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Menahan Street Band

One of the most celebrated acts on the retro-soul scene, the Menahan Street Band are significantly more eclectic than many of their peers, as likely to be influenced by vintage jazz, world music, and classic film scores as R&B dusties treasured by crate diggers. Founded by producer and guitarist Thomas Brenneck, the instrumental group always sound soulful even when they're not strictly playing R&B, and they've cut a handful of memorable albums as well as backing other artists (most notably Charles Bradley). 2008's Make the Road by Walking, the group's debut, was full of bold atmospheric grooves that were combed through for samples by Jay-Z, Kendrick Lamar, Kid Cudi, and 50 Cent, while 2021's The Exciting Sounds of the Menahan Street Band found them full of fresh ideas after a nearly ten-year break. Thomas Brenneck initially formed the Menahan Street Band as a studio group to serve as the house band for Dunham Records, the soul-oriented label he started as an offshoot of Daptone Records. Brenneck assembled the group from members of other acts that were part of the Daptone extended family, including Dave Guy (trumpet), Bosco Mann (bass), Fernando Velez (percussion); Homer Steinweiss (drums) of Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings; Aaron Johnson (trombone); Nick Movshon (bass) of Antibalas; Mike Deller (organ) and Daniel Fodder (bass) of the Budos Band; Leon Michels (multi-instrumentalist), and Toby Pazner (keyboards) of El Michels Affair. The first Menahan Street Band recording was a single, "Make the Road by Walking" b/w "Karina," that Brenneck cut using a makeshift studio setup in the bedroom of his Brooklyn apartment. Not long after the single appeared, Brenneck was introduced to Charles Bradley, a journeyman soul singer who worked as a James Brown tribute artist when he couldn't land gigs with his own music. Brenneck was impressed by Bradley's talent, and with the MSB backing him up, he cut a single for Dunham, "The World (Is Going Up in Flames" b/w "Heartaches & Pain," that was released in 2007. After Jay-Z sampled "Make the Road by Walking" for the 2007 song "Roc Boys (And the Winner Is) …" from the album American Gangster, it boosted interest in the Menahan Street Band, and the group cut an album, also called Make the Road by Walking, which was studied for samples by a number of other major hip-hop acts. (Between record sales and sampling fees, Brenneck was able to move his studio out of his bedroom and into a loft in Queens.) As Bradley's career slowly took off, the MSB continued to serve as his accompanists, cutting an album with him, No Time for Dreaming, in 2011. The group found time to make a second album of their own, 2012's The Crossing, but between their work with Bradley on the albums Victim of Love (2013), Changes (2016), and Black Velvet (2018) and the individual members' work with their other groups, it was years before Brenneck was able to take the group back to the studio for an album of their own. In 2021, the Menahan Street Band rewarded their fans' patience with their third LP, The Exciting Sounds of the Menahan Street Band, which once again showed off their wide range of influences and impressive instrumental skills.
© Mark Deming /TiVo
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