As far as record companies go, there are a select few that I really pay attention to these days — most current bands produce on their own or they have a small, independent label. One record company that I thoroughly enjoy is Ground-up Records. Founded by Michael League, bassist/composer/bandleader of the group Snarky Puppy, this record label releases music by Snarky Puppy, Brazilian guitarist Charlie Hunter, singer Becca Stevens and more. The most recent record from the thriving jazz/funk/soul label is entitled “Exit 16” by Roosevelt Collier, one of the foremost pedal-steel guitarists in the world. Collier is a longtime veteran of the blues and gospel scenes. I was astonished to learn that this is his debut solo album, which was inspired by League’s offer to produce it for him.
“Exit 16” is a swampy, bluesy and funky jumble of music. The first track, “Sun Up, Sun Down,” is a thrilling and spiritual opener. Starting with a fiery blast of slide guitar, it is an old-school funk song, featuring Collier with League on bass, Snarky Puppy alums Bobby Sparks, Jr. on keys — incidentally, Sparks played at Lawrence’s Jazz Weekend, playing in Liz Wright’s band — and JT Thomas on the drums. The next tune, “Happy Feet,” features a fast funk groove, with Thomas pounding the drums, accompanied by clavinet and organ blasts from Sparks. Colliers playing on this song is reminiscent of very classic funk guitar; it is made even more impressive that he’s strumming such quick chords on a slide guitar. Near the end, Thomas takes a quick drum solo to show off his percussion chops.
The title track is much more rock influenced than some of the previous tracks. Collier’s wah-guitar soars over League’s heavy bass and Sparks’ organ; the song contains several massive guitar screams that build intensity throughout. Other highlights include “Spike,” a Jimi Hendrix-esque funk track that starts with an up-tempo guitar run that wouldn’t sound out of place in a Van Halen song. After its guitar introduction, this track is much more of a slow jam, with fuzzed-out guitar throughout. Collier throws on a wah pedal halfway through for good measure, which makes him sound even more like Hendrix. Overall, it is a tremendous first effort from a masterful guitarist.