One could alternately describe these five young Canadian musicians as a New-Orleans-style brass band, a funk band, an R&B band, or simply an eclectic group who play what pleases them. They're very good, versatile musicians, with a tight, well-rehearsed sound, clearly very much into the music that they're creating. So why has it taken me so much time to warm up to their debut album?
I don't think it's that they don't understand what they're doing, because some songs sound great. But in comparing them to Dirty Dozen Brass Band, or Rebirth Brass Band, they sound thin and emaciated. However, look at the comparative sizes of the groups. Other brass bands work with eight, ten, or twelve members. The Heavyweights are trying for the same sound with five. No wonder. Another problem is that they attempt to do some songs that were done so well by the original artists that they can't help but pale by comparison. If you're going to do "Beat It," "Why Can't We Be Friends," or "Just the Two of Us," you'd better bring something fresh and new to the table, or don't bother. Sad to say, the Heavyweights aren't up to the task, either through sheer numbers, arrangements, or funky/smoothness.
So, what do they do right? The two funkiest songs, that are just delightful, are "Nueva Orleans" and "Rock Me," both featuring guest singers, Ogguere on the first, Saidah Baba Talibah on the second. Ogguere is a Cuban singer/rapper, who combines his voice with the Heavyweights' significantly inspired New Orleans-style playing to arrive at something fresh and original. With English/Spanish singing and banter, the guys take off and sound authentic. Saidah Baba Talibah is a young Toronto-based R&B singer who moves the Heavyweights into a bluesy mode, and they play at a higher level than in most of their instrumental pieces. What is it about the singers that makes them sound better? Perhaps it's just the greater forces. I don't think they're fated to be a backup group. Paul Metcalfe and Jonathan Challoner have some fine solos on sax and trumpet, for example, in "The Plunge" and "Sexy Ways," where they carry the pieces very well.
I suspect that my reticence has something to do with, for lack of a better term, the squareness of their playing, especially on the New Orleans-style tunes and the covers. It's not fair, perhaps to compare them to another Canadian group, the Diamonds, a 1950s vocal group who covered songs of several R&B groups for Mercury Records, but I will anyway. The Diamonds' first hit was "Why Do Fools Fall in Love," competing on the charts with the far superior original by Frankie Lyman & the Teenagers. It was terrible, the arrangement as dull as dishwater, without an ounce of soul. After a year or so, they started to understand the style, and had a big hit with "Little Darlin'," a cover of a tune by the Gladiolas. They got better, and they got better fast. I suspect that once the Heavyweights figure out how to sound funkier, larger, and frankly, heavier, they will do just fine.