Back in the 1970s, many rock critics weren't terribly kind to the soul, funk, and soul-jazz of the day; the same critics who gave Tower of Power and Earth, Wind & Fire negative reviews were just as hard on soul-jazz instrumentalists like Jack McDuff, Grover Washington, Jr., and Gene Harris (who also took a lot of beatings from jazz critics). But time proved to be a lot kinder to 1970s black music than 1970s critics; in the 1990s, it became downright hip to worship all things 1970s. From alternative rockers and funk-metalers to retro-soulsters, the 1990s were full of young white (or predominantly white) bands that proudly declared their 1970s obsessions. One of the many 1970s-minded retro bands that emerged in the 1990s was the Wise Monkey Orchestra, which recorded several studio albums before providing this live CD in 2000. A collection of live performances that were recorded from January-April 2000, They Live paints an attractive, if imperfect, picture of the San Diego-based outfit. The material is derivative, but generally enjoyable -- sort of Rufus & Chaka Khan by way of the Brand New Heavies with a rock edge and a strong appreciation of soul-jazz and fusion. Most of the songs are 1970s-like soul and funk offerings that feature the earthy, gritty female singer Alley Stewart, but the instrumentals definitely have a jazz improviser's mentality. Tunes like "Brainchild" and "SLM" aren't just instrumental R&B; they combine a funky beat with jazz spontaneity and allow for stretching on the part of WMO's members and guest saxophonist Dave Ellis. Not perfect but generally likable, They Live is worth acquiring if you're among those who can't get enough of 1970s black music.
AllMusic Review by Alex Henderson