Galactic has never seemed quite at home being the center of its own musical universe. That’s why the six musical hands making up the longstanding New Orleans groove troupe have preferred revolving around a shifting array of vocalists rather than having a permanent singer fronting the band or, heaven forbid, performing as an exclusively instrumental unit.
“There has always been this interest among the five of us to work with different vocalists,” said guitarist Jeff Raines, one of the half-dozen players that formed Galactic in 1994. “We did a few tours without one and it just wasn’t as interesting. I think when you tour as much as we do and as long as we have, people have to, intellectually, sort of be there. One way that has worked out for us was working with different vocalists and keeping the music fresh and new, at least in that side of the band.
“We kind of look at ourselves as a modern Booker T and the MGs in that respect. We’re a super tight backing band. That’s how all of this has kind of evolved. We’re always searching for varied singers, not really wanting to be tied down particularly to one. That had worked to our advantage and disadvantage, in some ways. It’s just how it has evolved. It has been an organic process for us to reach this point in a lot of ways.”
How the revolving vocalist theory plays out on Galactic’s 2015 album Into the Deep speaks directly to the freshness of the band’s music. Macy Gray guests on the solemn vintage soul grind that ignites the album’s title tune, Mofro chieftain JJ Grey helps pilot the earthy funk grind of Higher and Higher and gospel empress Mavis Staples reigns throughout the Band-meets-Muscle Shoals sway (highlighted by a particularly sweet guitar solo from Raines) of Does it Really Makes a Difference.
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“Our last record (2012’s Carnivale Electricos) had these themes and undercurrents going through it. For Into the Deep, we just wanted to let it fly and not really have any kind of unifying motif. It’s kind of where our mindset was. Then we got the ball rolling songwriting-wise and the tracks started coming together. We would sit around and talk about who we thought might work well on which track. Like the JJ Grey song, for instance. We thought, ‘All right, this has a kind of a rocking Southern vibe to it slightly. Let’s see what he thinks of it.’ The instrumental tracks came together first and then we let that be the guide for who we might want to work with on the tunes because they became vocal tunes eventually.
“We all loved the Macy Gray tune. That’s kind of why we named the record that. And Mavis… it was definitely hoochie coo to get her on the record. She’s just the nicest woman in the world. We felt very honored that she joined us.”
On tour (and for the Lyric concert), Galactic will streamline those inspirations via guest New Orleans vocalist Erica Falls, whose has clocked performance times with Sting, John Fogerty and the late Crescent City troubadour Allen Toussaint. As with the instrumental vets in Galactic — Raines, bassist Robert Mercurio, keyboardist Richard Vogel, drummer Stanton Moore, saxophonist Ben Ellman and trombonist Corey Henry — Falls is steeped in the musical traditions of New Orleans as well as the famed musicians that brought it to life. For Raines, such an inspiration was Leo Nocentelli, guitarist for the iconic New Orleans funk/soul collective The Meters.
“The first time I saw The Meters, I was 18. Seeing Leo Nocentelli, just the way he was fingering stuff on the guitar and playing behind solos as well as his own super shredder playing was awesome. But some of the more subtle stuff he was doing on record was just as incredible.
“New Orleans is one of those cities so very unique in American music. You turn the corner and there will be a brass band on the street. Then you’ll see kids ramping up for Mardi Gras parades, practicing their trumpets on their way home. It is a spectacularly unique place that really recharges the creative spirit.”
Read Walter Tunis’ blog, The Musical Box, at LexGo.com