Think Chicago, think Blood, Sweat, and Tears, think The Funkadelics, think Bob Marley, think The Spin Doctors, think…you get the picture. Throw these guys in a big vat, stir it up vigorously, pour it out, and wa-la! You will have MHB. They rock, they funk it up, they have a large amount of soul, and they do it all very well.
In Chicago-land, it’s unlikely you will find someone who is not at least familiar with MHB. It’s probably because this wonderful band from “The Windy City” literally has something to offer just about anyone.
MHB’s debut album, “Sparks Are Going to Fly” begins with “Someone Like You”, wonderfully sung by Matthew Henry Baron (the band’s namesake). His voice at first reminded me of The Clash’s Joe Strummer, but that comparison was only at first glance. This tune is a catchy little reggae-inspired song that will have you grooving no matter who you are or what you like to listen too. Overall, it’s a very enjoyable piece of music and a great way to start this series of twelve original songs, all written by front man, lead singer and guitarist, Matthew Henry Baron.
Track two is “I Better” and continues with the heavy emphasis on reggae but with a little extra “funk” thrown in for good measure. Mr. Baron proves himself to be quite the lyricist here as well with some very upbeat lyrics.
“I’m gonna fly, I’m gonna soar beyond this world many think is a bore/ You see it’s fine; it’s all good, no need to fret the small stuff even though you could/It’s plain to see, what’s been goin’ on/ I got the eyes of the devil, the wits of James Bond/ I better chill; I better ease my mind…quiet the sounds take my sweet ass time”
I really liked this song a lot but was a bit afraid the entire record was going to be reggae at this point. I have to say, personally, I tire of the reggae beat about halfway through an album. For me, reggae is just isn’t what I enjoy listening to for a full-length record. As it turned out, that was not going to be the case at all.
Track three is a very soulful “Get On”. This song is all rhythm and blues and is a great dance tune, guaranteed to get everyone up on the dance floor moving and grooving to the beat. The horn section is spectacular and is comprised of Eric Koppa on tenor and soprano sax, Steve Kelly on Tenor sax, and Johnny Showtime on trombone. They help to take the tune to an exhilarating pace. Jim Croke has a wonderful guitar solo here that really jazzes things up and adds an abundance of flavor to the song.
Track four is “Blanket of Leather” and is the reason for that comparison to The Spin Doctors. It really reminded me of something from their “Pocket Full of Kryptonite” record, and added more versatility to an already extremely versatile record.
Track five is the very funky and sexy “Inside”. The metaphors here leave very little room for doubt as to the nature of the song.
“Oooh she flies high above the moonlight/I can feel her and man does she feel right/Gliding soaring, dipping through my galaxy/Will I melt the bars to her, we’ll just have to wait and see/I’m climbing mountains/Rising up step by step/Running on top of the trees/Cause inside of you , is me”
Could someone please get me a fire extinguisher – this song is hotter than a 3-dollar pistol! Even though it may be the simplest of songs on this record, it takes the record to higher level of maturity through the heavy usage of metaphors. It is eloquently performed by MHB, this time consisting of Mr. Baron on vocals and guitars, James T. Bromley on bass, Daryl Coutts on Hammond B3, Rob van Daal on drums, and Michael Whalen on shakers and tambourine.
Skipping down to track eleven something different happens. “She’s Down” is about as close to a negative view of a relationship as you will find on this record. It’s a cool little roots Rock ‘n Roll tune and is probably my favorite tune on the record. It’s a song about two people not being able to get on the same page.
“Hey I’m up, well I’m up/ She is down/Yeah I’m up, I’m up/She is down/Well I’m going up, I’m up/She is down”
I think we all get the picture here, but what I really loved about this particular tune was the nearly “honky-tonk” style piano played by Daryl Coutts. It made an otherwise simple tune, interesting and took the tune in a much different direction, showing a good bit of flexibility to the band.
MHB is a very tight band that I believe if the quality and level of songwriting is maintained, that they could get very big very fast. Even though comparisons were made to other bands here, by the time I got to the end of the record it became apparent, MHB with Matthew Henry Baron at the helm, has their very own sound and there was little doubt for me as to who they are.
Review by Rod Ames
Sparks definitely do fly – this is music that could kick any party into overdrive. MHB is a smoking hot band that blends elements of funk, rock, blues, and reggae into a spicy soul-infused gumbo that smolders and burns.
Although guitarist and front man Matthew Henry Baron, whose initials comprise the band’s name, has played in a number of popular bands in the Chicago area, Sparks Are Going To Fly is his debut as a leader. And sparks definitely do fly! This is music that could kick any party into overdrive. MHB is a smoking hot band that blends elements of funk, rock, blues, and reggae into a spicy soul-infused gumbo that smolders and burns.
It’s always interesting to read how bands perceive their music and the comparisons they make regarding it. On the MHB website they describe it as having “the passion of Bob Marley, the groove of Jack Johnson, the energy of James Brown, and the feel of Eric Clapton.” While I can see the validity of those references there are a few others that came to mind for me while listening. Perhaps it is the tone of Matthew’s voice that reminded me at times of Anthony Kiedis from the Red Hot Chili Peppers, as well as Elvis Costello on occasion, and perhaps Dave Matthews. There were also instances with the band’s horn section that recalled the furious funk of Tower Of Power. But while there are various influences and reference points, the music is completely original with all of the songs written by Matthew Henry Baron.
Accompanying Matthew is a full band of highly skilled musicians that includes bassist James T. Bromley, Daryl Coutts on keyboards, drummer Rob Van Daal, Michael Whalen on drums, percussion, and backup vocals, Sean Kelly and Jason Litwan on percussion, Nicole Garza on back up vocals, Eric Koppa and Steve Kelly on saxophones, and with the coolest name in the group, on trombone, Johnny Showtime. Lead guitar on “Someone Like You” was by Peter Muschong, and Jim Croke played the lead guitar on “Get On.”
In some ways, the album seems to unfold in chapters defined by geography or genre. The book opens in Jamaica with a bouncy Ska groove on “Someone Like You.” Slinky Middle Eastern-sounding guitar lines add an exotic flair to the tune. The song had a cool ending where the tempo gradually slowed down and some spacey vocal processing was added, before things finally came to a stop, like a car running out of gas.
The next song, “I Better” continues the island flavor with an up-tempo reggae number that features a nice organ solo from Daryl Coutts.
With song three, “Get On,” things migrate north and start to get funky – very funky, as the horn section kicks off in a style that reminded me of the famous band that bears the name of the town that MHB calls home- Chicago. The next song, the unusually titled “Blanket On Leather,” starts with a guitar and drum groove that had a vibe of Graceland-era Paul Simon, although comparisons to The Dave Matthews Band would probably not be too far off. The funk and soul influences remain strong on the next four songs until we get to track nine, “The Best That I Can.” From that point, the following three songs open another chapter in the MHB musical playbook with some boogie-woogie and jump blues style. The album closes with “Here You Go,” an up-tempo rocker that admonishes: “This is your day; see what you can find, outside your window. Now, now, now, now don’t delay, pick yourself out of your misery won’t you. “ The aforementioned reference to Eric Clapton is probably most evident on this song with its stinging bluesy lead guitar and Layla-like slow ending.
It was hard not to be impressed with Matthew’s voice, which can best be described as “soulful.” The band who is super tight provide him with groove after groove to showcase his vocal and guitar chops on, as well as producing many standout solos in their own right. The MHB website offers a selection of live concert videos that show them in action – definitely worth checking out.
Review by Michael Diamond
Calling your album, Sparks Are Going to Fly may be a bit presumptuous, but in the case of MHB’s debut effort, it’s a warning. Sparks do indeed fly throughout this entire album as a result of the combined efforts of this fantastic band. Though vocalist/guitarist/song-writer, Matthew Henry Baron is the band’s namesake, everyone in the band contributes such great performances, and it’s hard to imagine this album being as strong without any of them. Working with Baron are bassist James T. Bromley, drummers Michael Whalen and Rob Van Dahl, Eric Koppa and Steve Kelly on horns, and Daryl Coutts on keyboards/organ. The rhythm section is spectacular, with Whalen and Van Dahl really pushing the songs forward and Bromley is something remarkable in his own right. The bass lines that Bromley plays have elements of funk and rock blended together so well that it would function as decent percussion if there weren’t any drums. Though the horn section and keyboards aren’t as much the backbone of the band’s sound, they’re the flourish to the signature and establish the fantastic sound of MHB.
If you get the feeling you’ve heard MHB before, but can’t quite put your finger on it, it’s because you have heard them before in some way, shape, or form. There’s little elements that pop up from so many different bands, Los Lobos, Rusted Root, Robert Cray, Huey Lewis, Van Halen…the list goes on. At times, Baron’s voice sounds snarling and unrestrained like on “Someone Like You” where he channels David Lee Roth. Baron’s electrifying lead guitar is played fantastically and his solos are equally breathtaking. The album’s rousing closing track, “Here You Go” sounds reminiscent of Robert Cray combined with bass work ripped from a Red Hot Chili Pepper’s album. Coutts is the other factor that changes the sound up quite a bit; the keyboard and organ fills are like that of Sean Hopper from Huey Lewis & The News in terms of their tone and atmosphere.
Lyrically, Baron’s constructed some fantastically smooth songs with bite and wit. In “I Better” he rips through the line, “baby see, what’s been going on/I got the eyes of the devil, the wits of James Bond“. Most of the lyrics fly by at a rapidity that is similar in delivery to Red Hot Chili Peppers. As the words fly by, the subjects they cover aren’t deep, or intensely insightful, but they are well suited for the music that supports them, and now and again a particular nice line will pop up like on “Here You Go” or most of “Blanket Of Leather”.
One of the most unexpected elements here is the degree of musical layering that Baron is able to his songs. “Into The Light” is an intensely driving song that builds on itself the further along it goes. The build, which climaxes in the horn section joining in with female backing vocals, is reminiscent of the Talking Heads song “The Great Curve”. Even though the production is completely different, the way “Into The Light” culminates is similarly spectacular and results in an extremely satisfying listen.
Sparks Are Going to Fly’s track list even sounds like a live set in some respects. The album begins with a three shot salvo of “Someone Like You”, “I Better”, and “Get On”, slows down a bit with “Blanket Of Leather” and then builds to its middle and closes just as strongly as it opens. It’s quite clear that Baron is leading a band that knows its way around the recording studio, and the live stage. To make a debut album this strong is borderline staggering. The sheer amount of energy could make it enjoyable on that alone, but these guys are on fire for every track.
MHB’s first outing into albums is a spectacular one. There are few albums that don’t need much of a recommendation besides simply, “Get it”, and this is one of them. Even without really crossing genres, Sparks Are Going to Fly sounds like it does and takes it a step further by fully convincing the listener that this album is every genre for nearly every listener. The only problem they face is trying to follow this up with something that sets the bar equally as high as it is now.
Review by Heath Andrews