James Brown Is Annie, those Edinburgh-based purveyors of smooth, soulful and slick funk, played Edinburgh’s Rose Theatre Basement on 15th September, as part of a UK tour to launch their second album, James Brown Is Annie II. James Brown Is Annie’s new album was produced by the legendary Hamish Stuart (a mainstay of the Average White Band (AWB) and, later, the Paul McCartney Band), which is very fitting, given that the band are heavily influenced by AWB, with traces also of other seventies legends, particularly Steely Dan and Little Feat.
This atmospheric basement venue was packed out as James Brown Is Annie (JBiA, for short) were welcomed to the stage by a noisily enthusiastic home-town audience. For the first set of the gig, the band majored on the songs from the new album, starting with All The Love, which was driven along by funky clavinet chords and punchy tenor sax riffing. This song featured keyboard player Eddie Miller on lead vocals, although the majority of the lead vocals were handled by lead guitarist Aki Remally, with his trademark silky soulfulness. The funky, up-tempo vibes of JBiA’s recent single, Five Up High, also gave rhythm guitarist Barry Gordon an outing on lead vocals and he involved the audience in the call and response choruses (“five up high…ten low…too slow”).
Other standout songs from the new album followed, including the medium-paced Funky Little Crumb (featuring a loping bass riff and choppy tenor sax fills); the jazzy tones of Your Face; the exuberant Stand X; and the tender ballad Tomorrow (which had the stamp of mid-seventies Stevie Wonder). The band’s playing was tight and crisp throughout, setting up a succession of deep and soulful grooves, punctuated by a series of blistering solos from Jonny White on tenor sax and Aki Remally on guitar. The band clearly have a blast playing together and this enjoyment transmitted joyously to the audience. The first set closed with the energetic and extended workout of Popcorn (from the first, eponymous, album), in which all of the band members took the opportunity to show off their impressive musical chops.
For the second set, JBiA were joined by their producer, Hamish Stuart, who delighted the audience with his entertaining anecdotes and Glaswegian patter and took us on a magical tour through his hugely impressive back catalogue, including the AWB classics Got The Love, Let’s Go Round Again and Pick Up The Pieces. As awesome as these were, my personal favourite from Stuart’s set was the extended and slow-burning Mighty Fall, Parts 1 and 2, a heartfelt tribute to his idol, Muhammad Ali (which features on a 2016 album by the 360 Band, formed by Stuart, along with his former AWB band-mates Malcolm (Molly) Duncan and Steve Ferrone). This wonderful song, featuring some majestic tenor sax and Stuart’s trademark funky guitar riffs and licks, was a match for any of AWB’s finest songs.
Hamish Stuart’s sweet, soulful vocals and instrumental prowess are undiminished by time and his levels of energy and enthusiasm were incredible, as he strutted across the stage, exchanging smiles with the members of JBiA and involving the audience in more call and response choruses. This was a superb performance by Hamish Stuart, and JBiA’s support was such that the overall effect was akin to hearing AWB in their 1970s pomp.