After deliberating for thirty-nine days, as required by law, I am ready to name my album of the year for 2006. And the Philly goes to…wait for it…yes, the winner is Game Theory by the Roots.
This decision was influenced only partly by the fact that ?uestlove, Black Thought, et. al. put on a mind-blowing performance at the Fillmore Auditorium last night, a performance that I was privileged to witness thanks to the thoughtfulness and generosity of the girl with the lead foot. Truly, if there’s a better band on the planet right now, I’d like to know their name. Although the Roots generally get filed under “hip-hop,” there was nary a turntable in sight; instead, we got a full band including a four-man horn section anchored by the formidable Tuba Gooding Jr., who did things with his enormous instrument that really ought to be impossible. They not only played superb arrangements of their own material, they also paid homage to James Brown with powerful renditions of “Get on the Good Foot” and “Funky Drummer”; stripped down to guitar, drums, and tuba for a 10-minute-plus, multi-movement version of Bob Dylan’s “Masters of War”; and covered both “Jungle Boogie” and “Roxanne,” the latter with ?uestlove on falsetto vocals. If the Roots come to your town, by all means do whatever you have to to be there.
Anyway, back to Game Theory. After the spotty Phrenology and the more satisfying The Tipping Point, the Roots have achieved some sort of pinnacle with this latest release. It’s hard, really, to even name highlights; the album is crammed full with one great song after another, running the gamut from swaggering to introspective, from accessible to experimental, from old-school to futuristic. It must be heard to be believed. Who said nothing good ever came out of Philadelphia? Actually, it was me, but apparently I was wrong.