Earlier this spring, local concert promoter Greg Bell celebrated his 20th year in the business of booking live music. Headlining the night was a band whose history goes back nearly as far, who rose to regional prominence on account of many of the jam-centric bills Bell booked in the mid-late ’90s. Growing up in New Hampshire, I never saw a Conehead Buddha show, but their name certainly drifted that far east on the label of Maxell tapes stuffed in the glove box of Volvo stationwagons and in the pages of tour zines like Homegrown. Formed in 1993, the H.O.R.D.E. veterans never achieved the following of a moe. or a Strangefolk—or their horn-fueled funk bretheren Deep Banana Blackout—but their trippy name had its place in the freaky constellation of northeastern jambands.
After disbanding in the early part of the last decade, elements of Conehead Buddha lived on locally through Lynch, a funk and hip-hop oriented group built around saxophonist Shannon Lynch and her brother, trumpeter Terry Lynch. It’s the seasoned horn section, along with trombonist Shaun Bazylewicz, that most stands out on Conehead Buddha’s new CD Present Perfect, and really seems to justify the band’s return to regular gigging. It would simply be a waste for a group this tight to let their chops go dormant.
It was guitarist-vocalist-percussionist Chris Fisher, though, who reignited the band late last year and who penned and produced the bulk of Conehead Buddha’s new material at Easter Island Studio in Coxsackie. There’s a strong pop and R&B sensibility to Fisher’s approach, with a glimmer of the slick ’90s alt-rocker in there to boot. The sound, though, has unadulterated good-times funk at its foundation. Album opener “Ain’t No Better Way” is full of slap bass, sing-along choruses and plenty of evidence that trombone should figure more prominently in music at large. Reggae though, is the other gear the band most prefer—and not some watered-down hippie variety. “Must Be You” is heavy, dub-laden one-drop with doubled vocals and a nice little reference to Bob Marley’s “Zion Train” in the horn arrangement. Tracks like “Mind the Question” strike a balance with skanky guitars and a SoCal ska feel. Most surprising might be the band’s forays into Latin rhythms, like “Move On” and the Afro-Cuban “Carbonation.”
Present Perfect is a solid return to form for Conehead Buddha, but only hints at the band’s onstage prowess. This is a party band and we’re fortunate that they’re back in the business of bringing the party.