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[whitespace] Weapon of Choice gets groove crazy on 'Nutmeg Phantasy'

By Nicky Baxter

Weapon of Choice has inherited the rock-laced R&B mantle that Sly Stewart once wore. As did Sly & the Family Stone, Weapon of Choice specializes in phat-bottomed bass funk, chattering keyboards and snappy drumming.

But where Sly was a little skimpy on the guitar twiddling, Weapon of Choice has taken a cue from Hendrix-inspired funkadelia, littering its grooves with wah-wah-pedal effects and blistering hard-rock lead guitar--weapon of choice indeed.

The band, founded by lead singer/bass player Lonnie "Meganut" Marshall six years ago, has performed with everyone from alternative champs Primus and Alice in Chains to hip-hop hard-head Ice Cube. Although the eight-piece ensemble has a scant two studio releases to its credit, Weapon of Choice has now released a "best of" collection aptly titled Nutmeg Phantasy (Loosegroove/Mayo Records).

The genre-jumping music not only embraces roiling, danceable black rock but also cool-runnin' reggae ("P-Kin at the Apex"), slinky soul ("Leprechauns") and eccentric rock-jazz ("Outta Sight").

"U Owe it To U," from 1994's Nutmeg Sez "Bozo the Town," is a mad-dog boogaloo, a hybrid of Sly and George Clinton's version of modern black party music. Lonnie Marshall's "do your own thang" declamations and bottom-dwelling bass are aided and abetted by some extremely nasty guitar and rabbit-punch drumming.

As a vocalist, Marshall draws on Clinton's drawling goof-ball delivery; he's addressing coolies only--all the squares go home. The track's sproingy, squeaking keyboards recall Bernie Worrell at his most imaginative. It all adds up to the kind of mega-moshing not heard since street-level R&B's early-1970s halcyon days.

"Just Cuz She Was Nice" commences with a skankin' reggae pulse; complete with chinka-chinka riddim guitar and long-snouted trombone lines. The vocal, however, is strictly stateside soul. Suddenly, at the bridge, things turn freaky; the wah-wah guitar gets loose-bootied and the horns bob and weave while the vocal becomes more frenetic. The lyrical pro-feminist message is summed up in the vocal line--"Smack her, and she'll smack you back"--which is adroitly submerged in the song.

Also culled from NutMeg Sez! is the Thelonious Monkish "Gutterball." At least that's how things start out. Wedged into the tune is verbiage lifted straight from Mr. Clinton's catalog of cosmic debris. The octet zooms into the fusion on "Outta Sight," heading in the direction of the Mahavishnu Orchestra instrumentally, while firing off soul-styled verbal shots. "Leprechauns & Silly Things" is the most conventional number taken from Highperspice, Weapon of Choice's sophomore effort, released two years ago.

If any track sums up the band's sonic vision, it is the title track. Plangent keyboards, hotly pursued by a zanily bumpin' bass line and astringent guitars, plunge fearlessly into a jungular groove. Topped off by glossy jazzed-up horn-play, all that's left is for head NutMeg to chirp along to the beat like some quacky professor of the absurd.

Too bad contemporary R&B, hip-hop and modern rock stations are so damned conservative. In a groovier world, Weapon of Choice's hyperactive beats would be bouncing around the airwaves like Sly Stone's once did.

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Web extra to the April 30-May 6, 1998 issue of Metro.

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