After three albums of stern lecture, it would seem that Frank Hopkins and his Line of Force have decided to just roll with the punches and turn out a nice dance jam. Full of horns and guitar solos and wicka-wicka ass-shaking, the new Symbiotic has very little in common with 2008's American Dream, other than Hopkins's gravel-crunching voice.
In place of the aggressiveness and crunch is a devil-may-care dance vibe, right from the '70s R&B of the opening "Come On," where the head bobs easily and Joe Farrell kicks out a sweet electric guitar solo in a guest turn. Hopkins sings of a "shot in the arm" in "Troopin'" and that's just what we've got here in the album's first half: a stompy kind of bass from Josh Robbins, matching solos from Hopkins and sax player Mat Leighton, and a whole lot of good time.
Kenya Hall's pristine clarion bell contrasted with Hopkins's snarl in "Gratitude"? Sublime.
What's up with the fun? Well, it seems that Hopkins has decided to "Just Be," and when he growls that admonition like a modern-day Curtis Mayfield, it's hard to argue. He's letting it ride, having fun, living in the moment. The extended jam in "Jefferson's Blues" is a presence in itself, even if I'm not totally sold on the way Chuck Prinn's drums have been captured there.
By "Us Against Them," the sixth song, opening the theoretical B side, you might be expecting an explanation, should you be familiar with Hopkins's work: "I'm done bustin' my hump . . . I'm more interested in the sanctity of forgiveness." And in "Ostrich," which is somewhat surprising in its Dave Matthews-ness, Hopkins says he's trying to "have faith in my fellow man."
Let's not get crazy, though. We still get good lines like "everything I do gives me cancer/And everything I see makes me mad." It's just that, as we're told in the quieter and contemplative "The Key," "I am a warrior that fights with peace."
Being the last angry man in town can get old. Line of Force have channeled that anger into something that's a whole lot more fun. It still has the heart and compassion that Hopkins has used as his calling card, but he's looking to win you over with more honey than he's spread around in the past. It's kind of sticky.
Sam Pfeifle can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
SYMBIOTIC | Released by Line of Force | at the Big Easy, in Portland | May 21 | lineofforce.com