Title: A Message From the Meters
Artist: The Meters
Label: Real Gone Music
Format: 2-CD set
Release date: September 2, 2016
The Meters cast a broad shadow. Even if you haven’t heard of them by name (which would be unfortunate), you’ve probably heard them in some capacity and without realizing it. If you’ve ever heard the thick funk laid down in LaBelle’s version of “Lady Marmalade,” you’re at the very least tangentially familiar with their music. While their work on LaBelle’s Nightbirds album and Dr. John’s Right Place Wrong Time is famous, their own recorded work is less so despite its long history of being sampled in rap records. Primarily an instrumental unit, the Meters’ rhythmic contributions put them in a class of their own.
A Message From the Meters: The Complete Josie, Reprise & Warner Bros. Singles 1968-1977, as the title suggests, pulls together all of the singles released during the band’s most prolific era. Several of the versions included on this 2-disc set are slightly different from their album counterparts; for example, some are longer than the album versions. Core band members Art Neville, Leo Nocentelli, George Porter and Zigaboo Modeliste are highlighted on Disc 1, which features signature songs from the Meters catalog such as “Cissy Strut,” “Look-Ka Py Py,” and “Chicken Strut.”
For this reviewer’s money, it is Disc 2 that has better selections since it highlights the addition of Art Neville’s younger brother Cyril’s time with the band. There are excellent instrumentals includes on this disc as well, but the tracks with vocals (which in my opinion never get the respect they deserve in the Meters’ catalog) get time to shine as well. Tracks like the funky as hell “Do The Dirt,” “Hey Pocky A-Way,” and “Chug-Chug-Chug-Chug-A-Lug (Push ‘N’ Shove) Parts I & II” showcase the “heavyweight funk” these fellas were putting down. The band’s cover of Professor (“Fess”) Longhair’s “Hey Now Baby,” mysteriously titled here “Cabbage Alley,” is particularly wonderful. Art and Cyril trade verses (well, more of a repeated refrain) back and forth in harmony over Art’s piano (reminiscent of Fess’s own) and the band’s rhythmic workout.
The collection also includes later Meters sides that show them struggling a bit with the mainstream’s transition from funk to disco. The Meters themselves, however, never lose their stride, which would carry over into the music of the Neville Brothers, formed by Art and Cyril after they left the Meters in 1977.
While A Message From the Meters might tread fairly well-worn territory for the hardcore Meters fan, it serves as an excellent introduction for the uninitiated and anyone else who may not have all the group’s singles in one collection.
Reviewed by Levon Williams