If you go way back with Galactic, the funk/jazz powerhouse from lovely New Orleans, you most likely remember The Houseman, the band’s singer during those early days. Theryl DeClouet brought an authenticity to the band’s sound, especially when they dug deep into southern funk and bayou-drenched soul. The band would rage on the instrumentals, but the tunes fronted by the Houseman always had a different vibe to them, giving the band another gear that some of their contemporaries lacked.
The Houseman lent his voice to four of the band’s studio albums before health concerns caused him to leave the group after the release of their 2003 album Ruckus. He released a solo album of his own in 2007 and passed away in 2018.
Following his departure from the group, Galactic found themselves in an interesting situation when it came to vocals. This transitional period also included the band evolving their sound, incorporating elements of rock, hip hop, electronic music, and world music. As a result, when it came time to record a follow-up to Ruckus, an album that itself marked a shift in the band’s style, most notably courtesy of production from Dan the Automator, the band elected to take some chances. 2007’s From The Corner to the Block featured guest spots from Lyrics Born, Chali2Na, Gift of Gab, Juvenile, Mr. Lif, Boots Riley, and Lateef the Truth Speaker among others. The album also included contributions from DJ Z-Trip, Trombone Shorty, and Soul Rebels Brass Band.
From The Corner to the Block ushered in a new era for Galatic, coming a little over ten years after the release of their debut album Coolin’ Off. With DeClouet’s departure, the band found themselves in a position to leave the vocal gig open, handing out invites to some of their favorite rappers, as well as singers such as Cyril Neville, Corey Glover, and Maggie Koerner. From The Corner to The Block went so well that the band continued to experiment and incorporate different vocalists on each of their four studio albums that would follow.
Here are the twenty best Galactic tracks to feature a guest vocalist that was released during this second decade of Galactic’s career.
20. “Heart of Steel” feat. Irma Thomas
Galactic has a penchant for drawing on local talent when it comes to bringing in guest vocalists. On “Heart of Steel” off of Ya-Ma-Kay, they brought in the “Soul Queen of New Orleans” Irma Thomas to give the song some extra swagger. The result is a song that is sultry and smooth, cruising along at a comfortable tempo so as not to work up too much of a sweat on one of those sticky Nawlins’ nights.
19. “Karate” feat. KIPP Renaissance High Marching Band
Okay, so we’re making an exception here and it’s cool because really, why the hell not. “Karate” is STACKED with horns. There are so many damn horns on this song. It sounds like an invading army comprised entirely of horns stampeding its way across the battlefield and all you can do as they storm toward you is shimmy and shake in your boots because my dude, you have no hope. You’re done for. “Karate” gonna get you, son. Just deal with it.
18. “Clap Your Hands” feat. Miss Charm Taylor
Galactic again looks towards a powerful female vocalist to grab the mic but this time they go a touch younger than the legend Irma Thomas, enlisting young buck Miss Charm Taylor for this rabble-rouser. Yeah, that’s what it is. This song rouses the rabble, kid. Rouses ’em good, too. Consider the rabble roused once this song winds down.
17. “Wild Man” feat. Big Chief Bo Dollis
Big Chief Bo Dollis sounds like a true professional on “Wild Man” and that’s probably because he was. Theodore Emile “Bo” Dollis was the longtime Big Chief of the Wild Magnolias Mardi Gras Indians. Dollis was reportedly one of the new voices of Mardi Gras and “among the first to bring the culture and sound of the Indian culture to national prominence, recording the first commercial album of Mardi Gras Indian music, the single “Handa Wanda,” in 1970″ according to nola.com. Dollis passed away in 2015 but with a voice like his, he was destined to live on.
16. “Domino” feat. Ryan Montableau
Us folks from the great Northeast are hip to Ryan Montableau and over some two decades, he has made a name for himself, both fronting his band and as a solo artist. He has one of those clean, soul voices and Galactic gives him the perfect tune to do his thing over with this track from the excellent “Into The Deep.” And hey, fun fact is that Montableau and his band played my buddy’s wedding. I asked them to dedicate their version of Talking Heads’ “This Must Be The Place” to the bride and groom, to which Montableau urged me to grab the mic and do it. So I did, saying something along the lines of “Wilson, we once got arrested for underage drinking. Muriel, I can only hope that we get busted for underage drinking as well someday.” Check back at the later show for the story behind that one, kids.
15. “Double It” feat. Big Freedia
You know who’s not effin’ around on this track? Yeah, it’s Big Freedia. Why? Because Big Freedia doesn’t eff around. Like, ever. Just doesn’t happen.
14. “Move Fast” feat. Mystikal, Mannie Fresh
From The Corner to the Block works because Galactic didn’t just front as a hip hop backing band. They brought their own beers to the party, creating a vibe that works so much better than if they had just rolled up empty-handed (which is just rude.) Also, props to Mystikal. My dude raps like his life depends on it and it’s fantastic. He has the energy and power vocally to match the energy and power of Galactic and it kind of makes you wish they recorded an entire album together.
13. “Rock-Rock-Away” w. Lyrics Born
Well, another exception here. “Rock-Rock-Away” technically isn’t a Galactic joint as it appears on Lyrics Born’s 2015 album Real People. HOWEVER, members of Galactic helped produce the album and Galactic and the Bay Area rapper had a connection since From The Corner to the Block. But more importantly, this tune is fun, man. It’s so much fun that nothing I just said matters. Just listen to it again and listen to it loudly because if you don’t, you’re effin’ up, man. You’re blowing it. Get your shit together.
12. “Into the Deep” feat. Macy Gray
Galactic isn’t really a radio band. I’ve never heard them on any of the radio stations I listen to. Maybe you have. That’s great. I’m happy for you. So if you have heard Galactic on the radio, I would venture to guess the song you heard was the title track from Into The Deep featuring Macy Gray. It’s probably the most radio-friendly track the band has ever recorded. And you know what? It’s delightful.
11. “Hustle Up” feat. Boots Riley
I’ve never seen the video for this song before and I’m not sure I’ll ever unsee it. But you know, I’m just gonna work the wiggle and go from there. But no really, the video’s fucking weird.
10. “Does It Really Make A Difference?” feat. Mavis Staples
Man, Galactic bring some genuine, Stax-vibing soul on this track and a big part of that is the inclusion of the legendary Mavis Staples on vocals. Staples’ vocals are easily the star of the show but we should also tip our hat to the horns, which really help get the song over the finish line. Staples and Galactic had traveled in some of the same circles before finally working together but man, add Staples to the same list Mystikal is on because a Galactic-backed Mavis Staples album would be delicious.
9. “Think Back” feat. Chali2Na
Chali2Na of Jurassic 5 has one of the more recognizable voices in hip hop, rumbling along the low end. On “Think Back,” another track From The Corner to the Block, Chali2Na’s voice bounces in lockstep with the groove the band lays down. The end result is a smooth, little number, easy-going like a summer Sunday afternoon.
8. “Higher And Higher” feat. J.J. Grey
Grey represents a little different flavor for the band when it comes to their choice of vocalists. Grey, from good ol’ Jacksonville, Florida, has a rough and tumble voice that screams dirty ass southern, soul-rock. Whereas Galactic tends to go in different directions, whether its cleaner soul (i.e. Ryan Montableau,) vintage soul (i.e. Mavis Staples) or underground hip hop, Grey brings some backyard brawling and boozing grit with him, making “Higher and Higher” one of the more eclectic and rare entries in the band’s catalog.
7. “Dolla Diva” feat. David Shaw, Maggie Koerner
This is the first of two songs in which Galactic tapped Maggie Koerner and David Shaw of The Revivalists to sing and it makes you wonder why Galactic doesn’t bring these two along more often. The vocalists work really well together, their voices taking turns kicking around the madness of New Orleans, both bringing some heat with them. Behind the vocals, the music is pure Galactic garage funk.
6. “I Got It” feat. Lyrics Born
The opening track of From The Corner to the Block is a hell of an opener, a fantastic opener, and a perfect table-setter for the album in which Galactic ushered in this new era of theirs. Lyrics Born has always sounded the best when fronting a wild band, so him teaming up with Galactic almost makes too much damn sense. The chorus comes out so hard it sounds as if were shot from a cannon and the verses are propelled by the chaos and madness created by the band. Can we add LB to that same list Mystikal and Mavis Staples are on? I think we should. Yeah, we will. I’ll write up a memo. I’m on it.
5. “Hey Na Na” feat. David Shaw, Maggie Koerner
A couple years before releasing Into The Deep, the band released the rowdier and less polished Carnivale Electricos. Fittingly, this first collaboration with Shaw and Koerner is an effin’ wrecking ball of energy and excitement. The song typifies how in the second era of Galactic, they’re able to meld the madness of their instrumentals with vocals. It’s not to say they couldn’t do a song like this with The Houseman, but I’m not sure it would rage in the same way.
4. “Going Straight Crazy” feat. Princess Shaw
Princess Shaw might not be as well-known Mavis Staples or Macy Gray, but according to Galactic that proved to beneficial, with bassist Robert Mecurio saying “trust me, I loved having Macy Gray and Mavis Staples on our last record. It was an honor to work with them. But there’s something fun about making music with someone not everybody has heard of and end up getting a great reaction to it. There are no preconceived thoughts as to what the song should be like because the listener doesn’t know the artist as well.” I would also add that this song is a nice glass of Lemonade on a summer day. It just makes sense.
3. “The Corner” feat. Gift of Gab
The late Gift of Gab always sounded so effortless and cool and “The Corner” is no exception. He paints pictures, brings you onto that corner in the city he’s talking about, the one “on the corner in the city, as the moonlight flows.” Galactic wisely hangs back some, giving the rapper one of their less busy tracks on From The Corner to the Block to work with.
2. “Out In The Street” feat. Cyril & Ivan Neville
Following The Houseman’s departure, vocalist and percussionist Cyril Neville was one of the vocalists the band hit the road with. Neville joined the group for a tour in 2010 and has existed in their orbit for years. “Out In The Street” is one of the few times he stopped by the studio though. Part of the appeal of “Out In The Street” is imaging how it would sound live, especially in a pulsing, loud, dark, and sweaty club.
1. “From The Corner To The Block” feat. Juvenile
It’s hard to top the likes of Mystikal and Lyrics Born, but it’s Juvenile who is at the front of the line when it comes to the rappers who sound the best with Galactic. The rapper and Galactic sound like they were made for one another and on the title track of From The Corner to the Block, they run wild together, whether playing it someone cool during the verses or blowing the doors off in the chorus. I’m especially partial to the horns that crash their way through the chorus but the star here is Juvenile’s flow teaming up with Galactic at the wild, rowdy best.