by Dwight Hobbes
If you have a sweet tooth for lush major 7 chords, a jones for rockin’ funk and always wished some band could bring it like that all night long, take heart. There is justice in the world and its name is The New Congress. These guys grab hold of a silky groove and fire it full of stank-ass funk. ‘Til the cows come home. They’re pretty damned good in the studio, too (and are finishing up work on their debut CD, mastering it in Nashville for late February release).
R&B lovers thirsting after sweet funk, The New Congress are water in the
desert. Their signature song, “Sex in the Lightyear,” is jazz-tinged,
upbeat and air-tight; tailor-made to put somethin’ on ya. Infectious as
hell, it’s locked in the pocket and charged with a streamlined, hit-it-from-the-hip
refrain, “Sex without gravity/ sex in the lightyears/ doin’ it in
the lightyears, baby.” On the CD, it’s one of those hypnotic cuts
you immediately like and love to play again as soon as it’s over. Definitely
suggested listening in the car, especially when you’re stuck in traffic.
Fair warning: you’re liable to wind up still nodding your head and tapping
your fingers on the steering wheel, horns blaring at your back, when it’s
finally time to step on the gas. Performed live, it’s guaranteed to get
a nightclub crowd swarming to the dance floor. Especially when the boys break
things wide open, taking off on a stratospheric instrumental break. Similarly,
the pumping “Without Reason” and “Only Human,” neither
of which loses a thing with the studio version, are bona fide booty-thumpers.
You can hear, clear as day, that the feel and quality hark to an era of Steely
Dan, Stevie Wonder, Tower of Power and such. You can also tell, just as clearly,
that The New Congress own a solid, original sound. And that The New Congress’
brand of funk struts some tough stuff. Point in case, their rendition of the
Stones’ “Miss You,” which I caught live. It takes cojones
to cover that song in the first place, but they outright take it over, creating
their own, distinct version.
At the nucleus are two ace songsmiths: singer-guitarist Orange AC and keyboard
man Russ King, both of the popular, now-defunct Duluth outfit Crazy Betty. In
March 2004, they packed their bags to try things out in a bigger market, namely
the Minneapolis-St. Paul metropolis, where they're presently based. After backing
up Kip Blackshire for a few months, Orange recalls, “We decided to start
doin’ our own thing.” Part and parcel of that “thing”
was a group of musicians with chops as strong as theirs. King, after all, had
worked with Prince, Blackshire, Ipso Facto and a laundry list of other hot names.
And Orange had been a dyed-in-the-wool soul singer pretty much from his youth,
growing up with a dad who played reggae and cutting his teeth on the gospel
music he heard at a neighborhood church. So, they went looking for a band to
put together: JBiz (bass), Sean “Smitty” Smith (drums), Manny Fresh
(percussion and occasional bass) and DJ Dudley D (turntables). Seeing as how
Orange AC, Russ King, Jbiz and DJ Dudley D had all gigged with Blackshire, Orange
jokes, “Kip had introduced us to a ton of guys. And, basically, we stole
his band.” King notes, “It takes a special kind of [combination]
to start a new project. Every musician, especially if they're good, is skeptical
about starting something new. When you approach people, ya know, it’s
like, well, everybody’s always putting a band together. It took the right
cats who were willing to put up with unpaid rehearsals, sometime unpaid gigs,
when you’re tryin’ to get out there. It’s tough. It’s
definitely hard. You gotta keep ‘em motivated.”
January of 2005, once the roster was set, they started the requisite wood-shedding
and hustling up a following. Fortune smiled. They swung a gig at Bunker’s
this past February and have since been ensconced as the Thursday night house-draw.
With Bunker’s as their base of live operations, The New Congress have
worked up a major rep in an incredibly short time—due in no small part
to pure word-of-mouth, the best advertising money can’t buy. In addition
to headlining at First Avenue and Fine Line, they’ve opened for Mint Condition
and for Faith Evans, did a national TV stint on the WB’s “Strictly
Original” and were on the bill for Prince’s Musicology tour. Their
rapid ascent is attributable to, yes, having behind-the-scenes hook-ups (not
the least being Morris Hayes of Prince and the New Power Generation's renown,
who produced a pair of tracks for the CD). Still, no matter who you know, if
you ain’t got the goods, you just ain’t got what it takes. Accordingly,
their Dec. 2005 and Jan. 2006 dance cards are chock full. Gigs include trips
to Wisconsin, Illinois, Iowa as well as the old stomping grounds, Duluth. “We
can go into a new city and play,” says King, “and people are gettin’
it and dancin’. The first time they hear it, they just like it.”
Not hard to believe. Not hard, at all. See for yourself. At Bunker’s.
Or when they throw down at Hyatt Regency Hotel in downtown Minneapolis for New
Year’s Eve. The New Congress, indeed, are in session, hellbent on burnin’
down the house. ||
The New Congress perform on New Years's Eve at the Hyatt Regency Hotel with
Tim Mahoney, Catch Penny, Leroy Smokes and the Hopefuls. 8 p.m. $28/$40. 21+.
1300 Nicollet Mall, Mpls. 612-370-1234.
For more information on the New Congress, check out their MySpace page at