In 2016, David Pattillo released ‘Raised On Rock N Roll’, his second album under the Strange Majik moniker. The record cast aside all of the rap elements from the debut, and some of the funk, but in playing like a journey through the best 70s record collection in the world, its strong influences from Leon Russell, The Allman Brothers Band, Sly Stone and Todd Rundgren showcased a musician with great taste and a very broad talent.

Not one to rest on his laurels, Pattillo followed this with two rocky affairs – the politically charged ‘Channel T’ and the overlooked ‘20/20’ in 2018 and 2020, respectively – before unleashing the slightly rawer sounding ‘Strange Majik & The Righteous Wrongs’ LP in 2021.

With a few of digital singles drip-fed to fans during the second half of 2023, the promotion cycle for the sixth Majik long player ‘NYC Animal’ felt rather long, but for anyone who’s ever connected with Pattillo’s work in the past, the album was worth the wait. It’s also fair to say that a couple of the pre-released singles, although very good, aren’t necessarily the album’s strongest cuts. David has held those back for the fans who’d rather experience his work as a whole suite of retro sounds, and was right to do so, as ‘NYC Animal’ is so much more than the sum of its parts.

As the title strongly suggests, the brilliant ‘HDB Jimi’ finds Pattillo in full flow, jamming out an instrumental that relies heavily on a wah-ed guitar. Armed with a dirty early 70s tone, its Hendrix-isms are heavier, without being heavy handed. There are traces of similar power trio works from John Mayer’s unmissable ‘Try!’, which just adds to the quality. As things progress, the groove stretches out, and David employs an effectively clean, ringing tone beneath a jazz funk sax, whilst deep funky bass work acts as the glue that holds everything in place. This is tight as hell; the work of musicians that work effortlessly together, and deserves to be played loudly. Even when listening back to the album recording, you can just feel the great vibe in the Strange Majik studio space.

Also conveying elements of Mayer within some brilliant soul-blues guitar work, the title cut hits upon a groove instantly and never lets go across a tightly wound five minutes. Taking a bluesy funk riff as the base, Pattillo unveils a bluesy croon that calls back to the best moments of ‘Raised…’, while his assembled band work hard to layer up a great sound throughout. The baritone saxes play a huge part in the music’s muscular sound, adding a genuine sassiness to the first half of the track, and a busy bass groove often vies for the listener’s attention, despite the busy arrangement offering so much more. Best of all, though, for the middle eight, Pattillo strips everything away to share a clavinet riff that’s half Stevie Wonder, and half John Paul Jones amid ‘Trampled Underfoot’ – and it’s utterly superb. There’s a great song with a spirited vocal here, but the music’s so committed, this would’ve worked just as well as an instrumental cut. Guaranteed to appeal to fans and first time listeners alike, this is one of the greatest tunes in the Majik catalogue to date.

Opting for something a little quieter, ‘Catalina’ blends blues guitar with a soulful pop sound, but lending a different slant again, a mournful steel guitar cries in the back, adding a slight country vibe to the Majik soul. With a little less bluster to hide behind, Pattillo shares his most melodic vocal this time around, steering a tune with a smoother approach and seemingly having more confidence in his own vocal. Back in the 90s, this could’ve propped up a Diesel album; in the twenty first century, it reminds us that Strange Majik has always been about far more than old school rock ‘n’ blues jams. With a great melody aided by a near perfect production, it’s deserving of being another album highlight. By comparison, the other mellow tune ‘We Want The Same Thing’ fares less well, but even that offers some great moments. The slightly slurred vocal is a little distracting at first, but bend your ears past that and you’ll encounter a soulful blues jam that works around a wonderfully warm and fluid bass, some very smooth guitar work, and eventually stumble upon an absolutely top notch harmonica solo.

The funk driven blues of ‘Manhattan Is Back’ captures Pattillo dropping a clean, choppy guitar groove against a steady beat, which instantly grabs the ear. With a huge bluesy undertone worked effectively throughout and the assistance from a female backing vocal, there are times when this number occasionally feels like a Majik reworking of an old Robert Cray tune from the 80s, pepped with an extra groove. Although the music often outshines the vocal, David brings a gruff and sinister tone to the lyric, which despite being at odds with the feelgood music, really gives the track an edge. For those who love Pattillo unveiling bigger, funky sounds, this will surely be a favourite. Changing the mood, ‘Dopamine’ opts for retro of a different kind. Unexpectedly, part of the music is driven by a repetitive guitar drone which appears to owe a little more to Neu! and Krautrock than Pattillo’s usual influences. He takes this and builds upon it strongly with the help of a rattling drum rhythm, dancing bass and pop/rock-ish hook where the layered vocals and broader melodies occasionally hint at something more of a late 80s persuasion. Somewhere amid the busy style, Pattillo delivers a crooned vocal that’s more natural sounding than usual, but all things considered, this strange melting pot of sound really works. That’s especially the case once a middle eight offers a great key change and even more enthused vocal, and although it doesn’t quite hit the heights of this album’s highest highs, long time supporters will certainly find the end result hugely enjoyable.

With ‘Black Lashes’ offering some stripped down, semi-acoustic blues vibes leading into a rock ‘n’ soul mix that almost feels otherworldly with its use of strings and high register vocals, and ‘Un Nouvel Amour’ repeating the kind of soulful funk found on ‘Catalina’ but injecting that with some extra punch, even a couple of this LP’s lesser workouts offer potential goodness. ‘Nouvel’, in particular sounds like a welcome throwback to earlier Majik works with its strident sound and the way a tough, funk groove cuts beneath a brazen sax.

‘NYC Animal’ doesn’t quite hold up against the brilliant ‘Raised On Rock ‘n’ Roll’ – let’s face it, that second Strange Majik record set a very high benchmark – but it’s easily Pattillo’s most consistent offering since then. The best bits of this 2024 release are pure Majik, and even when a couple of bits miss the mark very slightly, the performer’s love for what he does comes through in massive waves, and in a way that’ll make you think the less immediate tunes will improve with some quality listening time. Occasionally flawed but often superb, if you’ve never had the pleasure of experiencing David/Majik’s massively retro world, ‘NYC Animal’ provides a more than decent place to dive in.

January/February 2024