The Menahan Street Band is a collaboration of musicians from Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings (Dave Guy, Homer Steinweiss, Fernando Velez, Bosco Mann), El Michels Affair (Leon Michels, Toby Pazner), Antibalas (Nick Movshon, Aaron Johnson) and The Budos Band (Mike Deller, Daniel Fodder), brought together by musician/producer Thomas Brenneck (Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings, Budos Band, Amy Winehouse) to record hits in the bedroom of his Menahan St. apartment in Bushwick, Brooklyn.
With influences reaching beyond the funk/soul/afrobeat architecture of their other projects into the more ethereal realms of Curtis Mayfield and Mulatu Astatke, the Menahan Street Band creates a unique new instrumental soul sound that is as raw as it is lush. Their debut album, Make the Road by Walking was released on Dunham Records, Brenneck’s new imprint of Daptone Records, a joint venture devoted to bringing the Menahan Street sound from Brenneck’s bedroom out into the world. The album is marked by eerily quirky arrangements, featuring vibes, horns, piano, organ, percussion and even a strange bling sound that Brenneck creates by tuning and plucking the strings of his guitar on the wrong side of the bridge. However, it is not the textures themselves that make the new sound of Menahan Street so exciting, but rather the way the sounds are incorporated into the heavy rhythms and bold melodies of the compositions.
The title of the album was inspired both by the eponymous community center below Brenneck’s apartment and the natural rhythm that has continued to move this project forward. Shortly after its release as Dunham’s debut 45rpm single, the song "Make the Road by Walking" was sampled by fellow Brooklynite Jay-Z for his smash hit from American Gangster, "Roc Boys (and the Winner Is)", (later declared by Rolling Stone to be the No. 1 single of 2007).
Make the Road by Walking is a soulful exploration by a talented young group of musicians into the possibilities of instrumental music; an original, personal, and uncompromised creation that embodies the sound of a select group of musicians in one distinct place, at one particular moment in time. “This album is kind of a window into our world on Menahan Street,” says Brenneck. “In a way, we’re simply the street’s unofficial house band.”
The acclaimed Brooklyn-based multi-instrumentalists in Menahan Street Band are set to release their sophomore album titled The Crossing on October 30 2012, via Daptone Records imprint Dunham Records. The album’s title track premiered on RollingStone.com and MSB are set to perform their new songs on the road this fall, as they head out with Charles Bradley for a west coast run. See current tour dates below.
In addition to their role as the official house band for Brooklyn-based Dunham Records, Menahan Street Band has received critical praise for their oft-sampled 2008 debut album Make The Road By Walking (sampled by Jay-Z, 50 Cent, Kid Cudi, Curren$y, and more) and for backing breakout soul singer Charles Bradley on his 2011 debut album No Time For Dreaming (co-written and produced by MSB co-founder and multi-instrumentalist Thomas Brenneck).
“Vibe is a quintessential element in what I’m going for,” says Brenneck of creating the album. “Vibe, mood and emotion.” Those three elements are all over The Crossing, from the opening drum roll of the ominous title track, through the final burst of wah-wah guitar on the closing “Ivory and Blue.” The Crossing takes you on a cinematic instrumental journey through a nocturnal landscape of moods and emotions, propelled by funky, hip-hop-influenced grooves and dream-like horn and keyboard melodies.
Despite Menahan Street Band’s deep connections to the Brooklyn soul scene, The Crossing isn’t soul music per se… it’s more like “dark night of the soul” music. “I recorded a lot of it from midnight until the sun came up, all the weird synthesizers and slide guitar,” Brenneck notes. “A lot of it was really moody, just me going slightly out of my head in the middle of the night. And that was the mood I wanted to evoke when people listen to it, to put them in deep thought — your mind should wander into some weird places when you’re listening to this.”
Recorded over a period of nearly two years, The Crossing is an 11-track sonic testament to the fruitful creative relationship that exists between band: Brenneck, drummer and band co-founder Homer Steinweiss, bassist Nick Movshon, trumpeter Dave Guy and tenor saxophonist Leon Michels. The five members have been playing together in one project or another since the early 2000s, when they were all members of The Dap-Kings. Antibalas keyboardist Victor Axelrod, a former Dap-King himself, played organ on two of the album’s tracks, while The Budos Band’s Mike Deller contributed piano.
“Originally MSB was just about us wanting to make some music for ourselves that was outside of the tight-knit formula of the music we were playing in the Dap-Kings and Antibalas, and wanting to embrace the fact that we grew up on hip-hop and classic rock,” adds Brenneck. “There’s a discipline that goes into playing Fela’s music, and that goes into playing James Brown music; we love that to death, and we studied it hard in order to be able to play it with any sort of authenticity. But I love Neil Young, The Beatles, and Jimi Hendrix, and we all love Wu-Tang Clan and the early RZA productions as much as we all love Stax and Motown. With MSB, we can really let all these influences show.”
The Crossing’s more mature and expansive sound is also the result of the place where it was recorded. Dunham Sound Studios is the all-analog recording studio Brenneck built four years ago in Brooklyn with Steinweiss which was funded by a royalty check they received after Jay-Z sampled the title track of Make The Road By Walking for his 2007 hit, “Roc Boys (And the Winner Is…)”. Other artists that have performed/recorded at Dunham Sound and with Menahan Street Band include Mark Ronson, Rufus Wainwright, Cee-lo Green, Theophilus London and Diane Birch, among many others.