Album Review: The Cactus Channel, Wooden Boy

There have been some seriously good jazz ensemble bands coming out of Australia in the past few years, The Cat Empire being the stand out example. But bands like Sasquatch, Eagle and the Worm and the Melbourne Ska Orchestra have carved out equally fruitful careers with their mix of potent horns, lively performances and all-round solid musicianship.Melbourne’s The Cactus Channel can now be added to this list, with their latest release Wooden Boy—42 minutes of instrumental, funky and Latin-infused soul best enjoyed after midnight.TCC introduce the album with a twangy reverb-driven guitar, before horns pipe up with some accented and drawn-out notes on “Who Is Walt Druce?” which sets the tone for the next 9 songs. (I couldn’t figure out who Walt Druce is from Google, so I’m guessing it’s rhetorical.)Incidentally, there are two so-called “title tracks” on the album: “Wooden Boy (Part 1)” and “Wooden Boy (Part 3)”. However, the fact that there’s no part 2, no vocals and the two songs sound nothing alike means it’s practically impossible to figure out what concept connects the two tracks. This tends to distract from the musical elements on each track, specifically the urban grooves on Part 1 with its active kit work, and commanding trombone and sax line of Part 3.Effectively, the highlights of Wooden Boy have very little to do with the title tracks, and instead can be found on songs such as “Jorge Buccio”, where the trumpet channels a police car siren and creates that late-night-club-in-the-city feel I mentioned earlier.This feeling only strengthens with the organ flurries and strong brass melody on “Laika”, while the rhythm on “X-Ray Bear” gives you an idea of what James Brown songs would sound like without James Brown singing.The Cactus Channel leave their longest and most mellow material until last with “Black Flag And Lady Bountiful”, and it’s a smart decision given I’m still in club mode by the time I hear it. With this song, the bar stops serving drinks, the lights dim, and with the final soft, drawn out note the band says: “Ladies and Gentleman, night owls of this city, goodnight.”On Wooden Boy is some of the strongest backing music I’ve ever heard, and it wouldn’t surprise me if this brings the band to festivals in Australia and their music to public airwaves. (And with any luck, SYN!)by Alexander Darling

October 16th 2013
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