Album Review: Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe, ‘New Ammo’

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The new record from Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe, New Ammo, is exactly as advertised — a “100% Soul Explosion.”

From the first note to the final chorus, the record does indeed explode with an exciting triple threat of soul, funk and jazz. This record feels like an aural Mardi Gras that’s raging through your brain and slowly moves its way down into your soul. It’s one of those records where one literally has to fight back the urge to get off your seat dance. It’s actually a joyful listen, so much so that you’ll keep this on repeat throughout your week — it never tires, never gets old.

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The fat horn section, anchored by Denson himself, is as thrilling and as epic as any guitar virtuoso fronted outfit. Denson’s sax along with the rest of the brass armada of the Tiny Universe provide a huge wall of sound — that’s as thrilling and pulse-raising as anyone finger-flying over the frets of a Fender.

The absolute stand-out cut of the entire record is the title track, “New Ammo.” In it, we get to listen to Denson’s dynamic sax work, he just wails and wails and wails on that thing, it sends chills up your spine. The rest of the track is a wonderfully funky/jammy mix that employs more guitar work than any other track and races along at 100 mph. It’s not rushed or sloppy, but it’s like any good groove — it’s filled with speed, power and passion but also a sense of control and structure. Simply put, this is just a killer track.

The outfit covers three songs on the record and all of them are absolutely brilliant. First, Denson reworks Cold War Kids’ smash hit “Hang Me Out to Dry.” He takes that memorable, driving bass line and funks it out completely. He delightfully fills the sparse and empty quality of the song with organs and a brass section. Denson hasn’t just “covered” this song he has re-imagined this modern indie alt hit into a swagtastic, fat, funky track that is totally fine with getting down with its bad self.

The album Denson also does a show-stopping covers of The White Stripes “Seven Nation Army.” Jack White’s vocals have been replaced by a flute. Yes, a flute and it’s awesome. The big, epic guitar-driven chorus of the seminal Stripes song has been an equally epic brass-fueled chorus. Loyal Jack White disciples will definitely appreciate this homage.

Lastly, Denson covers the Beastie Boys’ classic, “Sure Shot.” This cover lacks the grandiosity of the others and it needed to. The original is already based in a fat, funky, jazz-inspired beat, so to give it a brass treatment might not work. Instead, Denson re-imagines the song with a laid back funk-n-soul treatment complete with a healthy dose of turntablism.

The addition of these covers do not take away in the least from the other dope tracks on New Ammo. No, not in the least. Yet, it’s just so surprising at just how much Denson and company took them and turned them on their head but kept the essence of the original track. Masterful.

Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe’s New Ammo is without a doubt the first must-have record of 2014. It’s a beautifully constructed piece of happy and who can’t help but love that?

Click here to purchase the album on iTunes.

Related Articles:

Interview: Karl Denson (Bill Bodkin)

Album Review: Spark! by Soulive and Karl Denson (Bill Bodkin)

Bill Bodkin is the owner, editor-in-chief and co-founder of Pop Break. Most importantly, however, he is the proud father of a beautiful daughter, Sophie. He can be seen regularly on the site reviewing The Walking Dead, Doctor Who, and is the host of the site's podcast, The BreakCast. He is a graduate of Rutgers University with a degree in Journalism & English. Follow him on Twitter: @BodkinWrites

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