Hitting the good groove may seem like a simple thing, but it's not. (If it were, anyone could have been James Brown, and a quick spin through his catalog confirms that's impossible.) And the ability to move the crowd can be used to say any number of things. Musical shape-shifters Chicano Batman have drawn from a rich variety of sources for their third album, 2017's Freedom Is Free -- Brazilian Tropicalia, Latin funk, vintage American soul, and R&B, shades of Afrobeat, and psychedelia of all sorts. But the way the band gracefully navigate the nexus between the passionate and the laid-back sides of their musical personality is what makes Freedom Is Free stand out. Just as Funkadelic's classic early albums indelibly merged rock guitars with funk grooves, Chicano Batman make music that makes your hips sway, but with a purposefully easy tempo. They give their music a vibe that's powerful and sensual all at once, merging their influences in a way that doesn't cancel out any of the elements. And like Funkadelic, Chicano Batman's lysergic investigations of inner space are rooted in a reality that doesn't negate optimism, but speaks of an awareness too strong to give up. In its way, "The Taker Story" is Chicano Batman's "Maggot Brain," an unblinking tale of mankind's long-standing abuse of our planet that similarly decries how we've knocked up Mother Earth, and the lean, organic groove only heightens the ferocity of the message. Most of Freedom Is Free lacks the lyrical force of "The Taker Story," but "Passed You By" and "Friendship (Is a Small Boat in a Storm)" both deal with the ways trust is not always rewarded, and the title cut's acknowledgment that there's a guy with a gun out there means Chicano Batman aren't kidding themselves that everyone shares their dreams. But the easy joy of the music on Freedom Is Free is as eloquent as any of the lyrics, and this is ambitious multi-cultural funk with a firm sense of heart, soul, and groove. Chicano Batman aren't trying to unite One World Under a Groove, but in its best moments, Freedom Is Free suggests this is one band that could be up to the task, and music that engages the mind and the body this well is more than welcome in a time of chaos.
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AllMusic Review by Mark Deming