What do you mean you’ve never heard of Black Merda? These boys were doing the funk in Baghdad before you were in your dad’s bag. Well, I say Baghdad, Detroit would be nearer the mark. Starting out as a RnB (in the original sense) band in the mid-sixties they caught wind of what Hendrix was up to and, without losing any soul over it, jettisoned their horn section and turned the guitar amp up to eleven lending their claim to be the first ever black rock band some authority – sorry Bad Brains, Living Colour and Fishbone. And it’s a very funky kind of rock, think the sort of thing Band Of Gypsys might have done if they’d ever recorded a studio LP – something you might file along with Betty Davis – super tight and ultra heavy without any George Clinton-esque prog-folly – though that doesn’t mean they aren’t a very psychedelic experience. Two albums and a tour with Edwyn Starr followed their Jimi-inspired transformation and then…from the early 70s onwards…nothing. No performances, no releases and no recognition. A complete disappearing act. Until 2005. Out of the blue the band reformed for a performance in Detroit and now suddenly here’s a full-length LP of all new material Force Of Nature. Sounds like a fucking terrible idea doesn’t it? This should be an massively embarassing counterpoint to the psychedelic fire of tracks like Cynthy-Ruth from the band’s heyday, flabby with AOR stylings, over-production and very shit ideas born of jaded rock-star egos, except…it’s actually not bad at all.
With Force Of Nature it’s like Black Merda walked into a time vortex in 1972 and only just stepped back out of it. If it weren’t for the tell-tale quality of production and the band photo on the cover you’d swear blind that this was a long-lost late 60s or early 70s pressing – and when it’s good, it’s very good. “RnB and hip hop are really, really hot…” is the sentiment greeting the listener in the opening wah-wah heavy funk stomp of Can’t Get Enough Of The Funk which comes with the proviso that, nevertheless, Black Merda will “…show you what they’re not.” And if this track doesn’t convince you that they possess the funk then the groove of Let’s Go ought to. Third track Maintain illustrates what is far and away the main weakness with this LP though, which is that the years haven’t been especially kind to the voices of any the three original band members (all of whom take lead vocal duties) none of whom were particularly strong vocalists even in the band’s heyday. Thus any tracks on the LP (for example, the heavy Cream-style blues of Miss Hawkins House) requiring some sort of vocal range suffer, which is a pity, because the tunes and riffage on offer on the LP are frequently classic. Stop The War revels in its stop-start blues-funk guitar assault and is a protest song that you could imagine covert Black Panthers playing in Vietnam to freak Charlie out – except for the fact that it’s about Iraq. Then there’s Get On The Same Road’s complaint about the decline of modern America which has the fattest riff on the LP (and one that begs to be sampled) or current single Take A Little Time which offers a summery, wah-wah-heavy, Hendrix-bounce, and is easily the strongest track. All in all, Black Merda must be laughing their asses off that three old fuckers can still cut it well enough to put any number of new bands to shame.
Out now on Vampi Soul