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Let me get straight to the point: Family Dinner, Volume Two is the best music I’ve heard this year.

Snarky Puppy is a collective of musicians that formed around bandleader Michael League while many of them were studying at the University of North Texas over a decade ago. Since then, the résumés of each of these musicians illustrates how well-known and respected they are within the world music community, as most continue to perform with mainstream artists we hear every day. There are also many connections to gospel music and names like Kirk Franklin, Kim Burrell, and God’s Property.

Still, Snarky Puppy is far from being a household name in North America—despite having some of the best musicians in the world, one of the best modern-day composers and arrangers, and extremely creative, yet accessible music. I can only wonder if the average music listener is scared away by their ill-fitting jazz-fusion label or the fact that much of their music is instrumental.

This new album is an excellent introduction to the wonderful world of Snarky Puppy because it incorporates vocals into all of the arrangements. Each track includes an established guest singer; the most recognizable for the North American audience is probably David Crosby (Crosby, Stills & Nash), who performs a beautiful ballad. The band’s instrumental nature does not take a back seat when vocalists are added; all blend together in a musical democracy. Many times, the sound that the vocalists are adding or the language they sing in causes the listener to ignore the words being sung, focusing instead on the sonic creation. Synthesizers and percussion play a prominent role in each sound landscape as well.

Family Dinner, Volume Two is a must-listen album, whether you are an aspiring musician curious about excellent players or a music fan tired of the simplicity of contemporary popular music. (GroundUP Music)

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