The New Congress have to be one of the most interesting accidents that ever happened to me. Caught Keith Blackshire headlining a few years ago at Bunker’s, over in Minneapolis’s Warehouse District. TNC were the openers (they now have a regular Thursday night stand there). Wasn’t all that knocked out on first hearing—sue me, as if it’s the first time a critic dropped the ball—but out of professional courtesy, I asked their manager Steph Devine for to send me a press kit. Before the kit arrived, wound up back at Bunker’s, catching The New Congress open for somebody else. Almost had an accident on myself.
Next morning, at the post office, pulled their demo (they hadn’t had any press yet) out of my mailbox and got psyched. Got home and, instead of dropping it on the first free surface, slapped it on the box. Wasn’t slain by the lead cut “Make You Move” and ain’t crazy about it to this day, but, well, it went on to win a Los Angeles Music Award as Best R&B/Soul Single. “Sex in the Light Years,” though, killed. So did “What a Life.” Been a fan ever since. When the album Everybody Gets Up! hit, bugged every editor that’d listen for an assignment to cover the band. Nagged like somebody’s mother-in-law. It worked. In fact, I got to write the first articles about them. Several articles and much later, and it’s a pleasure to do it again.
The New Congress planned on a follow-up to Everybody Gets Up! being on store shelves by now. Didn’t pan out that way—stuff happens, especially when you’re recording—but they have one hell of a tide-me-over in the limited-release EP Crucial while the album Woman Is God waits in the wings. (Start snooping around the racks come late spring.) TNC recently went to Manhattan for a mini-tour highlighted by gigging at the B.B. King Blues Club and debuted Crucial.
The material’s rich, including a remarkable reworking of “Under the Eyes,” which was cold-blooded to begin with on Everybody Gets Up! With Everybody Gets Up!, vocalist, main songwriter and guitarist Aaron “Orange AC” Cosgrove served notice there was a young lion in town. On Crucial, he marks his territory with sweet, tight, rocket-fueled R&B, badder even than the first disc.
Cosgrove’s a master at poetic lyrics set to funky grooves in a bittersweet voice—and he plays hell out of a guitar, blistering when heat’s called for and laying back when that’s called for, gentle as angels’ wings. He outdoes himself on all six songs on Crucial, his touch intact, but this time out brandishing incredible versatility.
The intro to “Under the Eyes,” by the by, samples Barack Obama’s inaugural address. Last time I heard a band do something like that, the Electric Flag opened “Killing Floor” on Long Time Comin’ with part of a Lyndon Baines Johnson speech.
Take it to any bank: if you dig TNC at all, you will fall out behind Crucial.
And heads up—if you haven’t caught TNC’s “1,000 Degrees,” included in the Pachyderm Studios compilation So Large We Ran Out of Room, the jam is downright anthemic. I stared in disbelief when Steph Devine told me the guys have reworked it, and the version on Woman Is God improves on the original. Scared to hear it.
I’ve always said The New Congress are gon’ blow up like a blimp. Disbelieve if you won’t. I’ll be sittin’ with a great big Kool-Aid smile, talkin’ ‘bout, “Told y’ so.”
Conflict-of-interest disclaimer: I was in the studio last month with Aaron “Orange AC” Cosgrove, who plays guitar on my CD project.
Dwight Hobbes is a writer based in the Twin Cities. He contributes regularly to the Daily Planet.