Experience records from the mid-late 1970s by Rush, Chicago, Grand Funk Railroad, plus others that might have escaped radio-play, and you’ll discover these offerings stand out as impressive efforts that take more experimental forays into new sonic realms. The musicians are tight, the instrumentation is diverse, and the records explore with a sense of bravado. It is with this same sense of confidence and craft that Toad and the Stooligans release their second full-length album Jesus Juice. The hip-hop-alternative-funk-whatever act spent the past few years playing live, building a rapport as musicians, acquiring a keyboard player, and making a local name for themselves before returning to the studio to come up with the brash, concise, and genre-bending follow-up to 2017’s Very Handsome. The current line up is Mike Jencks, vocals; Dan Pomfret, vocals, guitar; Daniel Hill, keyboards; Alex Caimano, bass guitar; and Matt O’Brien, drums and percussion.
Mood and vibe are two elements that immediately stand out in this album. It feels light and fresh, like laundry out on the line. Background tracks full of major seventh and ninth and minor sixth chords syncopated over tight rhythms or smooth, splashy jams staccatoed with horns and swaying background vocals, layered atop the sturdy bass-work of Caimano, all form a soft pad for the crooning vocals and slinky dual-raps of Pomfret and Jencks. With Steely Dan attention to detail, Jesus Juice and all the pristine imagery it conjures, runs at a concise eight tracks that tie together in an upbeat spirit that will run counter to a follow-up album titled Devil’s Nectar.
“We’d had a catalogue of songs we’d written which really fit into two categories,” says Pomfret. “The more live, upbeat, sing-in-the-shower type of songs, and the darker, grittier, more hip-hop influenced ones. The idea was to release tandem albums, Jesus Juice for the sing-in-the-shower jams, and Devil’s Nectar for the dark and gritty ones.”
Between the background vocals and the horns, the Stooligans brought in a team of people to contribute to this album. “The horn players on this album are good friends of mine, Isaiah Brown on alto sax, Michael D. Robinson on trumpet, and Tyler Barboza on trombone – all URI alumnus along with myself,” says Hill. “Background vocals were done by my very talented sister Mybelle Hill and my very talented mother, a singing legend in Rhode Island, Michele Hill.”
The album was created and recorded right on the cusp of COVID-19. “We were lucky enough to finish these as the world locked down, which was nice. But [the songs] definitely took on a whole new meaning, especially with the lyrical side on my end,” says vocalist Jencks. “I often talk about my own isolation, and I think people will relate to that now, more than ever….There’s a lost art in not being out in public.”
Jesus Juice drops September 25 on all streaming services.