Let’s (let us) begin by clarifying how the band Lettuce got its name. Just as we began the last sentence, it comes from “let us play” or its shorter refrain “let us.” Lettuce is a band that meets the jazz folks and the rock folks halfway, and yes, they surely have a jam band following too. There’s the old Meters and the newer Dumpstafunk in their sound. Throw in of course Tower of Power and a pinch of The Greyboy All-stars and you’re in the right realm. Unify is Lettuce’s eighth studio album, and the third, making it a trilogy of sorts, completed at Denver’s Colorado Sound Studios. The other two are 2019’s Grammy-nominated Elevate, and 2020’s Resonate.
Unlike those two, though, this is a pandemic recording, and the tunes did not have the benefit of being road-tested like they were on the previous two. As such, while there is unrelenting buoyant funk, and spontaneous sequences, the band may have slightly overdone it with sixteen tracks, including the three thirty-second interludes. Nonetheless, there are rousing vocal tracks mixed with the instrumentals, including a guest appearance from funk master Bootsy Collins, singing and playing bass on the aptly named “Keep That Funk Alive.”
The hip-shaking horn blast of “RVA Dance” is followed by the spoken word/sung Collins stint on “Keep That Funk Alive,” obviously a key track. The bass-heavy “Waffles” has a repetitive reggae/dub riff that never really explodes and instead becomes a bit weary whereas vocalist/keyboardist Nigel Hallmorphs the gospel “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright” into an exuberant funkified singalong with a keyboard solo that matches the intensity. The slower rolling “Hawk’s Claw,” like “Waffles” seems a bit misplaced but the churning boil of “The Lock” with Lockhart’s added guitar returns us to that gripping, energetic in-the-pocket groove, which is the band’s core strength, with both horns soaring above Deitch’s motoring kit work as the guitars and keys take a more psychedelic route.
As we get to the second half, we find tight, invigorating grooves in the vocal track “Change the World,” the funky syncopated, drum led “Gravy Train,” which has a terrific horn arrangement, the made-for-the-dancefloor “Shine,” and another stellar vocal turn from Hall on “Get It Together” with its punchy horns and Meters-like feel before the keyboardist launches a burning solo. The powerful play on words titled “Lett the World Know” follows in an engaging fashion to Deitch’s insistent beats and would have made a better closer than the dub-like, seemingly more experimental “Insta-Classic,” which unlike most of the others is not a likely candidate for the live shows.
As they say, it’s difficult to three-peat but Lettuce does more than enough here to solidify their well-earned status as one of today’s leading fun-and-funk bands.