The hip-hop disorder that sampling producer/arranger duo The Herbaliser (Jake Wherry and Ollie Teeba) loaded onto the FabricLive 26 compilation two years ago stands in sharp contrast to the pair's previous LP's spy-film grooves. It was a clear sign the British twosome was exploring new sounds, and real fans have been anticipating what the group would come up with next. Aptly branded, their latest release, Same as It Never Was, packs more surprises than 2005's Take London. Adept storyteller Jean Grae isn't featured here enough, though, as the producer tandem and assorted musicians open the floor up to London soul vocalist Jessica Darling. Wherry and Teeba's past numerous pairings with Grae yielded stirring results, and her near-absence this time is a notable misfire.
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Newcomer Darling's husky contributions, however, are consistently tight and flashy as hell. "Amores Bongo" empties The Herbaliser and company out into a back-alley bar scene from a goofy Sixties film, and it's filled with muted brass, vibraphone licks, and hand drums. The way the track follows "Can't Help This Feeling," "Amores" plays like a fireworks encore. And with her confident cocktail of fury and sass (amid Teeba's quick scratches), Darling powers "On Your Knees" vocally and sets a precedent that guest MCs Yungun and More or Les can't even come close to toppling. You go, girl.