It didn’t take 25 years for A Town Called Earth to become a classic. As soon as the terra firma-shaking second album by The Greyboy Allstars was released in the summer of 1997, it was clear to anyone with receptive ears that here was the future of—well, you name it: funk, boogaloo, soul, jazz, R&B, fusion. It’s all mashed up and buoyed by a propulsive groove on this groundbreaking recording. A quarter of a century later and A Town Called Earth is recognized as a bonafide game changer. What better way to celebrate the landmark anniversary of a landmark album than to present its long overdue debut on digital streaming platforms and vinyl. A Town Called Earth: The Immortal Edition will be released on September 16 by the band’s own Knowledge Room Recordings with distribution via reissue impresarios Light In The Attic.
The Immortal Edition features the original ten-track album supplemented by the previously unreleased “Cassiopeia’s Chair,” a tight yet breezy groover with a touch of the band’s skewed, cosmic sensibilities. Remastered from the original analog source tapes by Dave Cooley and Phillip Rodriguez at Elysian Masters, pressed on 180-gram audiophile vinyl and packaged with an 18x24” color poster, only 2000 copies of the double-LP set will be issued.
“It feels great to still be making music together as we revisit this seminal record,” says saxophonist Karl Denson. “It was a great time in our lives, [when] we found like-minded artists and were able to do something on the scale of A Town Called Earth… And vinyl is and will always be cool.”
The Greyboy Allstars—Denson, keyboardist Robert Walter, guitarist Elgin Park (aka Mike Andrews), bassist Chris Stillwell, and drummer Zak Najor—originally came together in 1993 as the backing band for acid jazz DJ and producer DJ Greyboy. Their debut album, West Coast Boogaloo, was released the following year, showcasing the band’s tight grooves and combustible chemistry. That hardly prepared listeners, however, for the creative explosion represented by A Town Called Earth. The lean funk of its predecessor blossomed in myriad directions, fueled in part by the extensive tour schedule the band had maintained in the interim.
“The Greyboy Allstars had a sort of magical chemistry right from the start,” says Walter. “I think we all just love rhythm and feel it in similar ways. By the time we were recording this album we also had played a ton of shows. It was very telepathic. We would go out on tour and then as soon as we were back home we would play local shows. We really never stopped for a few years straight.”
“We really weren’t even a band for but a few weeks when we recorded West Coast Boogaloo,” adds Park. “By the time we recorded A Town Called Earth we had gelled and formed our own individual perspectives within the music. I think the source of inspiration was in the same universe, but our confidence was in a completely other place.”
That confidence was bolstered in part by the torch-passing support of legendary James Brown and Parliament-Funkadelic trombonist Fred Wesley, who performed on West Coast Boogaloo and contributed laudatory liner notes to A Town Called Earth.
“Playing with Fred taught us the value of hard work and perseverance,” Park says. “It gave us confidence we needed to play with simplicity and intent. He also taught us how to play with a smile and generous heart—always by example, of course.”
A Town Called Earth was recorded over a sprawling ten-day session at San Francisco’s Hyde Street Studios with engineer Mickey Petralia. It found the band moving beyond their influences to redefining funk for the coming millennium. The slippery soul jazz of “Turnip’s Big Move” landed somewhere between “Cissy Strut” and “Chameleon,” while “The Many Moods of Erik Newson” ventured into more blissed-out exotica. The classic, slinky groove of “Happy Friends” stands in stark contrast to the exploratory, psychedelia-tinged title track, which maintains its heady atmosphere for more than 15 minutes. “Quantico VA” captures the raucous feel of the band’s live sets, while “December’s Bicycle” unfurls as breezy, shimmering folk-rock.
“We had moved from just trying to emulate old records to finding our own sound. Everyone was composing and we were playing more original music at our shows. We were expanding our improvisations too, playing less strict to the genre,” explains Walter. “It was also the longest we had spent recording. West Coast Boogaloo was done in just one day. When it came time to record A Town Called Earth, I remember feeling like we could experiment a lot without being on a crazy time crunch.”
“We made the decision to record away from home, which I think helped with our collective purpose of making something special,” continues Stilwell. “It was our job to go to every day until it was finished. There were no inactive days where we were without ideas or thoughts of what to do. We were in a good flow.”
Although Najor has since departed the band, The Greyboy Allstars are still going strong nearly three decades after first convening, and remain one of the most scintillating live acts on the planet. A Town Called Earth: The Immortal Edition offers a welcome opportunity to revisit the band’s full-throttle beginnings and a reminder that their vibrant inventiveness has been a core component since their early days.
“I’m very happy to have A Town Called Earth out on vinyl and digital,” Walter says. “It’s an album I’m really proud of and captures the band at a time of particular growth.”
The Greyboy Allstars