Sheila E. and the E Train deliver a brand new album entitled Hella Fonk-E that is arguably her best release in decades. It’s a gorgeous mixture of instrumental acid-jazz sessions, funk jams and a cover or two sprinkled in for posterity.
There is not a lot to say about the force of nature that is Sheila E that I haven’t praised before. She has been the one constant in the Prince universe and also one of the few in the purple circle that was already well established in her musical career before being erroneously pigeonholed as a “Prince protege.” Before Prince came along and “put her on the map“, she had already performed with the likes of George Duke, Lionel Richie, Marvin Gaye, Herbie Hancock, and Diana Ross. She was already on the map.
Sheila E is the epitome of a percussion Goddess and the new album Hella Fonk-E is a testament to her skillset along with her amazing propensity for selecting the perfect band to support her talents. While Sheila takes control of drums, percussion and vocals, her band consists of:
- Bass: Raymond “Deacon” McKinley (Patti LaBelle, Destiny’s Child, Ledisi)
- Guitar/Vocals: Mychael Gabriel (Sheila E., Joss Stone, George Benson)
- Keys/Vocals: Berton “B” Curtis (Sheila E., Nick Hagelin)
- Keys/Vocals: Rose Ann “Rad” Dimalanta (Rad., Nino D’Angelo, This is Acid Jazz series)
- Vocals: Lynn Mabry (Brides of Funkenstein, Parliament Funkadelic, George Michael, and way more)
The output is a 12-track album that showcases their unique fusion of funk, jazz, and Latin rhythms with a wealth of instrumental tracks including the first three tracks (25th Street, Truth, and El Alma de Carnival) and Virtuosity. All of which seem to set the pace for the jazz injections into the funk that will be heavily prevalent throughout the entire album.
The album opens with two instrumental jam sessions worthy of any standard funk/jazz release called 25th Street and Truth. Each offering build ups and musical journeys that showcase Moog-ish keyboard solos along with drums and percussion that highlight decades of ambient jazz techniques. This is then followed with the track El Alma De Carnival which is mostly instrumental with a Salsa flair but containing a chorus of thanks proclaiming, “I will give Him all the praise, singing Hallelujah“.
As the trio of opening instrumentals finish their album intro, it breaks into a duo of funk tracks Oakland in Da House, and Fanfare Mantanuska – Stroke 75 – Oakland Stroke. The songs primarily focus on the jams with limited chorus hooks, which proves that the funk jams are truly all you need.
We then enter into the first slow track of the album that features Lynn Mabry on vocals with the song Heaven Must Be Like This where Lynn paints her beautiful vocals over the top of a mid-tempo ballad like a sailboat on calm seas.
Surprisingly, Sheila opted to cover The Beatles Yellow Submarine which starts off with the same vocal harmonies of the original song, but with an unusually timed off kilter drum track accompaniment that quickly deviates into a funk jazz tune that simply ends way too soon.
Finishing off the album is a duo of jazz-tinged tracks including the relaxed shuffle of Virtuosity, and a slow track called Love Is Now that flows like a long lost Oleta Adams track featuring Sheila E on lead vocals.
Then the album closes with Midnite Jamm (listed as a Bonus Track), which is titled exactly as it sounds. A jam session complete with stop-breaks that contain Sheila adding on-the-fly dialogue pieces about salmon with no onions or cheese, recording studios in France, water and other various topics. A styling very reminiscent of Prince‘s unreleased insult tracks that all start with, “Why you big“. The hardcore purists will know what I’m referring to.
While Hella Fonk-E is short for my taste, it’s also perfectly crafted to leave the listener wanting more. In my opinion, it’s one of Sheila E‘s best album releases in decades. For purple circle fans, this album is a complete no brainer and well worth your time and worthy of a position in your playlist.