For their seventh studio album, the Leeds, England-based band The New Mastersounds made the decision to record the album on American soil, a suitable decision since the band’s sound is rooted in old-school American funk. Breaks from the Border was recorded at the Sonic Ranch in Texas, near the Mexican border. The New Mastersounds, who have been making the rounds on the festival circuit for many years, expanded their fan base through extensive touring and developed a reputation as one of the pioneers in the revival of funk.
The New Mastersounds – Eddie Roberts on guitar, Simon Allen on drums, Peter Shand on bass and Joe Tatton on keyboards – added group vocals to the mix on Breaks from the Border, making the album sound even more like something straight out of New Orleans. Like on “Take What You Need”: the vocals are uncomplicated and balanced. The simple and straightforward repetition of lyrics only adds to the instrumentals, without overpowering any element.
“Run the Gauntlet” is a high-tempo track with an enticing interplay between the Roberts’ guitar and Tatton’s keys, held together by steady, solid drums and bass. “On The Border” seems to tell the story of the recording of the album during the summer of 2010 – singing “it’s hotter than hell on the border”. The vocals and keys take on a more central role on this track, with quieter guitar lines providing structure.
The upbeat anthem “Free Man” opens with some country-style guitar strumming and then takes on traditional storytelling, with somewhat tired vocals singing, “I’m a free man, king of my own world.” “Passport” again employs vocals that are more central to the song as a whole, overpowering the obviously talented musicianship and leaving the listener with only a weak chorus of, “Passport, ain’t got my passport. Passport, ain’t got my passport. Passport, ain’t got my passport.” And then, instead of ending the song, it just fades out.
Something about this album recalls the Beastie Boys’ The In Sound From Way Out or The Mix-Up (the Beastie Boys’ “Groove Holmes” and the New Mastersounds’ “Freckles” both have this easy-going yet deeply established groove, heavy on the organ). However, the New Mastersounds have a little more complexity, more of a compelling plotline. On “Josus,” like “Freckles,” Allen on drums and Shand on bass excel in constructing a pocket groove, allowing for the fun and energetic interplay between the keys and guitar, fundamental in the structure and balance of the song.
“Can You Get It” has stronger, more echoing vocals, singing, “Can you get it? This is British Soul / Can you get it? This is rock and roll… Play this shit till we’re dead in a hole.” Kind of trite, but definitely something you would hear on a funky studio album from the 70s. And the energy of their playing is contagious: the band lets loose and exudes a true dirty, funky vibe. The only thing missing, the only thing stopping Breaks from the Border from being a truly American funk album, is a horn section. Which is virtually essential in American funk. But then again, even though their musical roots stem from the Southern United States, the New Mastersounds are defying borders and doing things their own way. And they’re doing it really well.
Written by Grace Beehler