewhat on the band's debut, with the group plucking inspiration from a wide spectrum of soul and funk subcategories.
The Menahan Street Band are a part of the Daptone family, which usually means a band is a force to be reckoned with. The Daptone label is based in Brooklyn, and it supports a group of musicians who love soul, funk, Afrobeat, and anything that combines all those things and grooves. Sharon Jones and her immaculately-dressed Dap Kings are probably the label’s best-known act, and several current and former Dap Kings make up the Menahan Street Band, an instrumental soul-funk group.
Recall way back at the close of this century’s first decade how there seemed to be an indefatigable trend of neo-soul reproductions hailing mostly from the career-musician detritus of Brooklyn? Their identity was so Brooklyn that it was snapped up by Jay-Z for an explosive turn. So Brooklyn that their ranks faithfully replicated the soulful fabric of that previous borough favorite, the Wu-Tang Clan. But the sound’s nostalgia, which has always been, incidentally, an homage to the dirty-deep funk of house bands hailing from markedly un-Brooklyn places such as Memphis or Detroit or, uh, Nigeria, is now its own nostalgia.
With a deep connection to the Brooklyn soul scene and a lineup comprising members of the Budos Band, El Michels Affair, Antibalas, and the Dap-Kings, it would be easy to assume that Menahan Street Band plays soul. That the group also backed throwback soul singer Charles Bradley on his 2011 debut, No Time for Dreaming, co-written and produced by MSB co-founder Thomas Brenneck, only bolsters that assumption. Formed of a desire to play music outside the strict disciplines associated with the Brownian soul revue of the Dap-Kings or the Kuti-fueled Antibalas, Menahan’s music incorporates elements often associated with the likes of Neil Young and RZA’s early Wu-Tang productions to reveal a sound that is as much indebted to the influence of classic rock and hip hop as it is to the Godfather, the Black President, and historic labels like Stax/Volt.