Let me introduce to you a band called Zuffalo from Toronto, Canada, whose new album is called BIRDBRAIN. That title may or may not have anything to do with the classic song by Allen Ginsberg, but Zuffalo do share connections to the ‘60s, having played shows alongside Buffy Sainte-Marie and Mavis Staples, and festivals including Ohio’s Grateful Fest. BIRDBRAIN is their second full-length album, having released their debut in 2018 and an EP in 2020. The band members include Kim Manning (vocals/keys), Mikey Vukovich (vocals/bass), Sean Steele (vocals/guitar) and Eric Vanier (drums).
Zuffalo’s intention with this project was to craft an album that features a kaleidoscope of tones. While predominantly guitar-driven psychedelic rock, Zuffalo’s sound also includes funk, blues, folk and country influences. All three lead vocalists share songwriting duties, with lyrics that reflect on love, science fiction, nature and life in Ontario. The album was recorded at Locust Ridge Records in Baden, Ontario with production and mixing by Mackenzie Jordan, who also added rhythm guitar and backing vocals. Mastering was performed by Philip Shaw Bova at Bova Lab Studio. The album is available in all formats: CD, vinyl and of course download.
The opening track “Birdman” kicks in with a funky ’60s feel with cool beats and buzzy bass worthy of Sly Stone. The lyrics fit perfectly: “Birdman, play the band / Tell ‘em how to get all the baddest fans / Make it funky, make it real.” A period-sounding fuzz/wah guitar solo leads into some concluding Frampton-like Talk Box guitar. “On A Windmill” slows down a bit and features the first of Zuffalo’s gorgeous vocal harmonies. The track starts sweet and contemplative, then goes into a B section that totally caught me off guard. If I haven’t mentioned it before, Kim Manning shines both with her lovely femme vocals and ace keyboard playing.
“Yeah, There’s An Island Somewhere” very much channels John Lennon from his “Lost Weekend” era without sounding like an exact copy, though the final spoken word section comes close. “Flowering Rush” totally changes tack with jittery, irresistible verses and Allman Brothers-like chorus guitars. This song is just one example among many of how perfectly the band gels in performance; in this seven-minute track, the interplay among the players is impeccable and nobody ever seems in danger of losing the beat. I suspect this track is just a hint of how Zuffalo jams live on the festival circuit with Sean Steele’s rowdy lead guitar showcase standing out. ”In Another Time” is a fast, upbeat tune featuring more killer vocals by Kim Manning.
“Tropics and the Torrid” nails the ’60s connection even deeper with a Grateful Dead-like excursion featuring lyrics that are also Dead-heady: “I wanna hop onto a Southbound train to you / There’s no rush to get me there… We’re going down a road of beauty / Because I’m following you / I wanna see the oceans in your eyes.”
“Big Man” feels like musical film noir complete with smoky saxes and pensive piano with a descending structure that recalls the old Lovin’ Spoonful hit “Summer In The City.” The finale “Open Eyes” starts as a riff-heavy rock tune like Mountain or Led Zeppelin, then shifts into a more acoustic AM-pop mode, over which Steele takes a fine lead solo. There’s even a trick acoustic ending with trilling river birds.
Though Zuffalo have released several albums, BIRDBRAIN was a great way for me to get acquainted with this band, and I’m sure you’ll dig them too.
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