With 14 singers and musicians credited, South County's Groove Syndicate are halfway to a Polyphonic Spree—with more horns and deeper bass lines, but without the white robes. They could also give Natural Afrodisiac, their closest OC equivalent, some serious competition in a wrestling match for the tao of the Groove. This is about as fine as soul/funk/R&B gets, all the better because Groove Ensemble seem to have tapped directly into the early '70s, when this stuff reached its peak. But the CD isn't coasting on pure nostalgia as the rapper who pops up to throw down some excellent rhymes on "What's the Trouble?" lets you know. There's a fabulously reworked, more instrumental take on "The Garden," a heavenly metaphor mashed with a fake ending that can only be a resurrection reference. In fact, the entire album straddles the spiritual and sexual, not as blatantly as Prince used to do, but the song "Secrets" is surely about more than just hidden truths—gotta be the coochie. Similarly, on "Gemini," there's some talk of falling down on your knees—and when you're on your knees, you're either praying or fellating or both. Not everything here works. The horns on the slow jam "Superhero" sound terrifyingly like Chicago or Chuck Mangione, and the vocal effects on "Beauty" sound far too much like Cher's electro-enhanced performance on "Believe." Still, it's a great boning soundtrack, a big-afro-ed romp that gives you an idea of what black radio must have sounded like, circa 1973.
The Groove Syndicate perform at the Sandpiper, 1183 S. Coast Hwy., Laguna Beach, (949) 494-4694. Every Tuesday, 9:30 p.m. $4.
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