Wednesday, Jun 25 2014 01:41 PM

MATT MUNOZ: War riding a new album low and slow

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    By courtesy of Marcos Reyes

    War percussionist Marcos Reyes, center, and comedians Cheech Marin and Tommy Chong worked together on War's latest release "Evolutionary." The duo and band are also currently on a national tour.

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    By courtesy of Robert Bejil

    The cast of Hectic Films' "Naked Zombie Girl" appears during the Bakersfield premiere at Starplex Cinemas on June 13.

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    By courtesy of Red Elvises

    Los Angeles party band Red Elvises bring its brand of "Siberian Surf Rock" to Texas 28 on Friday.

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By MATT MUNOZ, Contributing columnist

Southern California funk legends War released their 19th full-length CD, titled "Evolutionary," last month. Released as a double album, the first disc contains 13 new original tracks while the second is a first-time CD issue of the group's original 1976 "Greatest Hits" collection that features "Low Rider," "Summer," "All Day Music" and more to get listeners reacquainted with the band's back catalog. "Evolutionary" marks the band's first release of new material since 1994's "Peace Sign," a project that signaled the departure of most of the group's original members, leaving keyboardist Lonnie Jordan and a new lineup to perform as War, while former members Howard Scott, Harold Brown, Lee Oskar and B.B. Dickerson went on as The Lowrider Band.

For Bakersfield percussionist Marcos Reyes, who's performed with War for the past 16 years, the release of "Evolutionary" has been almost two decades in the making.

"Ever since I've been in the band, all I ever hear is, 'When are you guys gonna record a new album?' There's always been talk of it. We've gone into the studio many times, but nothing ever became of it. For me personally, being in the band, patience has finally paid off. For War to record and release new, original material is a really good feeling, especially for me to be able to create those grooves you hear."

Reyes noted that the production timeline surrounding the project predated his arrival into the band.

"I first heard some of these song ideas about eight or nine years ago, but some of the songs are credited to some of the original band members. We really started working on getting them completed over the past three years at different studios around Los Angeles."

The impressive list of guests along for War's "lowride" back into the studio include: Eagles guitarist Joe Walsh, the USC marching band, Tower of Power horns, and the occasional guest rapper for good measure.

Reyes added that while he does remember most of the recording work he did, he actually never heard the completed album until it was released to the public.

"I first heard it with the fans who just bought it," he laughed.

If you're looking for the classic garage party funk of those classic War albums from the '70s, you won't find it here. This is War for a new generation. The original ghetto grit that made songs like "Cisco Kid" the record you put on repeat at your backyard boogie can still be found, but with a number of modern touches.

The opener, the funky-cool "L.A. Sunshine," gets an East Bay bounce, courtesy of the Tower of Power horn section. The bonus version also features an appearance by comedians Cheech & Chong. The second track, "Mamacita," maintains a groovy Latin-inflected pulse and a tight horn arrangement, while "It's Our Right / Funky Tonk," brings it back to old-school territory with a consistent funky vibe recalling War's early sound.

For a band known for taking creative risks, the band's use of Auto-Tune on many of Jordan's vocals is an especially brave one at this stage in their career. I'm not quite sure it fits the War we've grown to know after years on the radio, but if it makes you dance, go with it.

Reyes said he understands reaction to the band's updated approach will be mixed, but suggests giving it a few listens.

"I think its great, because we have a lot of the new generation who really like what we're doing now, but we also hear old fans who don't particularly like it at first. But then they get into it after giving it a chance. Lonnie was willing to do some things to reach out to the younger audience."

Other stand-out tracks include "War / War After War (A Soldier's Story,") that features a hip-hop spin on the Edwin Starr classic mixed with contemporary, politically driven rap lyrics, and the gospel funk jam "Inspiration." It's always good to see a band of this caliber and historical significance enjoying newfound success; let's just hope they can bring the party back to the heart of the barrio when they cruise back in the studio. There's a lot to like about "Evolutionary," and with summer upon us, it's sure to make an ideal old school/new school party playlist.

"Evolutionary" is available in stores and by digital download. War is currently touring with Cheech & Chong as part of the "Up in Smoke Tour." For more information, visit war.com.

Zombie sighting

The only thing noisier than the sound of Megan Chadeayne's chainsaw was the crowd at the Bakersfield premiere of Hectic Films' "Naked Zombie Girl."

Before the screening at Starplex Cinemas on June 13, fans of the indie horror short mingled, posing with actors in full zombie makeup, along with stars of the film and members of the Hectic Films crew. Getting the signal that the film was about to begin, the mixed crowd of 200-plus teens, adults and seniors scurried into the theater to find a seat.

"The response was great," said Hectic Films' Rickey Bird. "We actually sold out of tickets and had to move it to a bigger theater. And people really liked the movie, which made the team and I feel really good about our hard work."

Before the screening, Bird stepped in front of the crowd, welcoming attendees and thanking supporters. In speaking with many of the audience members, most mentioned they had contributed to the film's Indiegogo.com crowd-funding campaign, which helped finance the $8,000 project. Once the feature presentation credits appeared, the crowd roared in approval. And for the next 27 minutes, it was zombie time.

Bakersfield keyboardist Rohan Cowden (formerly of local alt-rock pioneers Cradle of Thorns) providing an eerie '70s synth soundtrack reminiscent of Italian prog rockers Goblin, famous for writing music for many early Euro-zombie flicks.

"It was great to see so many people at the event," said Bird. "A few of the cast and crew we hadn't seen since we shot the film last year, but most of the people I talk to pretty regularly."

Following the screening, the crowd was given a chance to interact with Chadeayne, Bird and various members of the Hectic Films' crew along with several of the film's zombie extras, including Bakersfield musician and mortician Kenny Mount and photographer Robert Bejil.

A few days after the Bakersfield screening, Bird made the announcement on the Naked Zombie Girl Facebook page that the film would be screened at the 14th Annual Screamfest Horror Film Festival, coming in October to the legendary TCL Chinese Theater in Hollywood.

"We have been accepted into one of the largest film festivals in the U.S. Screamfest was co-founded by Stan Winston ('Jurassic Park,' 'Terminator 2') and is the festival that got 'Paranormal Activity' picked up. The best part is that it screens at the Chinese Theater, which if you are a filmmaker, that is a dream come true. It still shocked me when I got the email from (Screamfest founder) Rachel Belofsky accepting the film into the festival. I just entered it."

Plans are under way to turn "Naked Zombie Girl" into a full-length film after Los Angeles independent film company Film Regions International expressed interest.

Although Chadeayne will not be reprising her role in the film, set to begin production next year, she will act as associate producer. No word on casting or what modifications will be made to the look and storyline of the film just yet.

"We're really just working on the script and gearing up for the Screamfest premiere in October. We will hopefully have 'Naked Zombie Girl' and two zombies standing on Hollywood Boulevard for pictures."

Those interested in following the latest developments surrounding the "Naked Zombie Girl" projects should visit nakedzombiegirlmovie.com.

"Thank you to all the people that have supported this film and for all the people on the team that made it happen," Bird said.

Matt's pick

Red Elvises at Texas 28, 1517 18th St., 9 p.m. Friday. $10, 327-7625.

Los Angeles party band the Red Elvises started out playing what they dubbed "Siberian Surf Rock" in 1995 after lead singer Igor Yuzov says he was visited in a dream by Elvis Presley. Not one to say no to the King, Igor and his Russian friends started playing on Santa Monica's Third Street Promenade, pulling in huge crowds and eventually getting the chance to relocate to actual venues. Over the years the band has toured all over the United States, Israel, Puerto Rico and Bulgaria to name just a few places, bringing their brand of Russian-tinged classic rock 'n' roll to the masses. The secret is simple: Igor's unique brand of humor combined with guitar-based rock 'n' roll that makes audiences want to sing, dance, scream and drink lots of vodka.

House Music Party at Elements Venue, 3401 Chester Ave., 8 p.m. Friday, free, 301-4681. In the mid-'80s, the house music dance craze hit the windy city of Chicago with a sonic boom, before spreading to the rest of the country, especially New York and Los Angeles. Characterized by its repetitive combination of high-hat cymbals, snare drum, kick drum, and synth bass lines, it eclipsed disco, eventually attracting both street dancers and clubbers alike. Everyone from Madonna to Daft Punk has had more than one house-music-inspired hit. Veteran Bakersfield deejay Noe G, a longtime house music aficionado, has assembled a group of deejays well-equipped to fill the dance floor with classics from the house music crates to the current wave of house hipness. Highly recommended.

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