FUN AND FUNKY The Fungus crew.
It's hard to believe Fungus Amungus have released only one album since sax player Jarrod Valenti founded the band nearly a decade ago. Talk about "long-awaited" — At the Go-Go, the follow-up to 2004's Fungus debut All Banged Up, arrives next week when the jam-centric sextet kick off a string of regional album release shows at the Met in Pawtucket.
Valenti, drummer Joe Jannerelli, and bassist Mike Sperduti remain from the original Fungus lineup. They added renowned piano man and vocalist Johnny Lingo in 2005, and recently welcomed lead singer Chelsy Lau.
"The Chelsy Lau Band opened for Fungus at our Halloween show in 2007, which happened to be around the same time our lead singer decided to leave the band," Valenti recalled.
"She was a perfect fit."
At the Go-Go provides a funky platform for Lau to let it rip on the mic, with a confident, feisty (and 4.20-friendly) swagger to complement the airtight jam sessions. Of course, mention Fungus Amungus to anyone around here and you'll get "the jam band, right?" And, as perennial Best Jam Band nominees in our music poll, call us guilty as charged.
"It's a common misconception that we are just a 'jam band,' " Valenti said. "But our songs are very much structured and every part is written.
"We're more of a funk-reggae-groove band — the actual jamming comes in when we solo.
"We like to build around a musician and we let everyone write their own music, then get together and create something fun, funky, and usually pretty impressive."
The band decided to record to analog at Lakewest Studio (with Jack Gauthier) in East Greenwich.
"It took us a little more time, money, and work to record to two-inch tape, but the quality makes it worthwhile, and we're very happy with the results," Valenti told me earlier this week.
When asked why it took so long for a follow-up record, Valenti noted, "We felt this was the right time to get back in the studio."
Man, was he right. Adding two acclaimed vocalists in Lingo and Lau (both former Best Music Poll winners) has paid dividends here; Lau comes out swinging on Go-Go opener "Rollercoaster," Lingo takes the reins on "Injustice," and the two harmonize well on "Ya Sing" and the closing track, "This Man," a rearrangement of the song from Johnny Lingo's '09 debut Shake It Off ("We changed it from 6/8 blues to 4/4 uptempo funky blues," Lingo said). The addition of guitarist Zach Fenner should be noted (he shines on the title track), and the fellas cut loose on the 9.5-minute instrumental "Don't Be That Guy," where each member shreds a solo (watch out for saxist Valenti's turn), seamlessly locking in with the rhythm section of Jannerelli and Sperduti throughout (particularly on "Matilda" and "Never Enough"). But it's the head-bopping groove and woozy horns on the funked-up "Simple Life" that steals the Go-Go show.
In the end, though, Fungus Amungus is all about taking it to the stage. The band will hit their usual haunts from here to Northampton, including return trips to summer festivals like Camp Creek and Strange Creek, hosted by jam band icons Max Creek (see "Max Creek celebrate 40 years of creativity" by Jim Macnie).