SummaryThe Menahan Street Band is a collaboration of musicians from Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings (Dave Guy, Homer Steinweiss, Fernando Velez, Bosco Mann), El Michels Affair (Leon Michels, Toby Pazner), Antibalas (Nick Movshon, Aaron Johnson) and the Budos Band (Mike Deller, Daniel Foder), brought together by musician/producer Thomas Brenneck (Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings, Budos Band, Amy Winehouse) to record hits in the bedroom of his Menahan St. apartment in Bushwick, Brooklyn. With influences reaching beyond the funk/soul/afrobeat architecture of their other projects into the more ethereal realms of Curtis Mayfield and Mulatu Astatke, the Menahan Street Band creates a unique new instrumental soul sound that is as raw as it is lush. Their debut album, Make the Road by Walking will be released on Dunham Records, Brenneck's new imprint of Daptone Records, a joint venture devoted to bringing the Menahan Street sound from Brenneck's bedroom out into the world. The album is marked by eerily quirky arrangements, featuring vibes, horns, piano, organ, percussion and even a strange bling sound that Brenneck creates by tuning and plucking the strings of his guitar on the wrong side of the bridge. However, it is not the textures themselves that make the new sound of Menahan Street so exciting, but rather the way the sounds are incorporated into the heavy rhythms and bold melodies of the compositions.
The title of the album was inspired both by the eponymous community center below Brenneck's apartment and the natural rhythm that has continued to move this project forward. Shortly after its release as Dunham's debut 45rpm single, the song "Make the Road by Walking" was sampled by fellow Brooklynite Jay-Z for his smash hit from American Gangster, "Roc Boys (and the Winner is...)" (later declared by Rolling Stone to be the No. 1 single of 2007). A few months after the release of the Jay-Z track, Brenneck was contacted by the principal of Public School 20, an elementary school in nearby Clinton Hill, Brooklyn, who had tracked down the original after being blown away by the sample in the radio hit. The school band invited the Menahan Street Band to their recital to watch them perform their own rendition of "Make the Road by Walking" and to join them in their music class the following Friday. The experience proved mutually inspiring for both the children and the band, and completed the songs poetic journey from the local community center through the national hip-hop airwaves, and back to the children of Brooklyn.
There must be something in the water in Brooklyn these days that has kept this family of musicians going. Amy Winehouse, Mark Ronson, Kanye West, Ghostface Killah, The Hitmen, Wu-Tang Clan, Al Green, Nas, and now Jay-Z all coming to the same bunch of guys in their homemade studios in Brooklyn to get the stuff that today's biggest records are made of. However, this is far from a pop record. Make the Road by Walking is a soulful exploration by a talented young group of musicians into the possibilities of instrumental music; an original, personal, and uncompromised creation that embodies the sound of a select group of musicians in one distinct place, at one particular moment in time. "This album is kind of a window into our world on Menahan Street," says Brenneck. "In a way, we're simply the street's unofficial house band."