Album review: Motivational Music for the Syncopated Soul

Marcus Kankkunen, Editor

When someone says Cory Wong, the first things that usually come to mind are: lightning fast right wrist, the song “Cory Wong,” and funk music. Born in New York, raised in Minnesota, and based in Minneapolis, Cory Wong, is best known for his role as rhythm guitarist in the popular funk band, Vulfpeck. Outside of his work with Vulfpeck, Wong has released three solo albums: Cory Wong and the Green Screen Band in 2017 and The Optimist in 2018. In 2019 Wong released his latest solo album, Motivational Music for the Syncopated Soul.

I was excited when Cory announced the new album, and I was even more excited when he revealed the album’s lineup, which featured Tom Misch, Nate Smith, Jon Batiste, and Caleb Hawley. However, I found myself distraught between hearing the album as a culmination of Cory’s work or if he was just rewriting the same songs. I was most disappointed that the best parts of the new album were not Cory’s guitar riffs. “What were you expecting from a rhythm guitarist? Screeching guitar solos?” I’m not sure, but I wanted to see Cory’s guitar drive the songs forward.

By far the best song on the new album is “St. Paul,” with Smith on drums, Batiste on piano, Louis Cato on bass, Tivon Pennicott on saxophone, and of course Wong on guitar. Nate Smith’s drums are outstanding, but what really makes the song special is Baptiste’s funky jazz piano solo. Baptiste’s piano really comes to life in “Home” where he takes more harmonic liberties in his playing. “Lunchtime” features an amazing bass solo by Sonny Thompson, but the song feels too similar to “Flyers Direct” by The Fearless Flyers.

I was most excited to hear “Cosmic Sans” because it featured Tom Misch on guitar and Nate Smith on drums. Wong recorded guitar, bass, and synth. Misch’s catchy melody and out-of-this-world guitar tone instantly makes this song memorable. But the best part of the song is Wong’s funky slap bass groove at the end. “Frogville” and “Gumshu” are both interesting and prominently feature Wong’s guitar playing. However, these songs are outshined by other songs like “St. Paul” and “Lunchtime”.

“Limited World”, “Starting Line”, and “Today I’m Gonna Get Myself a Real Job” all feature vocals, and I’ve listed them in order of best to worst respectively. Hawley’s fast-paced falsetto vocals lend themselves well to the tongue twister like lyrics of “Limited World”. “Starting Line,” while not bad, is not memorable either. And finally, I think Wong should stick to guitar and stay away from singing.

Motivational Music for the Syncopated Soul is a great album, but not because of Cory Wong. As a fan of Wong’s, it is disappointing that his guitar is not what makes the album great.