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In the music spotlight: Galactic

BY JEFF ELBEL | FOR THE SUN-TIMES

Music from New Orleans has been warmly embraced by audiences in Chicago. Acts including Rebirth Brass Band, Dirty Dozen Brass Band, the New Orleans Suspects, and Bonerama have made recent stops at local halls. The Funky Meters were highlights of 2014’s Hideout Block Party, soon after a headlining visit to last year’s Blues Fest by Dr. John. Fronted by former Dirty Dozen trombonist Big Sam Williams, Big Sam’s Funky Nation hits Martyrs on Sept. 4. Billed as “summer’s last stand,” this year’s North Coast Music Festival in Union Park features another headliner from the Crescent City when Galactic plays on Saturday night.

Celebrated as an instrumental powerhouse, Galactic’s current album “Into the Deep” once again expands the band’s strength by collaborating with many vocalists. Speaking to National Public Radio in July, Galactic saxophonist Ben Ellman cited bands like The Meters and Booker T. & the MG’s as models of other self-contained instrumental bands that have worked with outside singers. Mavis Staples lends fervent voice to “Does it Really Make a Difference.” Jamaican-born internet sensation Brushy One String’s viral hit “Chicken in the Corn” becomes the foundation for a soulful workout. JJ Grey leads the joyful funk of “Higher and Higher.”

The heart of the “Into the Deep” album is the plaintive title cut featuring Macy Gray. Gray will appear with Galactic at NCMF, next to last in Saturday’s lineup. Based upon audience reaction at this year’s New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival and other stops, the combination of Galactic and Gray is potent enough to top the bill.

Previous performances together have included Gray’s vocal on Galactic tracks including “Into the Deep,” as well as her own “Relating to a Psychopath,” “Stoned,” and Grammy-winning single “I Try” from 1999’s “On How Life Is.” The band’s own celebratory sound will be represented on songs like the second line-styled “Sugar Doosie.”

Those arriving early for the Sept 4 NCMF action should also catch Dirty Dozen Brass Band’s afternoon set on the 312 Stage.

* Galactic with Macy Gray, 6 p.m., Sep. 5, North Coast Music Festival, Union Park, 1501 W. Randolph. Visit northcoastfestival.com.

SPOTIFY playlist: http://bit.ly/Galactic-Gray

Jeff Elbel is a local freelance writer.