TapRoots, The Resonance Within, Album Review By Vanessa Adel
March 23, 2023
How do we face these times? How do we handle our uncertain planetary and collective future? The new TapRoots album, The Resonance Within, offers a response. Its tracks are fire. Its songs are medicine.
The ten songs of this phenomenal album tap into a deep reservoir of transformative musical traditions from around the world – Afrobeat, funk, hip hop, Puerto Rican bomba, Cuban rumba, salsa, and soul; inviting us to rejoice in the planetary brilliance of life on earth, and to revel in global human connection. This album does not shy away from the fact that the paths we choose and how we choose them are spiritual considerations. It honors the Orisha tradition, as well as the many energies and spirits that shape multiple realms, urging us to listen deeper – to resonate with our world instead of dominating and destroying it. The album does this with great joy and with great skill.
Matthew King, the musician and producer behind TapRoots who plays percussion, organ, guitar, and sings vocals on the album, conceived of these songs in his home during the height of the pandemic. The musicians King has gathered are the real deal. The recording features 31 musicians playing an astounding range of instruments, each adding a layer of depth and complexity that is transporting.
It’s like listening to thousands of brilliant flowers blooming in unison. The caliber of the artists on this album makes King’s compositions soar. And true to the spirit of celebrating many voices and styles, each instrument and vocalist flourishes in a call and response of epic and beautiful resonance. Truly, this is a feast of musical vibrancy.
And with this many cooks in the kitchen, nothing is muddled. Every song is powerful and soulful. Each transition flows beautifully within and across the songs. Between lyrics, each of the songs give us space to soak in the funk of the electric guitar, the meandering of the keyboards, the playfulness of the drums, and that horn section – that horn section! There is so much life, joy and good energy here.
The first sounds that open the album are gentle waves coming ashore. This is Song for the Ocean, an ode to the ocean and to the powerful Orisha of Yemayá who is honored at the beginning and the end of this second album from TapRoots. Here, King expresses his gratitude to the ocean while acknowledging the harm humans are inflicting on Yemayá, asserting a commitment to defend her waters. In so doing, he invites us to join in her defense. “As defenders of your waters/we cleanse the world with you.” This opener sets a tone of spiritual commitment that is at once an environmental and musical one. For what is life, but bountiful vibration?
Nature’s Law brings in a funky baseline and highlights the role of change – the fact of change and the fact that despite what humans choose to do, ultimately, nature speaks back, and we are bound to her order, not ours: “You feel it break/the past now outgrown/now the only law is nature’s own.” The horn section, played by Ron Bertolet, Danny Flam, and Kai Sandoval layers on top of soaring keyboards played by Jordan Giangreco, and a groove that leads an almost cinematic journey to the song’s triumphant finale.
The title track, Resonance, gently invites us to come ashore to revel in the connections between and among our communities and environments, as well as with the legacies of soulful music from around the world, especially those that are rooted in resistance. Resonance starts with an earnest melody backed by a breezy soulful rhythm: “leave despair behind/unwrap it from your soul.” Then the horns gather this accumulating energy to announce a joyful transition into a salsa/timba dance fest: “Canta con TapRoots . . . es una cosa diferente!” The song ends by calling us to joy, to human genius echoing and transforming the beat of life to reveal one planet in conversation.
Gumbo is a rousing song in which multiple senses are teased: “I hope that you’re hungry. . . just a little more spice/this sofrito is paradise.” This song celebrates the way that good food brings us together and brings us back to ourselves and to each other while also serving as a metaphor for living a multiculturally fluent life. The song features verses by the hip-hop artists, Catalyst and Force, mixing words to cook up social critique and different possibilities: “I brought a cornucopia tryna cope with the/ notion it’s open season this soul food I’m seasoning.”
Forgotten Ghost is a song in two movements that King originally wrote in the early 90s. Explaining how he wrote the first song while traveling through El Salvador, King said he remembered “feeling the spirits of those whose lives have been lost to war all around me.” The second section of this song was written after King got back from living in India. He reworked it here to act “as a kind of ballet for one of the ghosts who had been left behind in the first section of the song.” This song is profound. In it, disparate musical forms and human histories weave in and through one another offering care for lost souls: those left behind in the throes of too many global wars, and those of us who might be listening. The song urges us to “look deep within and call upon/the memories of your blood/to guide you through tomorrow.”
The last sound on Forgotten Ghost is the second syllable of the word rely, and this becomes the first sound on Everything is Rumba. This is part of the genius of this album: every single layer resonates with every other layer; and the transitions between and inside songs make leaps and links that tie everything together while keeping it all moving and bursting with different kinds of sound, like fractals generating and regenerating. The songs are distinct, and they are in conversation with each other; just like individuals and collectives. This particular song is also in conversation with the previous album, echoing the original song, “Everything,” on the TapRoots debut. The lyrics are reworked to fit the context of living in a global pandemic, and the percussion here is just fantastic. The congas, batá drums, claves, maracas, and clapping keep the pulse while being supported by powerful vocals that carry a message from the last album to this one.
Percussion from batá and the shekere open the next song, Obatalá. The keyboard follows, then the drums and guitar, and when the horn section comes in, we know for sure we’re in Fela-land. This song is a wonderful tribute to Nigerian phenom, Fela Kuti, founder of Afrobeat. The beat shapes the song, enabling it to ride smoothly across stunning transitions where the signature Fela call and response chorus is interspersed with jazz keyboard played by Abe Sanchez and Jesse Ball, as well as killer saxophone by Frank Newton. Adding profound intensity are the batá drums played by Victor “Papo” Sterling, Rene Gonzalez, and Robert “Bobby” Torres.
In Ojalá, it is Cuban great, Silvio Rodriguez’s turn to be honored.This heartbreak song opens with an electric groove that puts jazz fusion in conversation with Afro Cuban Palo rhythms, in which percussion is a way to communicate with ancestral spirits. Ahmed Gonzalez plays flute in this section, lifting the TapRoots feel higher and higher, handing the song’s fervor to phenomenal singer, Yaya, who transitions the piece seamlessly into an interpretation of Silvio Rodriguez’s song that lifts, ripples, and holds passionate intensity with funambulist precision. In the final section, the TapRoots band with King on back-up vocals picks up the energy for a series of crescendos that meet Yaya’s powerful singing, making the song sizzle out of the speakers. It’s an extraordinary rendition of a beautiful song.
In Remembering the horns come back in full swing to challenge us to consider the choices we make, and to be clear about the relationship between making choices and setting boundaries for ourselves and for each other. How do we resonate? “Walking out that door/will you bring peace or war/ we all got to choose.”
In its final moments, the album drops us off where we began, with the ocean, with Orisha spirit, Yemayá, the mother of all Orishas, protector of women and children and future generations. Song for the Ocean (traditional) has the most beautiful harmonies sung by King and I-Shea. It feels like a lullaby, with the cowry-shell woven shekere echoing the sleepy waves. The final sounds are those of the coquis who beckon us back to life on the land. So ends the musical feast that is TapRoots.
In a world of dissonance and strife, TapRoots proclaims with joy and hearty struggle: resonate! As the title song sings: “let the rhythm wake you, dance and you’ll be whole.” Stream it, download it, get the CD – whatever way – accept this triumphant invitation to connect with the vibrancy of life itself.
08 Apr Sugar Kings with TapRoots Nobscot, MA
28 Apr TapRoots and Rebelle Easthampton, MA
27 May TapRoots and Jazzbombeando! Keene, NH
01 July Hawks and Reeds PAC Greenfield, MA
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