Mount Pleasant is the second instalment of a trilogy for Newcastle-based British funk vanguards Smoove & Turrell that began with 2016’s ‘Crown Posada.’
A deeply personal album, ‘Mount Pleasant’ traces a relationship, even if the exact nature of the relationship is never made explicit. Simultaneously it’s a relationship between two people; between a funk-duo and their roots; between a man and his demons; between music as passion and profession; and between working and living. It explores the problems of dependency – on music, on others, on society and on the past. If ‘Mount Pleasant’ stands proudly alone, but not apart, from ‘Crown Posada’, it’s because everything about it yearns to.
The record’s soundscape is as varied as its themes, moving from the introspective songwriting set against ambient jazz-funk of Billie via the ecstatic, brassy blues-funk of I Feel Alive and eventually down into a darker, edgier sound that channels Jim Morrison’s guttural staccato vocals on Mr. Hyde complete with Manzareck-esque keyboard riffs. There are 80s touches too, notably the instrumental section of Hate Seeking Missile.
London-based Blues singer-songwriter Izo Fitzroy gives voice to the silent partner in You’re Gone. Largely though, this is Jonathan Scott Watson (Smoove)’s production and John Turrell’s vocals for an hour of northern funk.
A Deckham Love Song feels like the centrepiece to the album – an ode to a lost world of smoky post-northern soul pubs, clubs and bars in which Watson and Turrell grew up, forced to watch from the outside thanks to their age, and eventually turned into their own northern funk.
There’s still room for some of Smoove & Turrell’s trademark socio-political critiques on this record too, though. Hate Seeking Missile, written just after Joe Cox’s murder in the run-up to the EU referendum, calls for a ‘hate seeking missile made from you and me.’ Or there’s Flames to Feed where the drudgery of modern life is a slavery begins with a little plastic credit card and leaves you dancing to an algorithm until the day you don’t breathe.
This feels like an album Smoove & Turrell had to make to exercise their own demons – as Turrell barks, ‘I had to make you, so I could break you.’ Fans of well-crafted, thoughtful, British soul-funk will be glad they did.