Yo Mama's Big Fat Booty Band | Onward! | Review
What’s in a name? For a band, a lot. A band’s name often gives a descriptor to their image, something that can vaguely sum up what the band is all about. The Beach Boys wrote songs about being on the beach. The Allman Brothers were a band made up of brothers named Allman. Aerosmith...I’ll get back to you on that. But my point remains. Band names are like the tagline to their music. It’s what people see first and remember the most. So when you name your band Yo Mama’s Big Fat Booty Band, people are going to look at you weird.
The Booty Band is in an unusual spot, sporting a silly name while also making serious music. It’s something that’s been going on for years, ever since their inception in 2002. And they’re not gonna change their name anytime soon. Their album covers, website, and posters all revolve around big asses. It’s not a bad strategy. You have to admit, the name elicits double takes. The music just has to be able to back it up.
The Asheville quintet advertise themselves as a kind of neo-funk band, but upon listening to the eight songs on their new album Onward!, they seem to stick to the roots of funk: guitar, bass, horns, and an unstoppable organ. Many of the songs have a psychedelic tinge to them, sounding not unlike 60s heavy hitters such as Iron Butterfly and Band of Gypsys-era Jimi Hendrix.
With all respect to vocalist Mary Frances, what drives the Booty Band (as well as funk in general) are the grooves. If you can’t move to the beat, there’s something wrong. And Onward! is mostly filled with instrumental bits. Whether it’s the 5-plus-minutes slow build in “The Den” or the frenetic, Latin-tinged “Sanchez,” the band can and will use all the tools available to stuff the track with more and more sound. Most of the tracks on Onward! follow this formula, often with success. However, when the songs don’t pan out, they flop massively.
Onward!’s biggest misstep is “Precious Moments,” a schizophrenic track that sounds part mariachi band, part Santana, part autotune, part tabla drums, with guys rapping over it all, spitting about social justice, self-motivation, and just telling the listener to fucking get with it. It’s impossible to parse. Additionally, with most rap, lyrics are the focus, while the production stays behind the MC and loops. This style directly clashes with funk’s natural tendency to swirl and circle back on itself as a song develops. Given these issues, all the momentum on the album grinds to a halt with “Precious Moments.”
Thankfully things rev up again with the following track, “Reasons.” It’s a jazzy toe-tapper that gets right back into the band’s comfort zone: swishing guitars, stabbing horns, droning organ, and ebullient vocals from Frances.
However, the album ends with what one could call a “bonus track,” not in name, but in style. As the last horn blasts of “Sanchez” come to a close, a programmed hip hop beat comes in, and the rappers return. You have now entered the “Trunk Fallin’ Off” zone, where everything is wrong. It’s an altogether-cringeworthy track hinging on the hook, “The Booty Band has got your trunk fallin’ off,” repeated ad nauseum, backed by synth beats du jour. I’m aware it’s largely a joke and should be treated as such, but after a minute or so I thought, “Oh goodness, this is far too silly.”
But part of the band’s sentiment is one of fun and silliness. It’s hard to chastise a band for that. Music doesn’t have some kind of fun police that slaps people on the wrist if they so much as smile when they play their songs. And I can’t even get mad at the album’s cover: Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man, replaced by a black woman whose enormous afro is only rivaled by the size of her humongous butt. For Pete’s sake, one of their lead singles from a previous album is simply titled “@$$.” The Booty Band have chained themselves to their image, for better or for worse, and regardless of what prudes may say, they’re gonna do what they please. These guys aren’t gonna be staring at their shoes when they perform live. And so, while Onward! does well with its jams and struts, the oddball tracks don’t pan out well. The entire package cannot work as well on an album than in a chaotic live venue where they can show all their *ahem* assets.