Facebook’s recent advertising campaign is all about, among other things, how fake Facebook accounts aren’t really our friends. But it’s depressing that we’re even at the point where we need an advertising campaign to help people understand what constitutes a friend. The idea of friendship is one of many things that makes Something Smells Funky ‘Round Here, by Elvin Bishop’s Big Fun Trio, such an entertaining, and sadly, educational, album.
Elvin Bishop’s Big Fun Trio features Bishop, best known for his role in the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, singing and playing guitar. He’s joined by Bob Welsh on piano, guitar and organ, and Willy Jordan on cajon and vocals. There’s no other instrumentation on the album (other than accordion on “My Soul”). The songs are loosely arranged (even more than on their self-titled debut), often feeling improvised. The tracks have an ethereal quality, too, making you feel not so much like you’re hearing the album, but rather that you’re overhearing it. It makes for a warm, intimate experience, like listening to old friends catch up.
Bishop’s voice is weathered, and while it works well for the album, a lot of his singing is more talking over the music. The title track is a political rant played over a blues dirge. But hearing the back-and-forth between Bishop and Jordan, you can’t help but laugh. You also can’t help but notice Jordan has a much, much stronger voice. Jordan’s sweet, soulful voice shines through on the band’s tight, delightful cover of Jackie Wilson’s “(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher.” Bishop and Welsh use nothing but distorted guitar stabs to recreate Wilson’s much more lush version. Jordan’s voice has a sadness and world-weariness that Wilson lacked, but he still manages to nail the high notes. And the drumming, also provide by Jordan, is somehow propulsive while using just the faintest of beats.
The beats are another amazing part of this album. It grooves like crazy without the benefit of a full drum kit or even a bass guitar. It’s driven by cajon, which is really just a box, and a couple of guitars. But the three men are so completely locked into the music, and to each other, that the music resonates. “That’s the Way Willy Likes It,” an original tune, is a great example of this, rolling along like a hiccup you enjoy, the vocals soaring over a sexy, funky beat that’s pretty much comprised of nothing but friendship and respect.
Something Smells Funky ‘Round Here is beautiful chaos, but the kind of chaos only experienced, solid musicians could create. They’re not using minimalist instrumentation to obscure their talent or prove their restraint. Elvin Bishop’s Big Fun Trio is using minimalist instrumentation to create impressively expansive songs. It’s the type of music that only works when you have the right people in the same room listening intently to each other. And it’s the type of album that might become an endangered species if people continue to mistake incidental digital interactions for meaningful relationships.