Anatomy of THE Groove: “Silky Smooth” by Irene Cara featuring Hot Caramel

Irene Cara is a seminal figure in the history of women in music. This Bronx born singer/songwriter/actress began her career as a child beauty queen before recording her first album in 1968 at the age of 9. By 1980,she’d become primarily known as an actress. The film adaptation of Fame and her theme song for the film rocketed her to stardom. This essentially made her a queen of movie themes,with her theme song to the movie  Flashdance “What A Feeling” being something of a signature song for her. At the same time,this is my first time profiling Cara here.

While she cut three studio albums during the 1980’s,most of her musical output on those albums focused more on uptempo retro pop songs and cinematic ballads. After years of continued work in film and television,Cara entered back into the world of music in 1999 by forming an all female (and mostly African American) band called Hot Caramel. Today is actually my first day finding out about this. Cara’s first album with the band came out in 2011. From what I heard,it featured a strong about face in her musical focus. The song that stood out most for me is called “Silky Smooth”.

A thick electric piano riff provides the intro to the song. The song itself is anchored by a slow drum beat-accented by some brittle brush stroking. The electric piano continues to play the jazz main melody of the song. The rhythm guitar provides some bluesy accents while the heavy bass line plays an effective thud up with the beat of the song. The song has two bridges. One features a string synthesizer solo. On one of the last bars of the song,the drums take a flamboyant solo accented by horns. These horns and the synth strings remain with the song on its final bars before it fades out.

As enjoyable as Irene Cara’s music was in the 80’s,I never expected her to re-emerge with a new album in the 2010’s. And certainly not with an all female band of writers and instrumentalists playing hardcore funk. “Silky Smooth” is not just hard funk for this artist, but as its own reward too. The rhythm is slow and grinding and the instrumentation and melodies are slinky and jazzy. Cara’s voice has a lot more crunch and bite to it than it did interpreting more pop oriented material. So again,this is very surprising. But it showcases the breadth of Cara and her bands talent at producing a hefty funk groove.

 

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