Published Nov 25, 2008In touring their 2008 release, Same As It Never Was, its funny that the Herbaliser display precisely the characteristics the discs title proclaims. Along with plenty of familiar cuts, the British pioneers of their stage format DJ plus live groove ensemble introduced Toronto to their most singer-driven album to date.
Attribute the delivery of that "same but different sound in no small part to new, permanent vocalist Jessica Darling. The bombshell additions gritty, rasping wails mark a somewhat raunchier R&B element of the groups latest direction, which favours more straight-ahead progressions on horns, keys and bass and less emphasis on the breaks and instrumental side of the Herbalisers repertoire. But overall this is far from an about-face.
Both in performance and recordings, the cinematic blend of their six earlier releases remains: choice samples, spy-caper, horn-laden acid jazz and conscious MC collaborations, in this case the special inclusion of hometown MC More or Les. Witnessed live, the alliance brought a special appreciation to the rapid-fire thrill of "Words and the tuba-funk groover "Game, Set and Match, the brunch-loving Toronto/Montreal rappers contribution to the album.
Darlings powerful pipes made an impressive Toronto debut and earned much crowd gratitude, from lead single "Cant Help This Feeling through to the encore for a feverish cover of "Too Hard To Handle and closing number "On Yo Knees. But, while the ensemble remained lean and locked-in, at times Darlings vocals seemed to fight with the baritone sax, trumpet and keys or with DJ Ollie Teebas scratches and transitions.
A certain gap was apparent between the earlier materials tempo-changing trickery and the somewhat more conventional progressions and structures of the latest tunes. Still, the packed houses patrons left sweaty, satisfied and properly Herbalised.