REVIEW: HOMECUT album + launch party, ‘NO FREEDOM WITHOUT SACRIFICE'

Homecut - album

Homecut’s frontman Andrew Brooks, aka Testament wasn’t to know that the day he chose to launch his album ‘No Freedom Without Sacrifice’ , Wednesday 10 June, was to be blighted by a tube strike. That gave certain lazy Londoners the excuse not to show up, even though the venue was in central London (Brick Lane) and is quite easily accessible by overhead train and/or the bus. It was their loss anyhow and they missed out on a decent night. Industrial action notwithstanding, there were some resilient members of Joe Public in attendance who made use of the numerous other forms of transportation to come and support Homecut.

The show got off to an acoustic start with the peculiar choice of support act, Millie Blue. I say peculiar because Millie’s ukulele and double-bass accompanied folk songs were a sharp contrast to Homecut’s fusion sound. This in itself is not a bad thing except the audience who came to see Millie were clearly not there to listen to Homecut and most left as soon as she had finished. Besides that, the down-tempo feel of Millie’s material didn’t adequately prepare the atmosphere for Homecut’s energetic performance. Perhaps there should have been another act in between to sonically bridge the gap. Nevertheless Miss Blue does what she does well. Her disarmingly sweet voice almost disguised the tongue-in-cheek, acerbically witty lyrics of her songs.

After a rousing introduction by premier spoken-word artist Verbswish, Testament and the gang were on stage in full force. There’s something about Homecut that takes you back to the tradition of the solid live act – making sure that seeing them perform in the flesh is every bit as rewarding as the recorded material. There are certainly things you get from Homecut on stage that is not replicated on their album. ‘The Homecut Mixtape’, a real crowd pleaser that get’s the audience singing along to their favourite Hip Hop tracks from the likes of A Tribe Called Quest and Busta Rhymes, is a treat reserved for those at the live shows. There’s the obligatory re-arrangement of album tracks that remind the audience this group aren’t here to sing glorified-karaoke renditions of their own stuff. On the night, for example, an interpolation of Stevie Wonder’sLiving Just Enough For The City’ put a different spin on the track ‘The City Song’ as it reached its denouement. The live rendition of ‘Participant’, in particular the bass-line, gives the song a more 80s soul feel than is obvious on the album version. Andreya Triana joined Homecut on stage for an impassioned interpretation of ‘Breakdown’ complete with actual (and very deliberate) breakdown in the middle of the song leaving Miss Triana to sing all but acappella before the band come back in with a vengeance. Testament’s high octane performances are enhanced by hugely entertaining banter between songs and even more importantly a group of air-tight, stellar musicians from all over the North of England. Taz Moni on keys, Les Johnson on drums, Kenny Higgins on bass, Gareth Parry on guitar and Taylor Jackson on backing vocals, make for a well-oiled machine but one with a lot of heart. Although the line-up of musicians rotates a lot more than some bands, it is clear that Testament has a great relationship with all those whom he collaborates based on their sonic cohesion and easy personal rapport.

As the night drew to a close Homecut indulged the crowd with two encores rolled into one when Testament and the crew did their own take on ‘Umi says’ by Mos Def and ‘Move on Up’ by Curtis Mayfield as a medley.

So now onto the album. The challenge for acts that gear themselves so much towards the live experience is recreating the magic –energy-wise if nothing else – on record. I’m glad to say Homecut manage to succeed on that front. The prevailing impression of this album – from the thoughtful liner notes that go with each song to the epic choral arrangement of the intro -is that it is a Labour of Love. Many an artist might analogise the creative process to giving birth so that it is almost cliché to say. Yet it is evident that ‘No Freedom Without Sacrifice’ is a child much longed for by its creative parents and the gestation period has been lengthy…and well worth the blood, sweat and tears. The result is a mature, assured debut. Homecut engage in introspection without forgetting the need for levity in the sometimes arduous journey of life (cross ref. the Ecclesiastes 3:11 interlude). They toe the line well between catchy hooks and writing with substance, that avoids straying into the obscure. Every song is penned/co-written and produced by Testament and he plays keys, guitar and percussion on a few of them too. If you’re looking for you-could-have-fooled-me imitations of American emcees you won’t find them in Testament. He has his own style of delivery that is unabashed in its British-ness. More power to him, I say, as most of the time he makes it work. The only exception for me being on ‘Harmony’, a track about miscegnation and the prejudice facing interracial couples such as his own parents. The intentions and sentiment of the track are well and good. Having said that it’s difficult to broach the subject of integration and racial harmony without sounding a tad cheesy, by virtue of the topic being so hackneyed.

As expected, ‘No Freedom…’ pays humble respect to its forbears with echoes of the ‘conscious’ Hip-Hop of the late 80s/early 90s as well as nods to samba, West African Hi-Life, disco and a firm salute to the great Jazz maestros. Songs like ‘Time Difference/Cross The Road’, ‘Bring it all together’, ‘Breakdown’ and the first single ‘I don’t even know’ (feat Corinne Bailey Rae and Soweto Kinch) prove that Homecut are not forsaking posterity and future relevance just to get several spins on Kiss FM. That is not to say that ‘No Freedom…’ isn’t radio-friendly; on the contrary. The very appealing ‘City Song’ has something so instantly recognisable about it that it’ll make for a great follow-up single (hint, hint to FirstWord Records). Then there’s ‘YKTE (You Know The Ending)’ with its ever pertinent theme and easy-to-pick-up chorus, sung in an inoffensively flat, eerily serene manner by Leesun.

Homecut eschew the tradition of heavy-reliance on samples so it’s live all the way on their recordings as well as on stage. At the risk of repetition, Homecut’s musicians are a quality bunch; their dedication to the project reflected in the level of craftsmanship. The ludicrously funky bass-line (courtesy of Kenny Higgins) and delicious guitar riff (played by Ben Barker) on ‘Innovators’ – a personal favourite- exemplify the creative gusto put into ‘No Freedom…’

As I am prone to mention I am not one who has a high tolerance threshold for straight Hip-Hop albums, no matter how well they are made. I am far too much a fan of vocals to listen to the most skilled emcees rhyme continuously without beaucoup de melodious singing to break things up. Thus it would take a lot to get me to fully appreciate any Long Player heavily infused with rap. Thankfully, the versatility of ‘No Freedom…’ – its fine, fine instrumentation, melt-in-the-mouth vocal arrangements, and the strong sense of narrative driving each song, are enough to win over even a rap-skeptic like myself. Having spent the last few days with ‘No Freedom Without Sacrifice’ on rotation it is fair to say it is a worthy addition to any Summer-in-the-city soundtrack. Enough depth for satisfying bouts of mental mastication and enough groove to get you shaking your culo in respectable fashion. To pilfer a line from ‘Innovators’, Homecut’s debut truly has something of the ‘instant vintage’ about it.

No Freedom Without Sacrifice’ is now available on ITunes, Amazon and @ www.firstwordrecords.com. For more information on the band and tour dates please visit www.myspace.com/homecut.

by Tola Ositelu.

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