Here At Last
Here At Last
November 1, 2012
Buy at CDBaby
After the relatively tepid Viratia, Frank Klepacki took close to three years to return with his next album, Face The Funk, in 2012. That year turned out to be a big one for him though, as it also saw the release of his career retrospective Conquering 20 Years. Klepacki’s previous solo albums had delivered variations upon his Command & Conquer trademark mix of musical genres, exploring different facets of his signature sound. Here At Last was a departure from that trajectory – while funk had been an ingredient on all of Klepacki’s solo albums and part of his music since 1995’s Command & Conquer, Klepacki had never devoted a whole album exclusively to funk music.
As the album title not too subtly hints at, Here At Last was undoubtedly a project close to Klepacki’s heart. In an interview, he recalled watching legendary Funk band Sly & The Family Stone perform in the documentary feature Woodstock – “I said to myself, ‘that’s what I want to accomplish someday’”. Many years later, Klepacki toured with The Family Stone for three years, which was another inspiration for him to finally tackle an album like Here At Last. For the first time in his career, Klepacki assembled a group of session musicians for one of his albums. Dubbed Face The Funk, the group included Celine Dion’s horn section, with Nate Wingfield (Family Stone guitarist) and Walter Jones (former bassist for Gladys Knight) making guest appearances. Regarding the album’s style, Klepacki quoted a veritable who’s who list of old school funk legends as influences on Here At Last, including James Brown, Al Green and Kook & The Gang. In fact, the album was not just Klepacki’s love letter to 70s funk – in Klepacki’s words: “[…] because there are so few new artists doing this [style of music], I’ve pieced together an album and band to help re-introduce this music to the modern generation.”
Considering Here At Last‘s origin story, there are no surprises what awaits the listener: rollicking, energetic funk, full of catchy, irresistibly swinging hooks coming from the brass section and keyboard (in Hammond Organ mode), while wah-wah guitars and warm, grooving bass lines fire up the music. Klepacki’s decision to go with a full live ensemble pays off in spades – the vibrant sound of a live band is crucial for this kind of music, and particularly Here At Last‘s brass section does a marvellous job pumping out top-notch, punchy riffs. Here At Last doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel or put a new spin on the funk genre, as some of Klepacki’s earlier funk/rock/techno fusions did. Instead, Klepacki is happy to pen a glowing love letter to old school funk and resuscitate its sound. In that sense, Here At Last is formulaic – but it’s a winning, hip-swinging formula and Klepacki executes it near perfectly, pulling off his homage with apparent effortlessness. And let’s not forget that at least within Klepacki’s body of work, Here At Last is a well-timed step into new territory.
Like Klepacki’s earlier solo work Rocktronic, Here At Last shows him honing in on one genre and looking at it from different angles, although Here At Last is much more squarely focused on ‘its’ musical genre than Rocktronic. Here At Last‘s first half feels like one extended invitation to party. The melodies kicking the off opening track “Here At Last” are instantly hummable and straight away groove their way into listeners’ minds. After his vocal contribution on Viratia (“Seize The Human Side”), Klepacki returns to sing on all of Here At Last‘s cues, performing his own lyrics. While he’s not an outstanding singer, his performance is assured and solid, underlining that his lighter voice is more suited to funk than to metal. Even so, the soulful pipes of Princetta Saray, unfortunately only heard on “Here At Last” and “Give It Up”, outdo Klepacki and highlight the difference between good and great funk vocals. That’s a minor quibble though, since pretty much everything else about Here At Last is first-rate, down to the vivid album production and mix. While the mood doesn’t change much during the first half of the album, there are enough subtle differences to keep things fresh: “Cold Cash” features slicker grooves than “Here At Last” and a tense, nervy energy in its short brass outbursts; “It’s A Party” heads off into the night with mid-tempo, stomping rhythms; and “James Bond” displays some hard rock influences through a note-shredding electric guitar solo, an addition that definitely fits the bad ass nature of the character that the track underscores. Then again, you can’t help but wish that Here At Last would pull off such musical surprises a bit more often.
As Here At Last enters its second half, the album opens up a bit and moves away from the party atmosphere which made for such a welcoming start to the album. Tracks run longer and the music starts to turn more relaxed and seductive on the soul-inspired “You Are Everything”, which puts Klepacki’s voice into the foreground. Again, he’s certainly no Barry White or Van Morrison, and his delivery starts to sound a bit thin and forced once his voice reaches up into falsetto range for a few seconds. But generally, Klepacki’s voice carries the track well enough. “I Want To Be With You” equally has romancing on its mind, but expresses its urges with an edgier attitude and a steely, tangy bass line that brings harder funk elements into the mix. “One More Try” is the album’s third love song and one of Here At Last‘s stand out tracks – for the first time, the music turns introspective, led by a beautifully plaintive flute solo. By adding a jazzy flute to the ensemble, Klepacki again shows that he’s happy to work within a genre formula while still ensuring he makes the most of that particular genre’s expressive repertoire. The flute already made its debut earlier on “What You Told Me”, breaking up the swooning mood of the album’s second half and returning to more aggressive funk tones. “The Musical Life” closes the album on a celebratory note, as Klepacki looks back on his musical career – and there’s no question that he’s happy with what he sees and where he finds himself at. Fortunately, he shares his joy with his listeners for one more blast of snappy, bouncy brass melodies and just plain, simple fun. Once more highlighting the personal nature of Here At Last, “The Musical Life” also ends up functioning as a bridge to Klepacki’s next album and career retrospective, Conquering 20 Years.
Given Klepacki’s previous work and his funk credentials, there probably wasn’t much doubt that Here At Last would be another strong addition to his discography. And indeed, Klepacki crafts an album’s worth of vibrant, joyful funk songs that know when to party as well as when to slow things down to do a bit of romancing. Klepacki’s ensemble Face The Funk is a huge asset to the album, performing these songs with as much soul and skill as one could hope for. You won’t find much on Here At Last that you haven’t heard already on many other 60s/70s funk albums, but then again, that was the point of this album project. It’s a love letter to old school funk, and it could hardly be more entertaining.
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Posted on April 24, 2014 by Simon Elchlepp. Last modified on April 24, 2014.