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Sweet Freaks
Just think for a moment. How many artists can you name that made it big in the early Nineties that are still very much active and producing new music on a regular basis? Music that is as fresh, as vibrant and infectious as it was back then? Whichever or however many acts, you will eventually come up with, one is most definitely bound to be on that very short list: London-based Acid Jazz innovators and expert purveyors of funky grooves and incredibly soulful harmonies The Brand New Heavies.

The eleven tracks featured on the quartet’s tenth studio album “Sweet Freaks” are just the latest proof of that – full of irresistible grooves, well thought-out melodies and as much lively energy and enthusiasm as on any of their highly successful early outings. Everything came together in a comparable short time span of less than four months. And that included writing, arranging, recording, as well as mixing the entire disc by themselves.

“We set ourselves a time limit before going on this creative journey. A little pressure never hurts”, remembers bass player Andrew Levy, one third of the band’s core – the other two being drummer/keyboarder/vocalist Jan Kincaid and guitarist Simon Bartholomew. “Some time ago we once spent two years working on an album. It didn’t turn out too bad in the end, but it was way too long. As an artist you tend to lose spontaneity, when you’re starting to overthink or second guess yourself. And that’s never a good thing.”

Instead the band went back to the way they worked in the early days of their now long and fruitful career. “We all got together in a room and tried out whatever rhythms came to us. Once we had found a nice beat, the songs basically wrote themselves. You’ve just got let them”, laughs Levy.  What a gift, considering how few other artists would be able to just “pop out” sensational numbers like the anthemic “Bring the Rain”, the wonderful mix of disco-throwback and modern R&B named “’95 Tonight” or the free-flowing “You Are the Fire”.

An important part of what makes this album so lively as well as classy and all around enjoyable is The Brand New Heavies’ voice, provided by the beautiful and wonderful Dawn Joseph. The Jersey born singer debuted on 2013’s “Forward”, still sharing vocal duties with the band’s original lead singer N’Dea Davenport. Since then Joseph has come into her own in a big way. Just listen to her go on tracks like “In the Name of Love”, “Self Portrait” or “Get On”. Hers is a self-assured, powerful and also immensely versatile voice.

Another interesting colour is added to “Sweet Freaks” by way of a cover track that is as unexpected as it is ingenious. “We were in the middle of working on the album, when we starting talking about the inclusion of a cover tune”, says Andrew. “We all liked the notion and starting throwing around some suggestions. I think it was Dawn who came up with ‘Sledgehammer’. Everybody jumped on the idea and we started jamming right away.” The original recording by Peter Gabriel is so iconic. It’s not an easy task to make it your own. But The Brand New Heavies succeed formidably and give it a superb, fresh and funky spin.

Founded by Andrew Levy, Jan Kincaid and Simon Bartholomew in the mid-eighties as an instrumental act, the band started to create a buzz around the London club scene almost immediately. Not willing to rush things it took the trio until 1990 to find the perfect partners to market their music appropriately – the now legendary Acid Jazz label in the UK and Delicious Vinyl stateside. Adding soulfulness through US singer N’Dea Davenport to the line-up, the group’s eponymous debut album took off on a global scale. Hits like “Never Stop”, “Stay This Way” and “Dream Come True” not only made them stars. They also laid the groundwork for the worldwide popularity of what would be known throughout the nineties as Acid Jazz, a funky sound further popularized by such acts like Jamiroquai, US3, The James Taylor Quartet and Incognito.

Never ones to shy away from doing the unexpected, The Heavies’ 1992 follow-up to their breakthrough saw them collaborating with some of the era’s most popular and influential rappers. Among them Gang Starr main man Guru, alternative hip hoppers The Pharcyde, Grand Puba of Brand Nubian, Main Source as well as Kool G Rap.  1994 then saw the successful return of Miss Davenport on the microphone for the “Brother Sister” album including hits like “Dream On Dreamer” and a sexy reworking of Maria Muldaur’s “Midnight at the Oasis”.

Davenport left to pursue a solo career. But that did not end The Brand New Heavies’ winning streak as they brought in Quincy-Jones- and Michael-Jackson-approved Siedah Garrett as their new lead vocalist for 1997’s “Shelter”. A disc that spawned another range of glorious tunes including “Sometimes” and their radio-friendly version of Carole King/James Taylor’s immortal “You’ve Got a Friend”.

Three further albums (including N’Dea Davenport’s latest return to their ranks in 2006’s “Get Used to It”) and several side projects along the road, The Brand New Heavies were back in business in 2013. The brilliant “Forward” introduced the world to British singer Dawn Joseph. Joseph is again fronting the band on the powerful successor “Sweet Freaks” and will do so on the forthcoming, much anticipated concert tour of Europe commencing in late 2014.

“I just love creating music. It’s the ultimate rush for me to see, hear and know that our efforts make people happy. That is one feeling I will never grow tired of.” Muses Levy reflecting on The Brand New Heavies’ longevity: “There is camaraderie, a friendship that keeps us going. Even through the darker times of which there surely have been a few over the span of this career.  At the moment, though we are just great. Especially with this new album coming out, I feel immensely positive about the future. I wouldn’t be surprised if we might actually have another ten albums in us. You never know…“

Indeed. Given the drive, the energy and the sheer quality of “Sweet Freaks”, thinking about a world without new music by The Brand New Heavies would not only be painful, it would be plain ludicrous. Not now. Not in a very long time.