4 out of 5 stars
It won’t be long until Hollywood, looking to revive past glories, decides to remake some of the so-called “blaxploitation” films briefly popular in the early-mid ‘70s. And when they do, the Olympians are ready to provide the soundtrack.
They may not even have to record any more music for the updated versions of films like Shaft, Trouble Man, Coffy or Cleopatra Jones, since this all instrumental debut already perfectly captures and reproduces the sounds and overall vibe of that era.
Led by Toby Pazner, a member of the Daptone label family, who employs members of the Dap-Kings, Sugarman 3, El Michaels Affair, the Budos Band and Menahan Street Band, among others, this analog affair sounds cinematic even without the visuals. Sure it’s retro, but that hasn’t stopped Sharon Jones and company from finding a new audience for old school soul and it shouldn’t prevent any fan of the above bands from flocking to the Olympians.
The tunes, named after a combination of planets and Greek mythology figures (“Apollo’s Mood,” “Sirens of Jupiter,” “Diana by My Side”), capture the soulful strut that powered the best ’70s R&B instrumentals from “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy” and “Soul Serenade” to “Wade in the Water” and “Cleo’s Mood.” Add the occasional lush orchestration and some of the most soulful harp every recorded for a sweeping, irresistible, often romantic but never schlocky set of tunes that will not only take you back in time, but enhance your mood better than a pint of patchouli oil and a black lighted room of Lava lamps. Horns and keyboards replace vocals, both carrying the melody and providing hip-swiveling, jazzy backing for the whole affair to glide and swagger on.
Nearly eight years (on and off) in the making, the ad-hoc Olympians have created a studio concoction that’s sweet, sublime and stoked with as much attitude as Jones exhibits on stage on a feisty night. The effect does wear somewhat thin as the disc closes out its final third, but this is still a distinctive, meticulously rendered album that feels organic and entirely honest in its love for, and reproduction of, a bygone era.
From the dreamy strings, harp and horns that front the percolating rhythm section of “Mars” to the throbbing bass and brass that punctuate the closing “Sagittarius by Moonlight,” these tunes work either as background music as cranked on headphones, the preferred method to best appreciate the multiple layers of instrumentation.
Since the Olympians aren’t a real band, it’s unlikely they will tour. But if anyone ever decides to remake “Black Caesar,” there is no doubt who to call.