The title of The New Mastersounds’ latest, Breaks from the Border, refers to the fact that the album was recorded in the border town of Tornillo, Texas, but it may as well refer to the musical position in which the band finds itself in the wake of the album’s release. With the incorporation of vocals into the band’s intoxicating instrumental mix of funk, jazz, and soul, the quartet finds itself at a precipice. A few vocal touchstones to help lodge their addictive grooves even further into listener’s brains may just change the course of their musical existence. It’s always daunting for fans and musicians alike when a band with a tried-and true formula decides to change the plan, but they need not fear. The vocals only add to the experience, and the album actually sounds more immediate and genuine than any of their other studio releases. After hearing the relentless vintage funk attack and catchy vocals of Breaks from the Border, it’s not hard to imagine the band eventually rising first to the summit of their genre, and then into the rarified air above.
The band flirts with the boundaries of their charted territory, skirting afrobeat with “Walk in These Shoes” and jazzy light rock gold with “Up in the Air.” Guitarist Eddie Roberts can’t help but shine throughout, his righteous jazz chording and intelligent solos blazing a trail trough Joe Tatton’s goopy organ and Rhodes backdrop. Tunes like “Can You Get It,” “Take What You Need” and “On the Border” fall instrumentally in line with the rest of the NMS oeuvre, but the band’s subtly harmonized vocal additions add a touch of everyday accessibility. The juxtaposition also works on more than one level. “Run the Gauntlet” is classic instrumental NMS, with Simon Allen and Pete Shand’s breakneck rhythms propelling sensationally suspenseful solos from Roberts and Tatton, while “Passport” and “Free Man” are essentially pop vocal tunes in a soul-jazz wrapper. With Breaks from the Border, The New Mastersounds have expanded their vision and achieved funk perfection.