So, this is an album Greg Wilkens started recording last January on Mechanic Street in Red Bank. On the first day, they began recording Tony Lewis — the producer, and owner of HI Voltage Music told Wilkens that he had just been notified that the property the studio was on was being leveled to build a big apartment building in its place. This news left several local businesses in need of a place to go. So, Wilkens and crew worked with a bit of a fire under their asses and ended up with five songs before the doors had to be shut.
Luckily, Wilkens’ pals at Red Bank Rehearsal had just opened a second location down the street and had a room so that Lewis could frame out a studio in the space. So, as Wilkens says, “We had a bit of a lull in which I used to write brand new songs. That wasn’t the plan initially, but the inspiration was flowing, and I was able to get some fresh ideas on the table, and that helped form the rest of the album. So, a year and two studios later here we have it.”
Wilkens goes on to tell me, “The album is named Same Face Same Race. I think it’s a good title for a record — other than having it stem from one of the interludes — that’s coming out today. I’m disgusted at how divisive the country has become. There are not beautiful people on both sides, and there are fucking horrible people on all sides. It almost makes you want to drop everything and make an album to disconnect. And so, that’s what we did.”
“A few of the tunes were written and demoed back in 2014. Some go back to 2006 and were existing only inside my Yamaha Motif. There were about 20 tunes in all that were considered, and we ended up with 12. It was a lot of fun making this record, mostly because I was graced with the help of some of my incredibly talented friends. I initially was spelling the name Blue Money, but there was a rapper in Ocala, Fla. that had that title since 2012. I didn’t want any confusion, and luckily BlewMoney.com was available to buy for $10. So, I will be designing a site but in the meantime there is Facebook, and Instagram and a song on SoundCloud.”
After I read this information I had to admit, Wilkens, a guy I respect and have known for several years, was the guy to get it done, and that’s just what he did.
The record features many exceptional players: including guitarist Ritchie Oddo, Desiree Spinks, The Blue Monkey Choir, Metamorphosis — a rapper from Asbury Park, his daughter Raquel Williams lends background vocals on the song he does, guitarist Ty Tabor, percussionist Kevin Grossman, Joe Harvard, Tony Lewis, Jimmy Farkas, rapper Romulan from Seattle, Dan Puma, Dark Rebel (Asbury Park) and Kwest Rock, also from Asbury Park. Randy Preston also contributes guitar to a track. All in all, Wilkens couldn’t have assembled a better group, and the performance is key to that statement on the record.
Another exciting thing about this record is that all the songs feature interludes, which not only set up the next song, but also set the tone for the individual piece. This is something I haven’t seen in a long time.
Of course, I don’t have space to go through the entire record, but I did want to mention some of the standouts that mark the first record where Wilkens wrote, played and directed for his very own album.
“Beats for Days”’ kicks things off, and it’s a fast-paced rock/R&B flavored number that reminds me of early Earth, Wind, and Fire. Wilkens’ vocals are on Octane here, blending power with intricate backing influences and melodic prowess. Wilkens plays everything on this track, and it’s a smoking winner. Drums are powerful and soulful as bass, guitar and keys all work in unison to make this song a sure-fire winner in the clubs and on radio. Choruses are dead-on and stay with the listener for days. Compositionally speaking, Wilkens hits the nail on the head and pulls off a winning composition filled with energy and passion.
“Tarmac” leads into “Bottomless.” With a smooth combination of R&B and 1990s rock, “Bottomless” moves from verse to bridge to verse with effortless ease before blowing into a vast and addictive chorus. Drums, bass, guitars, and keys blend perfectly to produce a sure-fire funk-inspired hit that is sorely absent from the current shore sound club. Wilkens has one of the most eloquent voices in the music scene, and he is highly underrated in a sea of pseudo-punk kings and queens, and it’s a real shame. Another funky, solid tune that has tons of merit and vitality.
After another brief interlude Wilkens and crew launch into “Look the World Over.” This reminds me of early Curtis Mayfield meets Morris Day, and The Time meets Matchbox 20. Heavy synths groan over fat bass and drums as Wilkens roars into the microphone. The guitar work of Richie Oddo is pure Steve Cropper, and the chorus is bigger than Jesus. Wilkens really did his homework for this record, and the results are brilliant. With a chorus that stays with you for days, how can “Look the World Over” miss? The middle-eight lead guitar work is Freddie King-inspired genius and sings over bass, drums keys, and vocals.
Moving around a bit I came to a song called “Request Denied.” Wilkens is joined by Desiree Spinks and the Blew Monkey Choir on this one, and it rocks. Synths broil and sizzle as Wilkens and crew tear into their piece with gusto. Choruses aided by Spinks and the Blew Monkeys are strong and memorable. Spinks lends a softer, more soulful side that complements Wilkens powerhouse delivery perfectly.
On “Drive Time,” Wilkens features rapper Metamorphosis, rapper from Asbury Park, and his daughter Raquel Williams who lends background vocals to the track. Wilkens utilizes electronics with real instrumentation to showcase Metamorphosis lyrics and vocal attack. This is an exciting combination of funk-based R&B and rap, and it works quite well. Metamorphosis has an original style that fits well with the project, and I can only hope that we hear more of him in town soon. Raquel Williams lends melodic structure along with Wilkens to come up with listenable gold. Once again, Wilkens commands the instrumentation, guiding the piece from start to finish and allowing Metamorphosis to do his classic thing. A really great effort here.
Another standout is a song called nasty. Featuring Desiree Spinks on vocals, along with Wilkens and Jimmy Farkas on some of the funkiest guitar this side of Dyke and the Blazers. Rapper, Romulan, gets his licks in too and helps take this funk-based gem to the top of the heap. Superbly produced, “Nasty” moves and shimmers like Parliament Funkadelic in their prime. Bass, drums and guitars interact perfectly and make way for Spinks when they need to. I would have liked to have heard more Romulan, but he manages just fine. This is a party atmosphere at its most excellent and it’s a memorable tune that stays with you for days on end.
One standout tune I want to mention is “Same Situation.” This is the culmination of Asbury rockers and rappers all kicking into the piece and adding their distinct voices for the better. Featuring Romulan, Kwest Rock, Dark Rebel (Asbury Park) and Metamorphosis, “Same Situation’ blends four great rappers with electronica to come up with a song that not only scores high in my book of compositional excellence but also features awesome background singers, electronic accompaniment and an overall attitude of great mixtures of rap and R&B. Wilkens directs his crew while letting them do their thing and it works like gangbusters. Everyone joins in to make the song a masterpiece, and that’s what this is. It’s about time that the Asbury Park music scene invited rappers into their projects, and Wilkens has figured out how to do it with style and class, bringing all artists together to come up with something that makes perfect sense and should give radio no reason not to play this. I loved this, and these guys, along with Raquel Williams and Desiree Spinks in the choruses. Randy Preston’s middle-eight guitar work is the perfect complement to this composition.
Wilkens has always been a favorite of mine, and he hasn’t handed me a single bomb since I’ve known him. And while I didn’t have space to cover the 23 songs in their entirety in my column, Same Face, Same Race is another winner that embraces all styles and cultures of music and comes across as a winning project. I can only hope that when it’s time for them to play these songs live they use these same guys and reproduce these sounds onstage, which I think he will do.
For more information on Greg Wilkens and his new record Same Face, Same Race, keep your eye on this column and visit his website at blewmoney.com.