By Alex Distefano
By Daniel Kohn
By Aimee Murillo
By Nick Schou
By Nate Jackson
By Nate Jackson
By Dave Lieberman
By Daniel Kohn
Acid-jazz was where they later landed in the record store but Brand New Heavies were pulling analog funk/soul into a hip-hop/dance scene in London in the mid-'80s—not much acid though an obvious respect for jazz, and soon they got good and blurry, writing songs that picked every tiny pocket of world rhythm happening. Core instrumental trio Simon Bartholomew, Andrew Levy and Jan Kincaid were formidably versatile stylists, saluting every principal player from Meters to Mittoo over a discography equally friendly to crate-diggers and club dancers.
But it took one more person to herald what some now call the classic years: in comes N'Dea Davenport, the Atlanta-born singer who towed the Heavies to two of their best-regarded records and signed off on their best-remembered sound. These Heavies were an all-in-one soul-train review, surveying the span of '70s with second-gen reverence. Their self-titled disc and their follow-up/public fave Brother Sister had Davenport up front for a firecracker string of chart hits that had reviewers talking about jewels and wonders-of-the-world, but as she tells other reviewers now, the glory soured—industry hassle squeezed Davenport out, and though Heavies rattled on through three more singers, she left a hard silhouette to fill. That's why the excitement now with N'Dea back and Heavies with a brand new album hoping to plug the current back into the classics: "Someone will be like, 'I was in high school when I was listening to you!'" says Davenport now. "That feels weird—we're not that old!"
She proves it, too, riffing out loud on what she knows about OC—never seen the TV show, she says—and coming up with right-now locals like Aloe Blacc and Exile and supportive local-ish labels like Sound in Color and Stones Throw. ("See? I'm still in it," she laughs). While on Heavies hiatus, Davenport didn't have downtime—she restored a Victorian mansion in New Orleans mostly by herself, and "if I wouldn't have stepped away from the band, I wouldn't have realized I had other talents. It's important to have a well-rounded life." Interim solo work went well, she says—"I can't say I had too many rough collaborations in my life," she says. "I'm kind of a cool team player!"—but of course it's nice to be back: "I guess we could have gone on and on and never have got to hang out again," she says. "It's like a relationship with my estranged brothers—it would have been kind of a sad situation not to collaborate with my brothers again. Life is too short."
Aw, but you know—if you've heard her sing would you expect another sentiment? That's almost a song from Get Used to It, which is almost a thank-you card to all the patient fans, with Davenport lyrics about bringing back the funky music ("Right On," a soft James Brown nod like "In the Middle") or doing things again ("Let's Do It Again," a late-Motown disco-soul track with Davenport singing, "It's a beautiful thing/being together once again.") "Sex God" must be Davenport's drum debut—she tried to learn all through school, but backward band teachers dubiously scooted her toward flute—and the lead single (and Stevie Wonder cover) "I Don't Know Why (I Love You)" goes, "I don't know why I love you . . . but I love you." Reportedly picked to shore up flagging studio inspiration, it's a return to classic Heavies form—kind of a reason for reunion all detailed in one song. Not that I'm sappy enough to make a connection like that.