Galactic lets the good times roll

Band’s new CD combines Carnival sounds of Big Easy, Brazil

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It’s obviously no accident that the new Galactic CD, “Carnivale Electricos,” was released on Feb. 21 — Fat Tuesday.

After all, the new CD is themed around the Mardi Gras celebration in the band’s hometown of New Orleans, as well as the Brazilian carnivals that are held throughout that country during this time. So releasing this latest CD was a fitting way for one of New Orleans’ leading bands to kick off the city’s most famous celebration.

What’s more, according to the band’s bassist, Robert Mercurio, doing a Mardi Gras album made sense given the direction of recent Galactic CDs.

“Starting with our last two albums, we kind of started to look at albums as a piece in itself and look at them as a concept beyond just a collection of songs that we wrote,” Mercurio said in recent phone interview. “So, ‘From The Corner to the Block,’ which came out in 2008, was more of a hip-hop oriented, underground MCs, hip-hop/rap kind of album that we decided to make. Then the last album (2010’s “Ya-Ka-May”) was more of a New Orleans (music album). And when it came time to make this album, we were kicking around ideas, and I believe the idea (of a Mardi Gras CD) came up from our sax player, Ben (Ellman).

“That just really sat well with the band,” Mercurio said. “So, once we started really discussing Carnival and Carnivale, and the whole Brazilian aspect to it, between those two cultures there are a lot of different aspects to the celebration. So, it just really started making sense, and we started brainstorming on different ideas within it. And soon, the concept kind of took off.”

What also helped make the concept work for Galactic, which also includes drummer Stanton Moore, guitarist Jeff Raines and keyboardist Rich Vogel, was that the group had a long-standing interest in Brazilian music, and this project gave the group an opportunity to further explore its various facets.

“It’s definitely a style of music that all of us have found interesting for a long time,” Mercurio said.

What emerged is a CD that shares roots in New Orleans and Brazil and features mostly original material as well as a pair of key covers.

One of the covers is the New Orleans Mardi Gras standard “Carnival Time.” The new version features vocals from the originator of the famous song, Al Johnson.

“He’s cool,” Mercurio said of Johnson. “He calls me still about every week. He’s a really sweet man. He’s about 72 now, and he’s been asked over the years to redo the song, and he’s always denied people to do it. So I asked him why with us? He said, ‘I knew you were going to do something new and unique with it and not just do a straight remake.’ So I was glad, and he came in and he just didn’t want somebody to just redo the whole thing. So, we tried to give it a different feel and modernize it with modern production and even threw in some Brazilian aspects to it to kind of combine it into almost ‘Carnivale Time.’ And he was super happy with the results.”

The other cover is of Sergio Mendes’ Brazilian carnival classic “Magalenha.” For this track, Galactic is joined by the Brazilian drum troupe Casa Samba, which is based out of New Orleans.

The other 11 tracks are Galactic originals or collaborations between Galactic and some of the many guests who appear on “Carnivale Electricos.”

Together, the songs on “Carnivale Electricos” make for an exceptionally lively, diverse and unpredictable CD. There’s sassy funk and soul on “He Na Na,” some sweet soul and sharp funk on “Out In The Street” (which features guests Cyril and Ivan Neville) and a taste of spooky rock-meets-zydeco on “Voyage Ton Flag.” “Move Fast,” which offers a mix of hard funk and rap, was co-written and performed with rappers Mannie Fresh and Mystikal (the latter of whom makes his first appearance on a CD since his release from prison). Then there are the Brazilian flavors that populate the CD on tracks such as Magalenha” and “Guero Bounce.”

For its tour behind “Carnivale Electricos,” Galactic will be joined by trombone player Corey Henry and singer Corey Glover (of Living Colour).

The band has utilized a variety of guest vocalists on tour since 2003, when original vocalist Theryl “House Man” DeClouet was forced to depart Galactic after its fifth studio CD, the 2003 release “Ruckus,” because of health issues.

Glover has the kind of vocal range that makes him an ideal singer for the Galactic live show, Mercurio said.

“We do collaborate with a lot of different vocalists (on albums), and he has the ability to sing from rock tunes to soul tunes to even some Mardi Gras Indian chants and stuff,” Mercurio said. “He’s willing to give it a shot, and he usually hits it out of the park.”