Sunday , June 16 2024
Unlike most bands from the classic rock era, War's style never quite went "out of style" the way, say, southern rock or progressive rock did. Funky is still funky.

Music Review: War – ‘Evolutionary’

HERO-PORTRAIT-black-backgroundI was surprised by how much I liked Evolutionary, the new studio album from War and the legendary funk band’s first in 20 years. But I think I know why.

War is, you might say, a “dinosaur” band. Classic rock radio is where’s you’ll still hear their numerous hits, mostly from the early ’70s, including “Low Rider,” “Why Can’t We Be Friends?”, “The Cisco Kid,” and, from the band’s original lineup with Eric Burdon, “Spill the Wine.” Usually when a Golden Age band pushes on through the decades (or re-forms) and puts out new material, it sounds like a retread. Understandably, these bands want to give their fans – fans who’ve been fans for decades – what they expect.

With Evolutionary, out May 19 on Universal, War has done the same, but with a key difference: Their style never quite went “out of style” the way, say, southern rock or progressive rock did. Funky is still funky.

Hear an exclusive advance track.

Rap, for example, often incorporates funk. So does some modern-day hard rock. As the press release notes, War has been sampled by The Beastie Boys, George Clinton, The Geto Boys, Ice Cube, Ice-T, Janet Jackson, Method Man, Redman, and Tupac Shakur, not to mention Barry White, ZZ Top, Portishead, Smash Mouth, and Korn. That doesn’t suggest a band that’s no longer relevant.

war evolutionaryThe buttery bass lines, steady feel-good beats are still here on this big batch of new songs. Tasty horn licks are here as well, along with Lonnie Jordan’s flat-affect vocals. The rhythm section and (of course) the recording quality are sharper than on the famous hits assembled on the remastered first-ever CD version of the greatest hits album, which comes packaged with Evolutionary. If anything Johnson’s vocals have grown clearer and more assured with age, but War’s music was never about vocal fireworks; Johnson’s understated delivery and the loosely delivered vocal harmonies have always been a key part of the band’s everyman appeal.

A number of songs incorporate rapping, including several tracks co-written and produced with hip-hop notable Malik Yusef. LA Fats raps on “That L.A. Sunshine,” which appears at the end again as a bonus track with gimmicky comedy contributions from Cheech & Chong, with whom War is co-headlining a number of dates on its current tour. By contrast, the pensive “It’s Our Right/Funky Tonk” grooves like a ticking clock, building up tension throughout as it dances along a single minor chord threaded with David Urquidi’s alternately liquid and punchy sax lines.

“Mamacita,” one of the most spirited tracks, calls on the band’s Latin heritage with a nod to Bob Marley. Reggae off-beats help drive the humorously atmospheric “It’s My Life” too. The band’s bluesy side comes to the fore in Stuart Ziff’s guitar work in the jumpy “Inspiration” and many other spots. The drawly “Outer Space” (and the less compelling “Bounce”) rattle the R&B link in the chain.

But it’s the compact, self-referential “This Funky Music” that offers the band’s quintessential beat and message: “This funky music makes you feel all right / This funky music makes you dance all night.” While the typical fan of War – or at least this one – may no longer be up for dancing all night, feeling good never goes out of style.

From the perspective of pure song, the romantic, gently moving “Just Like Us” is the album’s best track. It’s one of the Malik Yusef tracks, and so is the band’s version of the Norman Whitfield/Barrett Strong-penned Edwin Starr hit “War,” funkier than the original and just as good, featuring the USC Trojan Marching Band and a rap from Yusef. War’s version of “War” makes you realize how truly linked are the strains of pop music we call R&B, soul, rap and funk. Not to mention protest music.

I also like the zen power ballad “Everything.” Here Jordan bellows out a powerful message of harmony and peace, aided by passionate female background choir vocals.

Altogether, here’s an album that while rooted in the past does not, for the most part, sound dated. War has undergone lineup changes, and only Jordan remains from the original cast in the band currently touring and recording under that name. But funky is still funky. Why can’t we be friends? No reason at all.

About the Author

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About Jon Sobel

Jon Sobel is Publisher and Executive Editor of Blogcritics as well as lead editor of the Culture & Society section. As a writer he contributes most often to Music, where he covers classical music (old and new) and other genres, and Culture, where he reviews NYC theater. Through Oren Hope Marketing and Copywriting at you can hire him to write or edit whatever marketing or journalistic materials your heart desires. Jon also writes the blog Park Odyssey at where he is on a mission to visit every park in New York City. He has also been a part-time working musician, including as lead singer, songwriter, and bass player for Whisperado.

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  1. How can you be so naive and call this tribute band War and not realize that this is NOT War??? The Real War is The Lowrider Band, featuring the 4 surviving members of War: drummer Harold Brown, guitarist Howard Scott, bassist B.B. Dickerson and Lee Oskar on harmonica. Lonnie sold his soul to Jerry Goldstein for the sake of making stable money. The Lowrider Band is in it for the music and nothing less. You go on call Lonnie’s band WAR, you’re not a truly Lowrider, a true War fan, you’re simply blinded and deceived. Rise above!! All my friends know the Lowrider Band!!

  2. True WAR fans aren’t buying what Goldstein’s corporate owned “WAR” band is selling. If I did it would only be for the Greatest Hits CD with the classic WAR sound and to show my support for the original WAR artists of the LOWRIDER BAND, as they still get a pittance of what they actually deserve for creating WAR music. But I don’t have to show my support by buying this CD, since I have bought, played, replaced that album 10 times over in my life, and all the other original WAR albums. This is just Goldstein’s attempt to keep making money off the WAR name, instead of giving that WAR name back to it’s rightful owners so they can reap the full rewards of their WAR legacy. Three fingers down and a frown, Lonnie & the WARnabees, and J. Golddigger!

  3. just a music fan..

    Wow! I was a little hesitant to listen to the cd because of all the group politics. But after being subjective and objective to the music itself. The new cd is great.. love the song mamacita.. great song on any level no matter who sings it.