Monthly Archives: June 2014

Andre’s Amazon Archive for 6/28/2014: Michael Jackson’s ‘Xscape’

Xcape

 

While greeting it with a great sense of both surprise and anticipation? I was extremely disappointed in one thing about Mike’s first posthumous album Michael: the fact that it used impersonators (and incredibly inaccurate ones at that) to fill in any unrecorded vocal parts by the man himself. To me it was a tacky way to present his musical legacy. Especially only a year after he passed away. That CD has been relegated to the bargain bins where I live now. And very likely for similar reasons to the ones that troubled me about it. So when this album was announced,again somewhat surprisingly? I was a bit concerned. However this time? Some important precautions were made on this particular set to give it a more cohesive flavor. A deluxe edition,this one,was released which contained the original eight song set along with the original demos to which the songs were based. The “new” tracks on the album were produced by and remixed under the supervision of LA Reid and Timbaland-who is also one of the producers behind guest artist on this album Justin Timberlake. Mostly originally recorded between the Bad and Dangerous,the happy news about this album is the simple fact that none of it features impersonators. They are all original MJ vocal tracks of some form or other. While set up to be an excellent set upon inspecting the liner notes,there was still the curiosity to find out about the contents within.

“Love Never Felt So Good”,a fabulously arranged uptempo “sophistifunk” number is classic early 80’s Mike: the sound that made him and has influenced so many others. Its presented three times: one solo,one the original mix and the other as a duet with the completely Mike influenced (and if I may say so,extremely talented in his own right) Justin Timberlake. As for the main album itself “Chicago” and “Blue Gangsta” are the more contemporary hip-hop/soul arrangements. On the other hand? They are not far removed from how Mike himself was approaching his own outlook on that form in the early/mid 90’s-with the funk at a premium. “A Place With No Name”,with it’s heavy beat boxing and bass synth led,shuffling R&B type tempo along with the electronically textured “Loving You” both showcase how much the sound Mike pioneered in the 80’s is actually effecting music today. “Slave To The Rhythm” and “Do You Know Where Your Children Are” again feature densely percussive dance/funk tracks that are not only ideal to move to but are full of consciencous and thought provoking lyrics. The title song ends out the album with another strong funky dance jam.

The original version of “Chicago” is my favorite of the unmixed versions-a strongly Thriller era sounding number that uses those pitch bended synthesizer melodic phrases I love about some jazzy mid 80’s funk-pop. “A Place With No Name” was of course a lot closer to the America hit which inspired it-with a strong West Coast folk-pop guitar flavor about it. “Slave To The Rhythm”,”Do You Know Where Your Children Are” and the title track all have a similar flavor to the funkier end of Mike’s late 80’s sound while only “Blue Gangsta” isn’t far removed in quality from the original. Including a DVD documentary about the making of it,this album represents to me the album Mike would’ve been good to release before he passed away. Quite frankly the instrumentation,compositions and vocal performances completely blow away anything on either Invincible or Michael in terms of quality. For one thing,Reid never takes his eye off the fact that part of what made Mike such a musical icon was his reliance on uptempo music-especially FUNKY uptempo music. And honestly? This album gives you nothing but that. This is the Michael Jackson that I loved and who inspired my own musical journeys. And I think those who admired his musical melodies and grooves might feel the same way.

 

Originally Posted On May 13th,2014

*Here is my original Amazon.com review:

http://www.amazon.com/review/REVYYZFYZ1JA5/ref=cm_cr_rdp_perm

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Filed under Amazon.com, Funk, Justin Timberlake, LA Reid, Michael Jackson, Motown, Music Reviewing, Rodney Jerkins, Timaland

Anatomy of THE Groove 6/27/2014 Andre’s Pick: “Over My Shoulder” by Chromeo

Since there has been an ongoing disco-dance revival that’s existed pretty consistently since the late 1980’s? Its not surprising that so many of the most groove-centric and funk oriented instrumentalists have actually emerged out of the club/DJ scene that helped spawn the original disco era in the first place. France’s Daft Punk are a perfect example. One thing that evident about modern funk artists who grew out of the modern DJ/electronic scene is their admiration for the sleeker “sophistifunk” style that emerged during that late 70’s period. As for me,I discovered what was to me a totally unknown example of this via a friends recommendation of an artist called Magic Man. The act was called Chromeo. And hearing sound samples of them made me want to seek out more of their music. It was the song “Over Your Shoulder” from their newest album White Women that caught my ears the most.

Beginning with a growling,revved up bass the song goes straight into that a heavy bass/guitar interaction courtesy of David “Dave 1” Mackovitch-one half of this duo. The bass line to this song in particular is very perpulsive-bouncing and dancing along while almost jazzily improvising over the chord changes of the grooving lead guitar line and the drum rhythm. Because the basic song is so stripped down,this bass stands out very strongly. On the end of each chorus as sung by Dave on,the bands keyboardist Patrick “P-Thugg” Gemayel plays a melodic synthesizer solo with two different and exciting parts. One is very much in the vibrato oriented Bernie Worrell/P-Funk “video game” style and the other part more in the flamboyant,progressive style scaling similar to what Steve Miller Band used on “Fly Like An Eagle”. As the song fades to a close, Dave 1’s guitar solo takes on a somewhat more pop/rock oriented tone as well.

In the 1970’s Montreal had bought the world the exploitative jazz/funk delights of Gino and Joe Vannelli. And from what I hear Dave 1 and P-Thugg would appear to be bringing a similar impulse out of this Atlantic Canada city. Only thing time focusing in on that late 70’s sophistifunk and early 80’s boogie funk sound with an occasionally minor jazzy and psychedelic twist. Another captivating element of this song is its lyrical content. It tells the story of a man coming onto a woman who defines herself by the insecurity she feels about her looks and attraction to others. While traditionally classic funk and soul traditionally celebrated emotionally and sexually confident female virtues? The more visually conscious and often superficial modern outlook on youthful femininity is reflected lyrically in this song.

With lines such as “Oh the grass is greener everywhere you look/ So many people stare they got you scared of the girls out there/ This one’s cola-bottle size/And that one’s more of a model size/I know you heard this a hundred times” and especially “You see, your problems of self-esteem/Could be self-fulfilling prophecies/So arguably your best policy should be talking to me”? Dave 1 offers empowerment,rather than mere co-dependant enabling to his female romantic interest in the song. The polished,sleek yet instrumentally minimal nature of the song is equally reflective of the healthy and nurturing male attitude towards women this song projects. So this is not only strong modern funk with a heavy sexual subtext. But also one where a modern man is encouraging a modern woman to be confident,feminine and sexual all at once without losing anything.

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Filed under Chromeo, Daft Punk, Disco, DJ's, Funk, Funk Bass, Late 70's Funk, Women

Andre’s Amazon Archive for 6/21/2014: ‘Think Like A Man Too,OST’ by Mary J Blige

Think Like A Man Too

At the end of 2013? It was A Mary Christmas that really made a huge difference during what amounted to a needlessly strained late December. I was very impressed by the eloquently soulful and jazzy environment it presented. It seemed that Mary J. Blige was finally on a path to becoming more musically herself. Throughout the her career? I’d always felt that her albums showed,at the very least enormous potential. And at best even funkified,soulful greatness. On the other hand? She was “the queen of hip-hop soul”. This meant that many of her albums became saddled down by guest rappers whose often profane narcissism seemed too awkward a fit with Mary’s frank,raw emotional expression. The “two sides of the same coin” theme that presented itself stopped being a musical revelation after a time. Today its really a formula. And a sometimes tragically overused one. Mary always seemed more about vocalizing and instrumental showcases/interpretation than merely being a vehicle for carrying people from another genre on her back all the time. A month or so back? This album was announced. Its a soundtrack of a sequel to a film I’ve never actually seen. But one thing I always felt was an almost ideal vehicle for vital soul/funk music is the soundtrack medium-extending as far back as Uptight by Booker T & The MG’s in 1968 and Isaac Hayes’ iconic,Academy award winning Shaft four years later. So this was something I was anticipating hearing and,as typical with a Mary J. Blige album? Entered into the listening experience without prejudice based on anything positive or negative regarding the past.

“A Night To Remember” opens the album with a bright,open ended late 70’s funk extravaganza. Its full of the sort of celebratory bass,guitar,drums,
horns and keyboards right out of the Slave/Michael Jackson/EWF school of that era. And lyrically eluding to many of the greats of that era. “Vegas Nights”,featuring guest vocals (as opposed to a rap) by The-Dream is a strongly percussive and fast paced number that embraces both the multiple synthesizer squiggles of electro-funk while also having the dynamic sonic melodicism of the boogie sound. “Moment Of Love” is a furiously funky,stripped down number where Mary’s melodic chorus is matched to a thumping bass/guitar line. Pharrell Williams shows up for one of (if not my favorite number here) in “See That Boy Again”. This is a complex number that actually brings out the strong Latin/Brazilian element in its hybridizing of the melodically surprising and strong Stevie Wonder/Gamble & Huff sound-full of that soulfully jazz/funk twist Pharrell is often more than capable of infusing his music with. “Wonderful” is another melodically complex piece with a thumping,bassy modern hip-hop friendly funkiness that never takes its eye of it’s classic hard funk orientation. “Kiss And Make Up” is a sleek,grooving disco-funk era urban contemporary mid-tempo ballad while “Cargo” has a soul/jazz type electric piano based groove about it. “Suitcase” and “Power Back” are the only songs I am not instrumentally wowed by as they seem to be somewhat self consciously trying to be “new” rather than making any creative statement of their own.

“I Want You” is a heavily orchestrated,cinematic soul/rock with a rising chorus and gospel oriented climax. “Self Love” is a Minneapolis sounding electronically oriented new wave/funk ballad where the character in the song is wishing for her lover to show her the affection he does for himself. “All Fun And Games” does try to mix the “newness” with Mary’s love of 70’s cinematic soul and does pretty well. “Better” is a breezy,stripped down funk/soul/pop number with one of the most unusual low,distant keyboard sounds I’ve ever heard. “Propose” is a powerful ballad closer to the album that plays to the strong gospel oriented side of Mary’s soulfulness-with it’s huge piano chords and rhythm hand clapping throughout. As with just about every Mary J. Blige album I’ve ever heard? There are at least one or two very generic contemporary hip-hop/R&B numbers on this album. And they do drag the quality down just a notch. And that’s especially vital here as,especially at the beginning this sounds as if Mary is for once fully embracing the richly produced 70’s funk/soul/pop sound that’s always been key to her music. But which she only really broadly hinted at. Lyrically this album does tell a certain story of the distrust in a relationship that probably deals directly with the characters in the film. Which is interesting since not all of these songs are heard in the film according to the cover-proclaiming “All New Music From And Inspired By The Film”. For all intents and purposes? This is overall a very good,many times spectacular Mary J. Blige studio album. If she were to keep total focus on musicality rather than pandering to the “queen of hip-hop/soul” moniker more or less placed upon her? She would have an amazing body of music ahead of her!

Originally Posted On June 17th,2014

*A Link To My Original Amazon.com review:

http://www.amazon.com/review/R1M04NYS165X4H/ref=cm_cr_rdp_perm

 

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Filed under 1970's, Amazon.com, Funk, Funk Bass, Hip-Hop, Jazz, Late 70's Funk, Mary J. Blige, Minneapolis, Pharrell Williams, Soundtracks

Anatomy of THE Groove 6/20/14 Rique’s Pick : “Every Ghetto, Every City” by Ms. Lauyrn Hill

If, in today’s warp speed popular entertainment culture, The Fugees “Blunted on Reality”, is their “Stevie at the Beach” or even “Eivets Rednow”, and their worldwide smash “The Score” was their “Talking Book” or “Innvervisions”, then for member Ms. Lauryn Hill, “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill” would be her magnum opus, her “Songs in the Key of Life.” “Unplugged” might be her “Journey Through the Secret Life of Plants.” But taking “Miseducation” as her “Songs in the Key of Life”, this weeks “Anatomy of THE Groove” feature, “Every Ghetto, Every City”, would be her equvalent of Stevie Wonders “I Wish.” Like that all time funk classic, “Every Ghetto, Every City uses an arch-funky groove to tell a soulfully nostalgic story of the artist days of growing up. Stevie’s took place in Saginaw, Michigan, but Hill grows up from a girl to a very talented woman in “New Jerusalem”, a very Old Testament nickname for the state of New Jersey.

The groove is one that caught my attention when I first copped the CD back in 1998. Hill and her musicians and producers waste no time laying a mean groove down. Just as Stevie dug back into an older, funky barrellhouse/stride/gospel/boogie woogie funk style for “I Wish” that recalled the older folks music of his youth, Lauryn Hill reaches back for a funky clavinet based groove to tell her story of growing up in the early days of hip hop. On closer inspection, she also adds some unique touches that hint at a unique merger of hip hop and instrumental funk that nobody has quite taken up in the same way. The groove is very siimple and funky, beginning with a funky clavinet riff, supported by a loud and upfront bass line. The bass line provides a lesson in playing funky bass with a lots of space, not taking away attention from the vocals in a modern Hip Hop/Soul situation. The bass basically lays down a funky two note groove based on the “One”, with some pick ups to lead you back to “The One.” Every four bars the bass plays a very funky James Jamerson inspired run. The drums hit a nice light swing in a manner similar to the way D.J Premier programmed his drum patterns. Every few bars, the producers add what sounds like a digital turntable scratch sound, a very popular effect in the late ’90s. In this context however, of a throwback funk groove, it works not just as a hip hop sound but also as a reflection of the antique nature of the groove, an appropriate touch like vinyl white noise.

Ms. Lauyrn Hill begins her tale of growing up in a manner similar to Wonder, “I was just a little girl/skinny legs and press and curl/my mama always thought I’d be a star.” She goes on to tell a story of the inner city we really no longer hear. Her inner city had kids stealing but at the same time, streets that nurtured her. The chorus strikes a note of universality, because as unique as her ubringing was, she sees flashes of it all around the world, “Every ghetto/every city/and suburban place I’ve been/make me recall my days/in the New Jerusalem.” She backs up richly soulful vocalizing, with hip hop shot outs, in effect serving as her own hype man, as Diddy was so famous for doing around that same time. This message of an experience that transcends ones specific place on the map was certainly needed in that time period of Hip Hops “East Coast/West Coast beef.” She goes on to talk about morning cartoons, and takes us all the way through the golden days of hip hop, talking about when “Self Destruction” dropped and emulating the famous Hip Hop break “Heaven and Hell is On Earth”, by the 20th Century Steel Band, who’s high pitched vocals have been heard on numerous hip hop cuts over the years.

“You know its hot/dont forget what you got/looking back”, she advises us on the funky eighth note driven bridge section of the tune. When this song hit, it affected me on several levels, bringing up thoughts of both the classic funk era, which I was born after, but who’s music I knew intimately, as well as the classic hip hop era, during which I was alive but heard the music in a blur, not always as music but as a soundtrack to bike rides, basketball games, baseball card trading, barbecues and games of hide and go seek, in Cross Color jean short outfits, of course. But I do remember very clearly, when Ms. Hill dropped this song and the nostalgic yet alive vibe it created. Funk like this doesen’t just live in 1978, or 1998, it lives each and every day it’s grooved. So “Every Ghetto, Every City” is my pick of the day, and you can be sure I wont forget what I’ve got looking back!

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Filed under 1970's, 1980's, 1990s, Blogging, Funk, Lauryn Hill, Motown, Music Reviewing, Neo Soul, Stevie Wonder

Anatomy of THE Groove 6/20/14: Andre’s Pick-“Leviticus: Faggot” by Me’Shell Ndegeocello

Personally I can truly relate to Harvey Fierstein’s remark about having to have to a literal translation of heterosexual romance to apply to who I was as a homosexual man. Right in the middle of when I was getting deeply into funk and soul? I’d often find myself asking “why are these love themed songs about the opposite sex only?”. Many years later,I would learn of the homosexuality of the late Wayne Cooper (from Cameo) and Billy Preston. Also,and somewhat unfortunately of the homophobic content of Gil Scott Heron’s ‘The Subject Was Faggots” and,far less overtly Graham Central Stations otherwise extremely funky song “Mirror”. But during much of the 1990’s? Any reference to homosexuality in funk/soul music was truly a dark theater. As was often the case with me growing up,my father introduced me to the song that really changed this factor in my adolescent life. And before he was (at least admittedly) are that I was gay no less. Not only that but it was the revelation of a new artist-during that personally disturbing summer of 1996. The artist was Me’SHell Ndegeocello,the CD was Peace Beyond Passion and the song was called “Leviticus: Faggot”.

The song begins with a high hat drum kick that increases in volume until Me’Shell’s sturdy,popping and ascending bass line kicks in-very prominently so as well. Surrounded by layers of wah-wah guitar and even a cinematic string section? The music is as straight up mid 70’s “united funk”,as writer Ricky Vincent refers to it,as one could possibly get. Me’Shell half sings/rhythmically speaks in her slippery baritone as she tells the tale of a young gay black man-as she describes a situation where “daddy’s sweet little boy’s just a little too sweet”. As she illustrates his desire for love “from strong hands” and “wanting the love of a man”. The chorus immediately turns into a full on hallelujah gospel chorus of “his mother would pray” before returning to the full on funk approach as Me’Shell states the actual prayer of “save him from this life”. The story continues on as the mans father tries to find him that woman “fine and beautiful” to give him more acceptability among the family’s social circle. After finally throwing his gay son out of the house,the music suddenly turns to an uncertain electric piano based jazz-funk sound as the song closes-with Me’Shell’s harmonizing vocalese leading out.

One thing that I never told my family,or anyone else for that matter until now, is that this song was the beginning of a six-seven year thought process that culminated in me coming out of the closet. I knew my family would never conceive of reacting as the father in this songs lyrics did. But in the end,Me’Shell provided a means by which funk was not only changing my perceptions of music. But funk was also now instrumental in helping me to come to terms with the truth of my own sexual orientation. The thing that really moves me about “Leviticus: Faggot”,it’s title of course referring to the often opportunistically quoted-out-of-context biblical verse,is that it came out long before any massive LGBT oriented activism was in the media. Very few homosexual male celebrities,especially in the black community,were truthfully discussing their sexuality. And even Ellen DeGeneres was still in the closet at this time. KD Lang not withstanding. Though I was aware that Boy George was bold enough in his soulful and funky new wave era music to sing to and about male characters in his songs? The fact that Me’Shell Ndegeocello,herself a relatively new up and coming artist,was making “people music” funk in a Nina Simone style about the then still uncomfortable subject matter of homophobia at this particular time? It showed me how much bravery and fearlessness she has. And that any person who are who they are should really have in terms of speaking,singing and playing the truth about themselves.

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Filed under 1970's, 1990s, Funk, Funk Bass, Homosexuality, LGBT rights, Me'Shell Ndegeocello, Poetry

The Inspiration Information of Shuggie at the Turning of the Millennium: Andre’s Outlook

Shuggie

Looking back on when the century and also the millennium turned,the year 2000 was felt very much like a huge temporal pain reliever for me. No Y2K,could buy anything in a record store without being constantly questioned as to the “credibility of my musical tastes and overall? The futurist mentality that most science fiction/Star Trek admirers such as myself had been pining for seemed to at last be on the horizon. One memory was on a dark,snowy January first playing the O’Jay’s song “The Year 2000” in my room and having similar thoughts as to what Eddie Levert was singing about-all that wonder and promise. It would be sometime towards the middle of this year that another millennial milestones of my musical development occurred: my own introduction to Shuggie Otis’s Inspiration Information.

First of all I wanted to say that during the 2000/2001 period? I wouldn’t have sought out Shuggie Otis on my own because I still couldn’t stand the blues. It had nothing to do with tuning into any cliches of self pitying lyrics or anything. It was more a cultural misunderstanding of intent. Growing up in 1990’s central/Northern Maine? All any music lover would hear was how much the blues was part of every popular music. Outside the Top 10 radio? Most non commercial radio at the time was obsessed with the blues. And with such a sense of seriousness. From what I saw? No one ever danced or clapped their hands to chase their blues away. Just listened,frowned and sometimes even drank a lot. Because those were not qualities I felt boded well with music,itself a motivating factor in life? I did flatly reject any connection that the music (which I loved with my heart and soul) and it’s connection with the blues.

So on one warm and welcoming day in the summer of 2001? My father and I were about to go for a cruise to take in the beauty of nature. As well as some always vital father/son bonding time. On our way we stopped at Bull Moose records,the local music store chain in the state of Maine,and my father came out very excited. He had a CD in his hand with this bright orange 70’s art deco style about it. He told me that Talking Heads’ David Byrne had declared this album the big unsung 70’s masterpiece and re-released it on his Luaka Bop record label. The album of course was Inspiration Information by this man I vaguely knew about named Shuggie Otis. When I asked my father who he was,he told me Shuggie was the son of the blues icon Johnny Otis.

What was I hearing here? Johnny Otis? The BLUES? Well I actually recalling rolling my eyes and tisking lightly to myself. Had a feeling of “here we go-someone trying to up-sell me on the blues again. Like it’s the only music in the world”. It was likely I wanted to hear a Stevie Wonder,Curtis Mayfield or Miles Davis record I’d bought with me at that time. It was my dad’s car of course,and I wanted to understand why he’d be so gleeful about this music. So my father put the record in the CD player of our used 1992 Toyota Corolla. The first thing that came out of the speaker was this beautiful swell of male falsetto vocal parts-harmonizing with each other over an upbeat wah wah bass/guitar and a sunny organ solo.

By the time the sweetly monotone voice of Shuggie himself came in with the lyrics “we had a rainy day/I’m in a sneak back situation/Here’s a pencil pad/I’m gonna spread some information/You, making me happier/Now I am snappier, while I’m with you”?How was this music blues? The only blues I’d heard thus far related mainly to unemployment,romantic distress and death. I wasn’t hearing any of that with Shuggie Otis. There was this realization I was indeed hearing that meaningful,bright funk/soul music I loved. But it was a totally different sound on that level. Through “Island Letter”,”Aht Uh Mi Hed”,”Happy House” and this amazing percussive instrumental called “XL-30” that I asked my father to repeat over and over again that afternoon? There was a hollow,dreamy sound about this album that I’d really never heard before.

My father told me Shuggie played almost all the instruments on the album the way Prince did. Later on as I listened and read the liner notes? It came to me where I’d seen Shuggie’s name before. During that era I was deeply into the music of the Brothers Johnson. Even more so when I fully realized their involvement with two musical icons in my life: Quincy Jones and Michael Jackson. One of their biggest songs “Strawberry Letter#23” was originally written and recorded by Shuggie Otis in 1971 for his Freedom Flight album. After hearing the album itself and the bonus songs on that CD? I was truly shocked. By no definition I’d ever dealt with was this the blues that I had been hearing. Shuggie’s music helped me see the depth and complexity of the blues. This music was reflective,thoughtful,poetic and very tender.

Recently I debated with myself whether to bring this up here. But about seven years later? I was playing a beat up CD of this album I’d gotten later from the Bull Moose free bin with my fiancee while driving through town during a visit to see his family. Upon hearing “Aht Uh Mi Hed”? He remarked how much he enjoyed the way Shuggie used organ in his music. Such an instrumentally inclined remark from a fellow Generation X’er was very much unknown to me even by that time. It was only a year ago that I ended up with the album again-released with Shuggie’s newest set of unreleased material called Wings Of Love. After playing it in the car? Even my musically persnickety mother fell under the spell Shuggie Otis set with Inspiration Information. Although he absent mindedly remarked just last week that she thought “XL-30” sounded like something from the score of the film Napoleon Dynamite? Even her respect for Shuggie’s musicality remains undiminished.

Part of my overall respect for Shuggie Otis also came from how his music helped me to better appreciate session musicians and the vital role they play in many a musical masterpiece. I was aware of his session playing for his father Johnny. But not necessarily in how his playing helped to revitalize the careers of Etta James,Louis Jordan and Bobby Blue Bland and “Louie Louie” composer Richard Berry. Growing up I’d tended to view musicians who played out front in bands as being the most musically important-either as soloists or as members of bands. Though already very aware and involved with listening to The Crusaders by this time? My admiration for the non session/solo music of people such as Greg Phillinganes, Paulinho Da Costa, Bernard Wright,Weldon Irvine and bands such as Stuff began to grow and increase follwing my exposure to Shuggie.

As for my father,the man who originally introduced me to Shuggie Otis? He is still broadening my appreciation of the man to this very day. Only earlier today,when discussing this blog with him,did he discuss Shuggie’s involvement with Frank Zappa. Shuggie in fact played electric bass on Zappa’s iconic instrumental “Peaches en Regalia” from his 1969 album Hot Rats. My dad is a long time admirer of Zappa,who was an individual who often elevated musicians considered to be sidemen into positions of prominence. One such musician was the violinist Don Sugarcane Harris. It was mentioned by my father this afternoon that he first heard about Shuggie Otis via his session playing on Harris’s 1970 LP release Sugarcane. So when Luaka Pop reissued the Inspiration Information album on CD? My father,being unfamiliar with Shuggie’s solo music,was very eager to hear it. So as I was writing my own story about this man and his album? My father was telling me about the first time he heard of Shuggie Otis.

One of the reasons I still find this album to be some of the most beautiful funk ever recorded is association. When I first heard it? That magical 21’st century had arrived. The future that everyone had been dreaming about in the century before had at last arrived. And considering the dark days of the post 9/11 world would arrive in only a seasons time? This introduction to Shuggie Otis to my life always reminds me of the importance of maintaining dreamy optimism. Especially in the hardest of times. Also,with some later help from Ken Burns’ Jazz documentary? Hearing Shuggie Otis completely altered my perception of the blues. He really put a sunshine funk filter inside of his musicality. And it helped me realize that broadness of the soul/funk/jazz/blues musical spectrum-outside of any locally based misconceptions. As Branford Marsalis said of blues music itself? To this very day,whenever I hear Shuggie Otis’s Inspiration Information,it makes me smile.

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Filed under 1970's, 1990s, Funk, Local Radio, Maine, Psychedelia, Radio, Shuggie Otis, Soul

The Inspiration Information of Shuggie at the Turn of the Millenium: Rique’s Outlook

The 2001 release of Shuggie Otis ‘Inspiration Information’ on David Bryne’s Luaka Bop  represented a great musical landmark in the lives of both of us here at Andresmusictalk, myself, Henrique Hopkins, and Andre Grindle. While both of us were busy in various musical activities on the opposite coasts of the United States, serving our apprentischip as musical fans and critics, Otis album came along and had a huge impact on our personal and musical lives. Otis’ album presented something new and familiar at the same time,  a melange of funk, soul, jazz, gospel, blues and rock and roll, similar in tone to the most advanced and creative of his contemporaries, but also illuminating the paths of  future innovators and stars such as Prince, Lenny Kravitz, Outkast and Beyonce. One of the appeals of this was the mixture of the familar, represented by Shuggies’ original ‘Strawberry Letter 23′ and the general funk/soul/blues/rock vibes, with the unfamiliar, Shuggies’ unique genius and talent for combining sounds, as well as his gentle, plaintive voic. The 13 years since that release have seen Shuggie actually return to the stage and recording, and we have this release to thank for that. This album then, has a unique place in our lives as a classic era funk recording that actually belongs to us even more than its time. We aim to explain why:

 

When I first purchased Shuggie Otis “Inspiration Information” in late 2001 or early 2002, I can’t quite remember, I was no virgin to the purchase of back catalog funk, jazz and soul CD’s. I’d spent most of high school exploring deeply music and styles I’d had a familiarity with my whole life, but instead of just dipping my toes into the pool, diving in fully, getting truly wet. I still remember the exact day I bought Miles Davis “On the Corner” for instance, a rainy June day at the end of my 11th grade school year. Most of these purchases were of artists I was familar with, but my crate diggers mindset caused me to seek out their lesser known recordings, especially since my father had so many of these artists recordings already. Many times it focused on recordings that were scorned or disregarded at the time of their release, such as “Hear My Dear” by Marvin Gaye. Some of these were already lying in obscure corners of the families collection like unhugged Teddy Bears. But even with all this acquring of classic music, Shuggie Otis’ album was something different, an artist from the ’70s whose music and person I was only vaguely familar with but who’s music very quickly became a part of not just my perception of the ’70s or classic funk and soul, but who’s music existed in my life contemperaneously with Outkast, Mos Def, Lauryn Hill, Erykah Badu, Jill Scott, D’Angelo, Maxwell,  The Goodie Mob, Common, the Roots, Beyonce, and other artists who were catching my ear with new, contemporary but classic sounds.

When I first heard of  “Inspiration Information through a review in VIBE magazine, I knew for a fact I’d seen Otis’ face somewhere before. The musical name of “Otis” was most definitely not unknown to me. My father had been a big fan of Johnny Otis in the 1950s. Johnny Otis himself, who passed a few years ago, is an incredible figure in Black music history and American history as a whole.  Otis was a Greek American Bay Area hipster who identified strongly with African American people and culture. So much so that my father said Otis used to “play Black” when he was younger. It is a well discussed narrative that certain blacks who had the ability to do so “passed” for white in order to enjoy the priviliges that provided, but the reverse story is not often told. Johnny Otis surpassed Norman Mailer’s “White Negro”, because instead of simply appropriating black style to his own ends, he actually cast his lot with black people, placing his music on the R&B charts, marrying a black woman, leading and aiding black musicians, living in the black community and even pastoring a black church. I would later find out that Johnny Otis was a Bay Area man as well, born in Vallejo and raised in Berkely, and he represented the unique racial history of the Bay.

Dad had a recording he’d made of a Monterey Jazz Festival featuring The Johnny Otis Revue.  I remember that tape very fondly because it had a Soul Train episode from 1987 featuring Jody Watley on the beginning of it. The Monterey Jazz Festival section was something I didn’t understand at first, but came to enjoy more and and more as time went on. Part of that enjoyment was just remembering how much I enjoyed watching it with Dad, and having him detail and tell tales about the world of West Coast Blues and R&B back in the 1950s. The tape featured the Johnny Otis Revue and I remember Otis, a tall white man resplendent in a white suit with a red shirt and tie, hair slicked back, speaking in a hip and cool cadence. Otis played the MC for such great acts as Big Jay McNeely, Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson, Etta James and others. I remember Dad laughing at his childhood favorites getting on stage wearing wigs and other vanities. He also told me Otis used to do what amounted for passing for black, with most fans thinking he was simply “high yellow” like Billy Eckstine.

Behind Otis on stage, there was a quiet, handsome, deathly serious looking guitar player. The young man in the red band outfit had a large Afro, even then in the ’80s. I remember Dad mentioning he resembled a friend of the family, a man named Derek Love. I would find out almost 12 years later that this was Shuggie Otis, Johnny’s son and an artist who was critically acclaimed and had an extremely promising future back in the ’70s.

Fast forward to the early millenium, 2001. I was still getting VIBE magazine at the time. VIBE was my favorite, even over The Source and XXL, which I also subscribed to, because the range of music covered was wider. But even then, by 2001, I felt the ads were getting too prominent and the music was being smothered. One thing I admired about VIBE in its Quincy Jones owned hey day, was that it also ran great features on historical black music right alongside new artists. Even Rickey Vincent, the author of the Funk book, wrote for VIBE in those days, and I found out about his book through the magazine.  Funk, jazz and soul rereleases got album review space right next to the latest from Mary J Blige and Foxxy Brown, sometimes done by Greg Tate or Nelson George. One month, a review was done on the rerelease of Shuggie Otis album “Inspiration Information”, from 1974, on Luaka Bop.

The review fascinated me because it positioned Otis as a predecesor of Prince, due to his ability to play all the instruments in his recordings through multi tracking. It also informed me that he was the writer of “Strawberry Letter 23” which I knew in its popular form as a song by The Brothers Johnson, and a song that had seemed to have been very special to me my whole life. I didn’t run right out and get the album, but it was definitely on my list of things to check out.

Sometime after I came back from my first trip to Paris, and the events of September 11, 2001, I started hanging out with a friend from my job, Dameion. The world seemed to be going crazy with wars and reports of wars. The Bay Area was its usual stout anti war self, with ’60s type protest now being ingrained as a part of the culture, so much so that the city of Berkeley got rid of its military recruitment office. Though it was fodder for conversation, this didn’t affect me and Dame much. Our goal was to put together a band that would capture the worlds attention through music.

Me and Dame would cruise around town, with him playing me demo’s off his Mac Book. The Mac Book he had was a near magical device to me at the time, because whenever I’d buy a CD, if Dameion liked a song, he’d immediately rip it straight to his Itunes, right then and there. He’d do the same with music I liked, burning me a CD of music right then and there. At the time, we were still buying CD’s heavily. I remember buying Shuggie Otis CD from a Borders Books and music. I bought the CD with a bushelful of other CD’s as well as music books like Charles Mingus “Beneath the Underdog.”

I don’t even remember the other CD’s I bought on that day. Very soon after I put the CD in Dame’s MacBook, Shuggie’s music became for a time, the only music I seemed to care about. Dame felt it too because he ripped it to his computer right then and there. We were blown away by an album of funky songs, unique stop and start grooves, tender ballads with morbid, almost funerary sounding music, funky rock and roll guitar playing, and Otis quiet, intimate falsetto. We’d later learn the album, besides the cuts where Otis did his one man band thing playing all the instruments, had some cuts that featured top notch studio names we knew such as Wilton Felder, Leon Haywood, and George Duke, ’70s L.A/Bay Area musical royalty.

What was it that captivated us so? Well, for one thing, we were both fledling musicians who wanted to have a band that played instruments, but were also deeply influenced by hip hop and sampling. So we were constantly on the lookout for music that SOUNDED old in its analog recording quality and groove, but was also NEW, by virtue of it being unheard or less heard. Otis album fit that category for sure.

But Otis’ music was most valuable for its own qualites. The Luaka Bop release was actually a combination of two Otis’ albums, “Inspiration Information” and “Freedom Flight”, which of course, presented a different picture than listeners in 1974 would have gotten. The sound of the album itself was highly unique. The first song “Inspiration Information” was Shuggie’s unique take on a joyful but heavy Sly Stone type of vibe, a very happy type of funk but with a deep seriousness to it as well. “Island Letter” had a deep warm, underwater sound to it, and was a song dominated as much of the album by the organ. “Sparkle City” was Shuggie’s unique variant on mid ’70s funk, low down, bluesy and mean.

The album was full of layered stop and start grooves, seeming to move in all directions. One of the most prominent sounds was the drum machine on Shuggie’s organ, which played a classic organclave pre set drum pattern on “XL-30.”

One of the funkiest songs on the album was “Happy House”, which was an all too brief one minute, sixteen second cock tease. I remember me and Dame cracking up over Shuggies lyrics about “from me/and your mama too.” While a cut like “Ice Cold Daydream” would be a soundtrack to the great chase movie we havent made yet, driving and grooving to it’s arch ’70s stop and start groove. Through it all was Shuggie’s soothing voice, fragile, soulful, and speaking loudly by whispering where others would shout.  You almost wondered how that voice could come from the same person who produced such fire elsewhere in the music.

A song like “XL-30” was nearly frieghtning in its early electronic, killer clown fun house groove. The song we already knew, and which I’d use to introduce the album to other people like my dad with, was “Strawberry Letter 23.” That song was one that had been around for my whole lifetime plus a few years. I remembered it very well in my teen years, becakuse in the ’90s, our adolescent and teenaged horny selves would walk around asking a girl, “is it cool” to get with them. It was like I was hearing the song for the first time when I heard George Johnson say “If you try to ask/is it cool/is it cool.” Quincy Jones laced that production with the type of state of the art mastery that would later lead to the greatest selling and possibly most comprehensive pop recordings of all time, done with Michael Jackson. The Brothers Johnson’s “Starwberry Letter 23” was a modern, grooving, mid tempo ballad that was also funky, extremely funky and clean and slick at the same time. The song was powered by Louis Johnson’s highly individual slap bass sound and climaxed with a triumphant guitar part played by Lee Ritenhour.

“Strawberry Letter 23” on Shuggie’s album is another song. Strangely enough, it’s the same song, the basic notes of the bassline are there minus Louis propulsive style, the ending guitar solo is there, the lyrics, the tinkling bell melody, all the musical aspects of The Brothers Johnson and Jones’ later hit are present in Shuggie’s original, but Shuggie’s vibe is more stoned out, and hippie, with acoustic guitars sounding like sunset on Hippie Hill in San Francisco.

Shuggie’s two albums, together on one CD, became a soundtrack for my young ’20s, thirty years after they were recorded and ignored. “Strawberry Letter 23” has become a kind of a basic meme in black music, a foundational melody. I wonder sometimes if it came from the far bigger hit and classic The Brothers Johnson recorded, or if it came from the crate digging culture and David Bryne’s 2001 re release. I know Outkast quoted it in their megahit “Ms. Jackson” (the rhythm of the singing of “Never meant to make your daughter cry), Westside Connection quotes it on “Gangsta Nation” sung by the late Nate Dogg, and Beyonce quotes it as well on “Be With You.” In fact, I view those “Uh Oh’s” on “Crazy in Love”, the rhythm of them, as a child of “Strawberry Letter” as well.

Beyonce in fact is an artist who’s made her connection to Shuggie quite plain. She mentioned getting his album and it being an inspiration to 2003’s “Dangerously in Love.” If you listen to that, her song “Gift From Virgo”, is a song laid on top of Otis’ instrumental “Rainy Day.” Also as mentioned, the album has numerous references to “Starwberry Letter”.

Beyonce’s usage of the album just goes to strengthen the feeling I have that the rerelease of Shuggie’s music came at exactly the right time. Since then I’ve gotten into other re releases such as funk music from Nigeria, and another one from the Bay Area, Eugene Blacknell’s music, another album that though old, defined a certain period of my life. Shuggie is like blues artists who were ignored in their time and then rose to popularity in the ’60s when the Blues was acknowledged as the cornerstone of Rock. Shuggie hit the Bay Area last  year and unfortunately, I missed his show to see one of his inheritors, Prince, in Vegas. But I’m elated he’s begun to perform again, because back when I got his music, he was treated as one of those great disappearing geniuses who could only be enjoyed in recorded form. I’m glad he’s back and I wish him the recognition and joy from playing his music now that he may not have gotten in the past, on HIS terms! And I hope in particular, he has some sense of how music he did 40 years ago lingered around like a funky landmine to hit the sweet spot of listeners many years in the future.

 

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Filed under 1970's, 1990s, Blogging, Blues, Dialog, Funk, Generations, LA, Music, Music Reviewing, Neo Soul, Psychedelia, rhythm & blues

Andre’s Amazon Archive for June 14th,2014: ‘The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill’

lauryn_hill-the_miseducation_of_lauryn_hill

During the time this was released,as another review pointed out,this kind of music was being thrown in everyone’s face whether they wanted to hear it or not.I must admit in the late 90’s I was far more energized by the music of Prince,Stevie Wonder,P-Funk and they like and not the various hip-hop music’s they were inspiring at the time. I wanted the “real thing”. To my way of thinking the whole hip-hop/R&B genre in general seemed to be exploiting R&B’s past just to promote cut-and-paste music based on samples and such. It was hard to not that in the midst of all that original new hybrids like this were being created.Yes it was heavily hyped,yes it was deemed a classic before by the time it was a year old or so. But all the saturation aside I wanted to listen to this after it’d had some time to influence people. Well it turned out,as I said to be just over a decade. And after listening to this project as a whole at this point I get it.This is THE album that inspired the thoughtful,conscious solo female neo soul genre out of which has come Macy Gray,Angie Stone,India.Arie,Alicia Keys and more recently Solange Knowles.But it all started here.

The music on this album still has close links to hip-hop.Songs such as “Lost Ones”,”Forgive Them Father” and even the hugely popular “Doo Wop (That Thing)” have Lauryn rapping quite a bit along with singing.It’s to her credit she has such broad talent in both.Lauryn’s rapping style has always been assertive,direct and too the point and her deep,gritty and rangy voice-with it’s strong pathos and emotion is quite the spectacle to behold. The emotional and spiritual breadth of songs such as “To Zion” and “Forgive Them Father” is unbelievable. Through her spiritual quests Lauryn revolves her own issues with femaninity and the male players in her life in a surprisingly broad scope.”Superstar” actually finds Lauryn illustrating a pointed sense of humor to address what she saw as a serious issues;the hype many mediocre or plain “wack” rappers were receiving at that time,and in every way the message behind the tune resonates all the more today.

The first five songs actually containing interwoven interludes (tastefully done and integrated into the actual songs unlike usual) that illustrate how the album title is part of a certain concept;a group of women,one voiced by Mary J Blige in a classroom discussing different,mature points of view on love from songs,actual relationships,etc.In the midst of all this is “Ex-Factor”,possibly one of the greatest songs Lauryn ever did-very much in the Aretha/Etta James spirit with it’s scarred outlook on love and strong gospel overtones,from organ swirls to the horn blasts. The tone of that song is repeated on the title song which extends on the same theme of rediscovering self truths at reaching physical and emotional maturity. Along the way there is even time for warm nostalgic reflection on “Every Ghetto,Every City”,a wah-wah drenched 70’s style funk fest which is right up my alley and the lyrics are right on time too.

There are two tracks,which are listed here but not on the album jacket.One is a beautifully soulful rendition of Frankie Valli’s “Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You” that utterly transforms the song from teen romance into intense passion.A live version of the song “Tell Me” is also included.Taken together this quirky artist with her uniquely self reliant outlook and terrific lyrical ability only seems to have released one full length studio album so far.And if this is her first and only release it would sure be a good thing to stand on because,given a full decade to gestate it really has had an influence on an entire sub genre that has grown to mammoth proportions ever since.And all the while this done now indeed stand alone as a modern classic.

Originally Written On March 5th,2009

*Link To My Original Amazon Review:

http://www.amazon.com/review/R36P7MAW2I5UGW/ref=cm_cr_rdp_perm?ie=UTF8&ASIN=B00000ADG2

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Filed under Aretha Franklin, Lauryn Hill, Prince, Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings, Solange', Stevie Wonder, Street Musicians

The Anatomy of THE Groove 6/13/14 Riques’ Pick: “So in Love” by Jill Scott & Anthony Hamilton

Jill Scott and Anthony Hamilton have bulletproof reps in the modern soul and R&B arena as artists of great talent as well as integrity. Those reputations both help sell records as well as limit those sales to those who still have some appreciation for “artistic integrity.” 2011’s funky spring to summer hit, “So In Love” provided both of them with something different, a #1 R&B smash that rocked barbecues, dance classes, parades, wedding receptions, lounges and karaoke bars. Scott and Hamilton successfully transfered their heartfelt earnesty and top notch vocal skills to a fun dance groove. Hamilton in particular has a reputation for singing about the downs of love perhaps a tad more enthusiastically than he sings about the ups, but “So in Love” finds him luxuriating in a groove both aesthetic and practical.

The song begins with an acoustic guitar playing an arpeggiated suspended pattern with a sound very reminiscent of a harp. The guitar is supported y a Rhodes tone. Percussion backs this harmony setting intro as A Hamilton vocalizes soulfully, with syllables sans words. After 4 seemingly quick bars of this breeze by, we’re introduced to what is in my opinion, one of the best funky soul bass lines of the past 15 years. It’s a descending pattern built off funky eight notes, sharp, funky and short. It’s the type of pattern that would be essential for a younger player just beginning to learn, in terms of its lack of complexity but maximum groove factor. The drums are also bare bones funky, a funky disco era drum beat replete with backyard hand claps. At the end of the cycle, the drummer plays huge gated orchestral sounding drum fills, a la Stevie Wonder’s drumming on the chorus of 1982’s “That Girl.”

Hamilton’s verse is filled with working man earnesty. He sings a tale in the manner of a hardworking man, delighted to see his special lady for the value she adds to his being. After a chorus of “So in Love with you”, Miss Jill Scott makes her grand entrance, her bright alto providing a sharp conrast with Anthony Hamilon’s molasses dripping baritone. I was always impressed by the thought Scott expressed in her vocal, a thought of a woman admiring her man from afar, watching him and his interactions with his male friends and colleagues. It reminded me of a woman looking at you from across the room and smiling, and if you were inexperienced, you might not know why, but Jill spills the beans on what that smile is about here, “I see you cross the room/talking to some men/I love your mannerisms baby/the way you handle them.”

The bridge hits at around 1:35 into the song, and it shifts textures a bit to a solid, steady rhythm, with the bass line playing stern quarter notes lined up with the drums, and the hi hats of the drums playing the classic disco hi hat pattern. And this section does give us a soulful disco vibe, with much in common with the feel of R&B inflected late ’70s smooth disco, like the sound of Scott’s hometown of Philadelphia. Following the bridge is a drumless breakdown with Jill putting her spoken word skills to use, describing the beneficiary of her affection as a “breath of fresh air”, among other things.

From here, quite uniquely and in an obvious funky soul throwback, the song ends out on a long vamp, without another verse of lyrics from Scott and Hamilton. Instead, backed up by choruses of “So in Love with You”, Scott and Hamilton work their vocal magic, ad libbing, as the bass also has more room to stretch out and try different patterns, and the drummer adds in fills to keep the groove moving. At one point, Jill lets out a sexy, playful giggle. The song breaks downs and ends on a vamp without drums, a long vamp backed by percussion and finger snaps, with the guitar playing it’s broken chord pattern. The deletion of the drums in particular allows you to hear the movement of the guitarists hands across the strings. Jill sings in a cool after glow, terms of endearment for her love, also backing herself with a track of high vocals, with Hamilton riffing along soulfully.

With the passage of Maya Angelou earlier this month and Ruby Dee yesterday, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about who is going to replace them in our current generation, who’s going to carry their legacies on. This would be not merely in terms of talent, but also moral authority and inspiration. Of course, we all have to live our own courses, but Jill Scott has always been one of my top choices since she came on the scene in 2000. Her albums with songs such as “Golden” and “Is it the Way”, and other hits, and her acting roles such as her Mama Rowatse in “The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency”, as well as her poetry have always presented her as a woman of depth and class, with the sparkling ability to make sense of her experineces, whether they be ecstacies, agonies, ponderings or actions.

The video for “So in Love” is also special and captures the music perfectly. “So in Love” basically has an old school groove, that is in a ’70s style but actually reminds you of any time period from the ’60s to now. A backyard barbecue, family reunion, parents having a party downstairs type of vibe. The video focuses on Hamilton and Scott as a couple, Hamilton getting off work to go see Scott. But it also has a multi generational vibe, as they seem to be present at a renewal of vows for possibly, Scott’s mother. Seeing the older couple energizes Scott and Hamilton to keep going on  along the vibrant romantic path they find themselves on. There is also a cool dancing scene that features different generations, sons dancing with moms, getting down with aunts, daughters cutting a rug with fathers, older and younger people all together under a groove.

One of the reasons this song is so refreshing for me is that at times I think about current black music and I wonder how you could ever play it for your children. I remember when I was a kid and the “Bad” video debuted and our whole family watching it together, as well as my dad who was 55 at the time playing that album just as much as he played his Jimmy Smith or Crusaders, along with Anita Baker, Whitney Houston, Luther Vandross and other artists of the ’80s. There was always music that was off limits as well, such as certain Prince songs, but there was a lot to choose from that could be enjoyed as a family. I hate to think of the same thing being done with Lil Wayne’s music. “So in Love” is a definite throwback to that feel good family music. It’s not corny, because the emotions and sentiments are not easily understood by children either, but the groove is something that’s uplifting, as is the intent. It’s one they can groove to now and appreciate more later, as was much of the music I grew up on. The video’s dance scenes reminds me that the kids have grown up and  are dancing (living, working, moving, being responsible) with the parents now. Scott and Hamilton also have a great deal of fun, with Hamilton doing some playful, goofy popping moves. So as we lose artists and entertainers who have stood tall as luminaries of human feeling, responsibility and positive action, I celebrate those among us today like Jill Scott and Anthony Hamilton, and I’m sure they will be remebered as great artists often are, with even more love and appreciation in the future than they are currently, after the cream rises to the top that is.

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Filed under 1970's, 1980's, 1990s, Blogging, Funk, Funk Bass, Late 70's Funk

The Anatomy of THE Groove 6/13/2014 Andre’s Pick: Mary J. Blige’s “All That I Can Say”

Mary J. Blige was an artist that I had a deeply rooted respect for when I first heard her interpreting Rose Royce’s 1976 slow jam funk classic “I’m Going Down” in the mid 90’s. And what was most refreshing is how instrumentally oriented and close it was to the original. Of course as was typical with a lot of people in terms of the press from that point on through the turn of the millennium? The saturation press Mary received,likely for all the wrong reasons, turned me off to the point where buying any of her music during that time wasn’t a very appealing notion. It wasn’t until Mary had been a seasoned artist for a decade by around 2003-2004 did I start to really reach out to her earlier music to which I’d once given the slip. It was my love of photography that drew me like a moth to a flame when I saw the black & white side profile portrait on her 1999 CD Mary. Something about that imagery,similar to that of Cicily Tyson on Miles Davis’s Sorcerer album in 1967,bought me into mind that his would be an elegantly funkified affair. And that opinion was intensely upgraded upon putting the CD on for the first time and hearing it open with “All That I Can Say”.

Produced,written and arranged by Mary’s musically vital contemporary Lauryn Hill,the song begins with a lilting,lowly mixed Spanish guitar with a sunny,pre-dominating high pitched synthesizer solo that continually pitch bends between major and minor chords. Shortly a percussive,mid tempo electronically dirived Afro-Latin rhythm kicks in. This instrumental bed is joined by a glockenspiel-like ringing keyboard that scales downward in a dream-like way on each instrumental refrain. At this point Mary’s low,plaintive tenor successfully follows along the songs elusive melody with a lyrical tag stating first “loving you is wonderful/something like a miracle” and going on to add “meeting you,it isn’t hard/with you I can’t let down my guard/stay secure,that’s all I’m asking of you”. By the time the chorus,which repeats the title with a call-and-response bit of vocalese from Mary singing in her higher voice? The melody of the song has likewise gone up a lot higher in pitch-with Mary again keeping up with the elaborate chord changes. By the end of the song,it fades out the way it begun with Mary adding some extremely jazzy,wordless scat singing that expresses the general mood of the song.

From the first time I heard this song? While realizing so many early retro and neo soul artists were attempting to replicate his sound? I was convinced that it was Stevie Wonder himself who played the overriding high pitch-bent synthesizer solos on this song. It was actually someone named Loris Holland,whom I’d never heard of before. As my friend and blog partner here on WordPress Henrique pointed out to me the other day? The fact that Lauryn Hill and the musicians on this album could so thoroughly replicate not only the sound but the melodic language of Stevie Wonder’s challenging instrumental approach on keyboard is a tribute not only to her talent,but musical connectivity as well. This constantly shifting melody,which embraces soul music’s classic structural complexity,is totally reflective of the fact that Mary is alternately overjoyed and cautious in regard to the prospect of the new romantic partner in her life that she portrays on this song. Its seamless mix of both dreamy fantasy and uncertain reality was a balance that was rarely felt in the “keeping it real” era. In the end,I thank Mary J Blige and Lauryn Hill both for their contribution to helping the late 90’s soul/R&B listener to understand what it was they might’ve really loved so much about the 70’s funk era in the first place.

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Filed under 1990s, Funk, Lauryn Hill, Mary J. Blige, Neo Soul, Stevie Wonder