Thursday, February 19, 2015

Brownout Presents Brown Sabbath (Ubiquity 2014)

Brownout Presents Brown Sabbath

Ubiquity Records  2014

How in the hell a 9-piece Latin funk band could ever rationalize a Black Sabbath cover album is beyond me, but that's exactly what Brownout  did,  recording under the name Brown Sabbath no less.  Don't laugh, this isn't some joke novelty act.  This shit is surprisingly very, very real.  Black Sabbath's catalog is full of sacred texts etched in musical granite, so if you are gonna mess around with these songs and put your own personal stamp on them, you better know what you are doing.  Luckily, the members of Brown Sabbath/Brownout are some of the top Latin funk musicians in Austin, Texas with the Grammy-winning Grupo Fantasma, so their music is tweaked to the tits at the moment.  These aren't some glue sniffin' teenagers in the basement. This is highly refined. Most importantly, there's no  hipster irony at work here, just so ya know.  Brown Sabbath is definitely honoring the source material, and is the first band to breathe a genuine fresh life into these songs in years.  For the most part, the songs are followed pretty faithfully, with only the arrangement of Iron Man winding up far off the beaten path. The guitarists are constantly paying tribute to Iommi's towering riff legacy, but they are able to somehow build on it and take his guitar solos into realms that he would never have thought of (especially on the standing ovation-worthy climax of "Planet Caravan").  Conceiving and executing original horn arrangements to the music of Black Sabbath could not have been easy, but they totally nail it as well, and somehow seamelessly weave in thick baratone sax and blasting trumpet and trombone.  It's quite an accomplishment, really, if the entire idea isn't completely blasphemous to you right from the start. There are instrumentals mixed in with performances from a variety of vocalists, including Alex Maas of The Black Angels.  Everyone is very truthful to the source and Ozzy's original work, but their own personalities are allowed to show through.

Brown Sabbath has the technical skill, the creativity, and the confidence to convert even the most arms-crossed, tunnel-visioned Black Sabbath fan out there.  Live, they have a reputation as being a monster, so if they come through your town, put your hardened preconceptions away and check it out.

Head Medicine wanted to know a bit more about this project, so we got in touch with Greg Gonzalez, bass player for Brownout/Brown Sabbath.


~From what i have read online, Brown Sabbath is a side project from a band called Brownout, which is itself made up of members of a larger Grammy-winning Latin funk collective called Grupo Fantasma.  can you tell us a little bit about this musical family tree and Brown Sabbath's place in it?

Grupo Fantasma was formed out of two different bands, the Blimp and Blue Noise Band back in 2000. We had been playing together at college parties and coops as "The Young Silly Bitches," playing endless funk jams and some tasty covers. At the time we were obsessed with the music of Colombia, especially cumbia, and we decided to take the template we had created as TYSB and that became Grupo Fantasma, basically a funk jam band working its way through some Colombian tunes we liked. The project took off from the get go and had us playing with Prince, Larry Harlow and others. After about 5 years or so we decided that we wanted to revisit our funk roots as Grupo was headed in a more Latinized direction. This became the impetus to form Brownout

Fast forward 9 years and 3 albums later and we had a month long, weekly residency at a local club in Austin. We wanted to make each night a different theme, a James Brown night, a hip hop night, a b-boy night etc. For the final night we decided to do a Black Sabbath tribute, Brown Sabbath. It was a smashing success. Ubiquity got wind of it and offered us a deal to record the project and the rest is history.  We also have a six piece band with current and former members of Grupo Fantasma/Brownout called Money Chicha which plays psychedelic guitar music inspired by music from Peru and Colombia that was popular in the 60s and 70s

~Was everyone familiar with the source material?  Was the idea a tough sell to those who were not?

The horn players didn't know anything about Black Sabbath but the rhythm section was all familiar with the music and in most cases big fans of the Sabbath. It wasn't really a tough sell, as Grupo and/or Brownout we've definitely done a wide variety of music and styles. We've backed up GZA, Spoon, Aaron Freeman (Ween), Larry Harlow (Fania All Stars), Prince, and even Daniel Johnston.

~It would seem almost more predictable that Brown Sabbath would have a goofy, ironic angle to it, like Dread Zeppelin for example, but you guys are being very honest to the source material.  how did you find that fine line between reverence to some of the most classic classic rock out there and bringing such a left-field latin funk element to the music?   

Many of us are big fans. Beyond that, we don't ever try and do music which we don't actually feel. It would be very difficult to tour and support material that we don't actually like. There is some tongue in cheek humor involved, but at the end of the day we love the music of Black Sabbath and don't want to do it a disservice.

~Sometimes the horns are playing the vocal melodies or another part of the original arrangement, but at other times it is a completely new element.   What was the creative process in figuring out the horn arrangements? 

Our trombonist Mark "Speedy" Gonzales did all the horn arrangements. He did a great job of incorporating the horns without being overly "jazzy" and leaving plenty of space for the music to remain guitar driven and rock-centric.

~How has the reception been at Brown Sabbath live shows?  are the Brownout/Grupo Fantasma fans coming out and digging it?  and how has the response been from hardcore Sabbath fans?

Everybody has been loving it. The Grupo fans, Brownout fans, Sabbath fans. Even Ozzy himself has come out and expressed his appreciation! We're actually going to be playing the Ozzfiesta in Mexico this summer (Mexican Ozzfest)

~Any plans on Brown Sabbath returning to the studio to record another album?

Currently we're working on a new full length album of Brownout material. We love Black Sabbath and enjoy doing the Brown Sabbath thing, but at the end of the day, we don't want to be just a tribute band. We all believe strongly in our own sound and our original material and we look forward to releasing something later in 2015

follow Brownout on Facebook for more info and tour dates 

Special thanks to Greg Gonzalez and Kevin Calabro


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