Rob Gallagher was one of a handful of London DJs creating a club phenomenon out of the residue of acid house and the beginnings of British soul (Soul II Soul et al.) when Gilles Peterson and Eddie Pillar signed him as the first artist on their new Talkin’ Loud label. The project developed into a loosely formed collective of musicians (sometimes including Roy Ayers) bearing his liqueured nickname; the release of “Frederick Lies Still” (a twist on Curtis Mayfield’s “Freddy’s Dead”) as a British single in 1989 made the group official.
With the addition of two live tracks, the domestic What Colour Our Flag takes the best tracks from In Pursuit of the 13th Note and A Joyful Noise Unto the Creator, avoiding their pitfalls by taking only Galliano’s best songs rather than the quasi-rap spoken-word incantations and extended conga jams. Gallagher’s poetic raps are an important part of the music (and what earned the group acclaim in Britain), but the majority of the fourteen tracks on What Colour Our Flag couch the musings within more fully formed soul grooves. The best of them (like the title song and “Prince of Peace”) feature singer Auntie Val (Etienne), whose worldly alto adds an emotional counterpoint. (The core lineup also includes ex-Style Council keyboardist Mick Talbot.)
The Plot Thickens more skillfully integrates the rich multi-cultural vibe into an original, complete style. In the past — and this is true for much of what goes under the acid jazz umbrella — reggae rhythms, world beat percussion or soul flourishes stand as cultural signifiers, fashion accessories appended to whatever groove the band is working as proof of good taste or fine intentions. Here, the various influences come together as complete songs, and the flavor is identifiably Galliano. And because the fit is tighter, the sound is also funkier, as with the thoughtful reworking of Crosby, Stills and Nash’s “Long Time Gone.” The album also includes another version of “What Colour Our Flag.”