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The Brand New Heavies

The leading band of London's acid jazz scene, the Brand New Heavies have translated their love of sophisticated '70s funk grooves into an evolving danceable sound that has endured for over 30 years. The Brand New Heavies made their recorded debut near the end of the 1980s and thrived throughout the '90s, powered by vocalists N'Dea Davenport, Siedah Garrett, and Carleen Anderson. The band's first full decade was marked by the platinum U.K. Top Ten albums Brother Sister (1994) and Shelter (1997) and 15 U.K. Top 40 singles, ranging from originals like "Stay This Way," "Dream On Dreamer," and "Sometimes," to covers of '70s classics such as "Don't Let It Go to Your Head," "Midnight at the Oasis," and "You've Got a Friend." Although a knowing throwback approach is an outstanding aspect of their appeal, and they emerged during an era when hip-hop started to overtake R&B, the Heavies have remained contemporary and aren't purists, having frequently collaborated with rappers and younger producers. Since their most prolific decade, they've kept that mentality while more than doubling the length of their discography. Among their later highlights are Allabouthefunk (2004), their fifth charting album, along with Get Used to It (2016) and TBNH (2019), LPs graced by Davenport that respectively saw them return to early U.S. and U.K. label homes Delicious Vinyl and Acid Jazz. Formed in 1985 by drummer/vocalist Jan Kincaid, guitarist Simon Bartholomew, and bassist/keyboardist Andrew Levy -- school friends from the London suburb of Ealing -- the Brand New Heavies were originally an instrumental unit inspired by the James Brown and Meters records the musicians heard while clubbing in the rare groove scene that gave rise to acid jazz. The trio soon began recording their own music, gaining enormous exposure when their demo tracks were spun at the influential Cat in the Hat club. The Brand New Heavies added a horn section and built a cult following throughout the London club circuit. After a recording deal with Cooltempo yielded the single "Got to Give," the Heavies -- now including vocalist Jay Ella Ruth -- signed with the fledgling indie label Acid Jazz and were subsequently boosted by an affiliation with the larger FFRR. Recorded on a budget of just 8,000 pounds, the group's self-titled LP appeared in 1990 to strong critical acclaim, landed at number 25 on the U.K. album chart, and was powered by three Top 40 singles. Ruth left the band, and Delicious Vinyl, their new label for the U.S., hand-picked N'Dea Davenport as the successor. The Heavies subsequently re-recorded tracks from the debut for their first Stateside effort, also an eponymous release, which appeared in 1992. "Never Stop," which had narrowly missed the Top 40 in the U.K., reached number three on Billboard's R&B/hip-hop chart. A New York performance augmented by rappers Q-Tip and MC Serch inspired the group to cut another '92 release, Heavy Rhyme Experience, Vol. 1, which featured collaborations with Gang Starr, Main Source, and the Pharcyde, among other hip-hop acts that enhanced their credibility overseas. The 1994 effort Brother Sister hit number four in the U.K. and went platinum thanks to four Top 40 hits, including "Dream On Dreamer." Davenport left for a solo career and was replaced by Siedah Garrett, a veteran R&B singer/songwriter known most as the co-writer of Michael Jackson's "Man in the Mirror." The Heavies didn't miss a beat with Shelter, a 1997 LP that also contained four Top 40 singles and was certified platinum. Two years later, the group reappeared with a U.K. anthology entitled Trunk Funk: The Best of the Brand New Heavies, a set that also included new material fronted by Carleen Anderson, previously of Talkin' Loud signees Young Disciples. The title was recycled the following year for a U.S. compilation, Trunk Funk Classics: 1991-2000, which also featured a new song recorded with Davenport. After 2003's We Won't Stop, fronted primarily by Sy Smith, and 2004's Allabouthefunk, a self-issued collaboration with Nicole Russo, Davenport returned for a longer period that saw the Heavies through numerous projects well into the 2010s. Among these were 2006's Get Used to It, 2013's Forward, and the intermediary date Live in London. The musicians during this period also recorded an LP of library-style funk instrumentals titled Dunk Your Trunk. Dawn Joseph, who had contributed to Forward, took the spotlight on Sweet Freaks, the band's 2014 offering, but she left afterward, as did Jan Kincaid. The band, guided still by founding members Simon Bartholomew and Andrew Levy, continued performing over the next few years with different vocalists, and in 2019 returned to the Acid Jazz label for TBNH. Co-produced by longtime superfan Mark Ronson, its lead vocals were exchanged by past and current members N'Dea Davenport, Siedah Garrett, and Angela Ricci and guests including Beverley Knight and Angie Stone. Shibuya 357, a live set originally released only in Japan, was given wide digital release in 2021, almost 25 years after its first edition.
© Andy Kellman /TiVo
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Discography

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