Downright gets 'Lightheaded'

Photo provided by STEVE LEWIS -- Downright
Photo provided by STEVE LEWIS -- Downright

Alabama band part of homegrown music making national impact

Funk-rock band Downright is another music act from Alabama on the move.

The state recently produced the famous Alabama Shakes. Alabama, in the manner of a specific geographical location whose homegrown music makes an international impact, could be the next Athens, Ga., Seattle, Wash., or Detroit, Mich.

“We say it’s been happening for years, but it’s kind of come into the zeitgeist lately,” said Steve Lewis of the Birmingham- and Nashville-based Downright. “I’m glad there’s a little limelight shining on old ’Bama. I see it as the music industry playing catch up, because the industry doesn’t know what works or why.”

Downright released “Lightheaded,” its fourth full-length album, in August. Lewis thinks it’s the best work he and Downright co-founder Matthew DeVine have done in their 13 years together.

“ ‘Lightheaded’ is Matt and I testing our partnership and creativity, really digging deep, grinding up against each other,” he said.

Lewis, DeVine and many guest musicians recorded the album in Birmingham and New York.

“It’s a marriage of P-Funk and James Brown sensibilities with the Kinks, Talking Heads, but seen through the lens of American punk music,” Lewis said.

Lewis and DeVine formed Downright in 2000.

“For a long time we were slugging it out in the bars,” Lewis recalled. “That was a good way to get people in the Southeast to know us. That has been great but, as we’ve gotten older, we got more project-oriented. Making records excites us the most.”

Singers and multi-instrumentalists Lewis and DeVine, who perform on stage with bassist Bobby Wason and drummer Jay Frederick, plan to release a “Lightheaded” follow-up in the spring.

“We can’t just play gigs without a tangible artifact of what the band’s all about,” Lewis said.

In his mid-30s, Lewis counts funk, rock and R&B acts from the 1980s and before, including Sly and the Family Stone, Prince, Lenny Kravitz and Lake Charles’ Cookie & the Cupcakes, as career-shaping influences.

“Perhaps to my detriment, I’ve lived in music’s past,” he confessed. “I like Lead Belly and Son House and early Duke Ellington. But we don’t try to be retro. We put old music styles through our Downright vision and do something new.”

The musical model for Downright, in fact, is New Orleans’ great, mostly instrumental funk band, the Meters.

“We love the Meters, the Neville Brothers, Allen Toussaint’s Minit Records productions, Lee Dorsey, Ernie K-Doe,” Lewis said. “I’m into that herky-jerky beat.”

The funk-loving Downright does its personal best to get people moving.

“I was living in New York for a while,” Lewis recalled. “Nobody moves in New York. Then I came to New Orleans and went to Vaughan’s Lounge and caught Kermit Ruffins’ thing. It’s jazz, not the most danceable New Orleans music, but people were moving anyway.

“We actually get people moving in Birmingham. But Nashville, as good as the music scene here is, people don’t move that pelvis like they do in Birmingham, and especially not like they do in Baton Rouge and New Orleans.”