I grew up 70 miles west of Detroit at a time when absolutely everything that Berry Gordy touched turned into solid Soul gold. The Motown label (and its galaxy of related imprints) was like the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval for Soul music; even the marginal stuff was danceable and cool. And because of my early exposure to Motown’s brilliance, I had a ready yardstick with which to measure every other branch of the Soul tree, particularly the Pop Soul out of Chicago, the Stax Soul of Memphis, the raucous R&B wail of Philly Soul and the hybridized Soul gumbo of New Orleans.
When Nashville guitarist/songwriter/producer Bill Elder (aka Leo Black) was trying to assemble a Soul band a few years back, he wanted to touch on all the houses of Soul that had sprung up around the country around the same time. Elder wanted Deep Funk, a gritty, visceral Soul sub-genre, to form the core of his band’s sound.
Elder built The Dynamites into a brilliant evocation of all things Soul/Deep Funk, but the band wasn’t complete until he installed Soul veteran Charles Walker as the group’s incendiary frontman (his long résumé includes opening for Wilson Pickett and James Brown at The Apollo in the late ’60s).
On their sophomore album, the just-as-aptly titled Burn It Down, The Dynamites improbably turn up the heat and bring their Soul simmer to a full boil. If James Brown was the Godfather of Soul, Charles Walker is his consigliore — he sings with hellhound conviction, divinely inspired passion and otherworldly intensity. A commandingly impressive voice like Walker’s would overwhelm all but the most accomplished and perfectly matched band. The Dynamites are equal to the task, providing a mesmerizing Funk canvas for the bold vocal strokes of their frontman.
Picking highlights from Burn It Down is like choosing your favorite limb or which major organ you’d be willing to part with, but in a set list bursting with faves, the jerking James Brown Soul of “Somebody’s Got It Better (Somebody’s Got It Worse),” the loping N’awlins Blues groove of “Do the Right Thing” and the Parliament-esque raw Funk of the title cut are all standouts. The Dynamites’ rolling, roiling Funk plus Walker’s cloudbusting Soul shout equals pure unadulterated joy and butts shaken and stirred. Equations don’t come any simpler or more elegant than that.
THE DYNAMITES FEATURING CHARLES WALKER play the MidPoint Music Festival at 11 p.m. Friday in the Southgate House Ballroom. Tickets are $12 advance and $15 at the door; MPMF three-day wristband holders get in for free. Buy tickets, check out performance times and get MPMF details here.