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Menahan Street Band's "Exciting" return, 5 Things to Know

By Gary Graff
ggraff@medianewsgroup.com, @GraffonMusic on Twitte

Posted: Thursday, February 25, 2021

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A great many people likely haven't heard of, or about, Menahan Street Band.

But they've definitely heard its music.

The Brooklyn-formed troupe -- whose six members also work with the Roots, the Black Keys, Budos Band, the Dap-Kings and Lee Fields and the Impressions -- has for years backed the likes of Charles Bradley and Sharon Jones, among others. That certainly keeps it busy, individually and collectively, but the group has made its own music since 2008, and its songs have been sampled by Kendrick Lamar, Jay-Z, Kid Cudi, Eminem, 50 Cent and other rappers.

Menahan returns Friday, Feb. 26 with "The Exciting Sounds of Menahan Street Band," the group's third album and first in nine years. The 14 instrumentals span that interim, and even before, and the set has actually been finished for two years, awaiting release. And that, according to guitarist and founder Thomas Brenneck, is something for he and his Street Band mates to truly be excited about...

Brenneck, 39, says by phone from Los Angeles, where he now resides, that Menahan Street Band was not conceived as a band that would necessarily release its own music on a regular basis. "The thing about these Menahan records is we'll kind of slowly work on them for years. The formula hasn't changed that much since the beginning. In between tours or making (other artists') albums, we would get together and record these songs for fun in my apartment. It wasn't like going into the studio. It was very much write and record on the spot, just for fun. That hasn't changed."

Brenneck adds that making Menahan music is "fun as hell" and decidedly different than when the musicians work on others' albums. "With this music, we kind of do it for ourselves. There's a certain chemistry within the band, and when I'm producing the records I try to capitalize on that chemistry. When you're writing for a singer, with lyrics, there are certain confinements. You want it to be comfortable for them to sing, melodically. You don't want to have jarring chord changes or anything like that. So we approach (Menahan's music) with a little more freedom. You can do interesting stuff in an instrumental that might only be a bridge, four or eight bars, in a vocal song."

"The Exciting Sounds'..." closing tune, "There Was a Man," is inspired by and dedicated to the late Charles Bradley, who passed away in 2017 and whose voice is sampled on the track. "I took Charles' death so hard, man," Brenneck says. "I was extremely depressed and very...drunk for a couple years, like sad drunk, and I didn't really know for awhile what was happening 'cause I was so shook by the loss. At the time I met him I was, like, 20, and he was so the genuine article of what a soul singer was, the music I loved to make. It was hard to have that chapter of my life be over, y'know?"

A couple of the new album's songs, "Silkworm" and "Cabin Fever," were conceived for a project with Black Thought of the Roots, who Menahan trumpeter Dave Guy also plays with. "For a year we were talking about doing an EP with Black Thought. Those songs were both really loose. Everybody was on different instruments...and the energy level goes through the roof when we do that 'cause we're excited to not play our main instruments. Those songs really capture that energy of when our band rotates instruments, and Black Thought sat in the room writing stuff. We never revisited those songs with him, but I love them so I put them on" the album.

Menahan's members remain busy playing for and producing other artists, but Brenneck -- who's also scored the upcoming documentary "Blood Brothers" -- says the group did some work together during early 2020 in New York, before the pandemic hit, and is also recording a new version of the "Ghostbusters" theme song for "Ghostbusters: Afterlife," due out in June. "They have a scene where the kids of the original Ghostbusters find their dads' old (stuff) and a 45 (single) that's, like a 60s version of the 80s 'Ghostbusters' -- as if Ray Parker Jr.'s was a cover of a 60s song. It's a really cool idea, so we cut a 60s-sounding version of 'Ghostbusters' while we were in New York, and it's pretty cool."

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