Category Archives: country/soul

Leon Russell: 1942-2016-Thank You 4 Your Service,Leon!

Stop All That Jazz

Leon Russell had an extremely good early 70’s. Not only did he release a series of highly well received albums but he would collaborate with George Harrison and Bob Dylan on Concert for Bangladesh in 1972. The same year he wrote “This Masquerade”,a song which would several years later become a huge hit for George Benson. Leon,an Oklahoma native had a musical sound that was almost impossible to classify. There was a very heavy country/blues component to his sound. But he is also clearly a part of the singer-songwriter era.

And he is always open about expressing the strong jazz and soul aspects of his sound. On earlier albums it was that country-blues side of him that took presidents for the most part. For this 1974 album,Leon began using synthesizers in his music. He also bought in a trio of brothers named Ronnie,Robert and Charlie Wilson from Tulsa to back him up. These brothers than called themselves the Greenwood,Archer & Pine Band. Later this would be abbreviated into The Gap Band. This albums serves as their introduction to the world. And that’s fitting since it’s the beginning of an important music breakthrough for Leon himself.

The title of this album is not meant ironically since it is in fact a very jazz oriented album. But since this is Leon Russell we’re talking about here. He starts out the album with a stomping New Orleans style R&B version of “If I Were A Carpenter”. That particular side of this album stays with him on originals such as “Leaving Whipporwhill” and “Working Girl”. On “Smashed” this very pointed jazzy soul groove comes out of this sound once the Wilson’s begin participating. This is one of the albums strongest numbers. That plus a very like minded soul-jazz version of “Spanish Harlem”,filled with Ronnie Wilson’s soulful horn charts and the appropriate dash of Latin percussion.

“Streakers Ball” blends a bit of a stronger,funkier groove into this sound with the synthesizers providing some otherworldly electronic orchestral touches to the almost countrified soul groove. Now in terms of serious funk there’s a version of Bob Dylan’s “The Ballad Of Hollis Brown”. It’s a deep,uptempo,heavy bass and drum led funk march. With the Charlie Wilson’s vocal harmonies on full display the song is not quite full funk,or full blues or full gospel. But a hybrid strung together of the most powerful elements of all three. It’s unlike any other song I have heard before really. Closest comparison would be something like Rose Royce’s “First Come,First Served”.

The album ends with “Mona Lisa Smile” and the title song. Both are easy swinging jazz numbers,the latter with this heavy southern soul chorus blended in for good measure. The bonus tracks are some lush country-western takes on “Wild Horses” and a ho down of “Wabash Cannonball” sung with Willie Nelson. Especially with the bonus tracks,Leon Russell is out to do a lot of different things on this album. And he does. What keeps it from being a sloppy mess is that there is one strong unifying focus to everything on this album: that not so simple little factor of soul.

It’s part of everything from Leon’s…unique vocal style (an odd combination of Willie Nelson and Dr.John in a way) to the very way in which he composes,produces and arranges music. This album was recorded deep in the middle of what I will refer to as the funk era. And while it’s not an album defined by one particular genre,including funk,that particular musical era and the atmosphere it produced is evident from the very beginning of this album to the very end.
After hearing it,and it’s a very very difficult CD to track down I’ll tell you that,I have some trouble understanding why it’s not better liked than it is. It’s a carnival tent show of songs with a groove and directly in the eye of the groove. And the melodies and instrumentation are absolutely enchanting. It’s one of Leon Russell’s most musically and creatively potent works I’ve ever heard.

Will O' The Wisp

Now this album is not my introduction to the music of Leon Russel but it is as far as full length albums and,as far as I’m concerned there’s absolutely no disappointments to be heard. Now just to go back a bit to another point I made with a friend that,if one is looking for it you can easily find great funk in any aisle of a record store/department. It was a genre that consistently bled into rock,jazz,blues and during the mid 70’s the genre of funk was helping so much music to bleed together that it all came together (much as jazz’s creation from the outside) into a tasty musical gumbo with a lot of diverse herbs and spices of sound.

It’s not surprising with the Wilson Brothers’ (known today as The Gap Band) appearance on Leon’s previous album Stop All That Jazz that this was going to be the direction his music would continue to take and it did. The music on this album is a decidedly southern flavored blend of jazz,funk,country-soul,blues and excellent pop songwriting with some wonderfully fluid piano playing,occasional tasty sax riff and some wonderfully textural use of synthesizers. Some heavy duty funk such as “Little Hideaway”,”Make You Feel Good”,”Down On The Deep River” and the tasty groove of “Bluebird” really bring all of this together.

In addition all of these songs showcase the close back round harmonies of Mary McCreary,whose presence in both Leon’s music and life would grow only by leaps and bounds in the very short future. When you get to the elongated,percussive “Can’t Get Over Losing You”,”My Father’s Shoes”,”Stay Away From Sad Songs” and the tropically inclined harmonies of “Back To The Island” slow the funk down to a breath taking slow crawl in which the groove really has a chance to burn really hard.

Even though Leon was from Oklahoma and not New Orleans his music came out of a similarly torrid spirit as Dr.John,Allen Toussaint and The Meters and even though he never exactly gained the same type of recognition as any of those people this along with a handful of other excellent recordings Leon Russell made during his prime years would certainly put him easily in the same league.

 

Wedding Album

After the release of his excellent Will O’ the Wisp Leon Russell wed his backup singer Mary McCreary and the pair commemorated the event with a duet album between the two of them. One of the most exciting parts of the album is not only do the two share vocals on this album but Mary herself  a very active participant in this music with her new husband,playing synthesizer and percussion quite often and creating these beautifully elaborate choruses of back round vocals as well as her leads. The spirit of sharing and mutual cooperation,an integral component of any marriage lends itself here as a musical element as well.

Musically this album embraces styles Leon always had in his music as this is a full out funk-soul/R&B album with the textural synthesizers are enlarged in number,mixed far higher in the music and the melodic/harmonic arrangements of the music are more complex and elaborate. These songs are not in fact all too separated from what you might find on a Stevie Wonder,Smokey Robinson or Ashford & Simpson recordings of the period. The introductory song,the romantic “Rainbow In Your Eyes” is one of the very strongest and romantic songs Leon ever wrote.

The melodic keyboard/synth sound carries the song along with the intricate melody and it was so strong Al Jarreau covered the song very quickly on his album Glow of the same year,also opening the album with that song as well. The swelling “Love’s Supposed To Be That Way”,the cosmic sounding “Fantasy”,”Satisfy You” and “You Are On My Mind” all maintain the exact same level of quality and dynamic arrangements. Mary’s elastic,powerful vocalizing is a great combo with Leon’s tougher,rubbery singing style and the way they work them into the songs is just so wonderful to behold.

Unlike a lot of albums made after a musician gets married the intensity of the music actually increased in this case,largely because the couple were involved in making music and were already very experienced at doing so. “Lavender Blue (Dilly Dilly)” gets down into a heavy honky tonk/funk groove with Leon and Mary trading off some very meaty lyrics. On the midtempo “Quiet Nights” and “Windsong” the jazziness really gets going in the music. I would never call these songs sappy at all;they are beautifully cool and reflective in flavor and give both the music and vocals a chance to glide across each other smoothly.

“Daylight” closes the album again on a more uptempo melodic funk not. Considering it’s celebratory title this album fully lives up to it’s ambitions and concept in every way and upon hearing it I am very surprised it wasn’t more popular in it’s day than it was. Still it’s wonderful to have this very unsung and buried 70’s funk/soul masterpiece available (thanks to Wounded Bird again) and give modern listeners a chance to hear it with remastered sound and just the plain dignity of having it around again.

Leon and Mary Russell’s debut album together Wedding Album was a personal and musical triumph for everyone involved. So it seemed obvious that a fairly immediate follow up album was in order and they delivered one. At the very same time this is a completely different musical experience. Mary’s participation on this album on every front is somewhat played down as Leon gets a bit more involved. There’s more of a similarity to his earlier solo albums in parts and generally speaking is a mix of tunes similar in flavor to their debut album and some that follow Leon’s own musical lead a bit more.

“Easy Love” and the title song bare the most similarity to the previous album as somewhat uptempo soul/funk but the groove is a lot slicker and the synthesizer arrangements are a lot less thick overall. Still the music on these songs is every bit as brilliantly written as before. A good number of these songs such as “Joyful Noise”,”Now Now Boogie”,”Say You Will” and “Hold On To This Feeling” have a more organic,chunky honky tonk style funk groove more in keeping with some of the earlier Leon Russell solo albums and showcasing the band more than the individual styles of himself and Mary.

This album was released the same year as Saturday Night Fever so some of the style of disco does show up on a few of these tracks. Actually the ones that do;”Love Crazy” and “Love Is In Your Eyes” are harder edged disco-funk flavor tunes with some chunky,heavily processed Clavinet’s and some nasty rhythmic exchanges. The swoony romanticism of the previous album is replaced by a heavier sensual passion on this album and these two cuts display that more than others.

The last tune on the album features Mary the most on the somewhat psychedelisized Caribbean groove of “Island In The Sun”. As with the previous album there really are no bad cuts at all on this album. They’re all different though and that can be a wonderful thing often enough. In this case the pair require a cohesive musical concept to be their very best and this album doesn’t really possess that kind of cohesiveness so it’s only one star less powerful than the previous album.

 

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Filed under 1970's, country/soul, Funk, funky soul, Gap Band, Leon Russell, Mary McCreary, Music Reviewing

Anatomy of THE Groove: “We’ll Have It Made” by The Spinners

The Spinners were a group who had two of the most distinctive lead singers in 70’s soul. During their years in Philly,their main lead singer was Phillipe Wynne-a master of powerful vocal idiosyncrasy. In their Motown years,their final lead singer of that era was George Curtis “G.C.” Cameron. He was a Vietnam vet who recorded a couple of solo albums for Motown after his years with the Spinners. In 2003,he became one of the lead singers of the Temptations. Today at age 71,Cameron has had a rich and varied career celebrating music on both a creative and political level in the state of New Jersey.

In 1970,The Spinners recorded their second and final Motown album entitled 2nd Time Around. Story goes that they were not creatively prioritized on the label. On the other hand,Stevie Wonder felt the opposite because he wrote two songs for the group which were featured on this album. The first was “Its A Shame”. This went on to become their biggest hit for Motown. And is probably the song most people associate with G.C. Cameron. The other song Wonder wrote didn’t perform as well commercially,but to me stands on equal level musically. The name of this song is “We’ll Have It Made”.

A deep honky tonk styled (though not honky tonk sounding) piano opens the song. The bass drum kicks into the main rhythm-which is a big percussive sound marked by epic hi hat hits. These are accented by screaming,melodic horn charts. These instrumental parts mark both the chorus and the refrain of the song-using different chord modulations for each segment. After the chorus,there are these jazzy bridges where Cameron goes into his smoothest low baritone. Towards the end of the song,all the musical elements come together for a huge chorus that closes out the song.

“We’ll Have It Made” is a song that instrumentally bridges a hot,heavy uptempo and a stomping country soul sound beautifully. Even more so,Stevie Wonder’s jazzy modulations give the song its complex character. Cameron sings each vocal part as different characters. On the refrains and choruses he’s a huge soul shouter. On the jazzier bridges, he’s a smooth and almost poppy crooner. The moment I heard this song,it made me think about what might’ve happened to the Spinners on Motown had Stevie Wonder worked more fully with them. This and “Its A Shame” still stand as shining moments of this collaboration.

 

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Filed under 1970's, country/soul, drums, G.C. Cameron, honky tonk piano, horns, Motown, Motown Sound, piano, soul jazz, Stevie Wonder, The Spinners

Sammy Kershaw’s blues – Improvisations

sammy kershaw
Sammy Kershaw’s got the blues
By Ron Wynn
Though he’s enjoyed his greatest commercial success as a country artist, Sammy Kershaw’s always enjoyed all types of music. But even some longtime fans might not know that blues is a part of his idiomatic foundation alongside the country and Cajun sounds that have permeated and defined his biggest hits.
It’s taken a while, but Kershaw has finally released a blues LP. “The Blues Got Me” was actually completed in 2008 and mastered in 2009. However an extremely busy touring schedule, coupled with other releases, kept it on the shelf until May, when Kershaw decided it was time to get this one out. “I’ve been doing some of the songs in my live shows for a long time,” he told The Scene recently. “I had even put one or two of these on other albums, but did them in a country vein. So I just felt like the album had been on the shelf for a long time, and let’s get it out there.”
“I grew up in the dance halls and heard all kinds of music,” Kershaw continued. “The blues has most definitely had an impact on me, just like country and Cajun and Zydeco. A lot of times, when you’re talking about blues and country, it’s really the same feeling, but you’ve got different arrangements and instrumentation. They both speak to the soul, and they’re both about the soul, about expressing your true feelings from the heart about whatever your situation is in a song.”
“The Blues Got Me” includes a rollicking cover of Chuck Berry’s “No Money Down,” a poignant reworking of Solomon Burke’s hit “Honey, Where’s The Money Gone” and a dynamic rendition of the Allman Brothers’ “It’s Not My Cross To Bear.” But the most intriguing part of “The Blues Got Me,” aside from the stylistic departure, is it’s also a compositional showcase for Kershaw, who either wrote or co-wrote seven of the compositions.
“I don’t even consider myself a writer that way,” Kershaw explained. “But when we started cutting the songs, I just sat down and started writing and it really started flowing that way. I kept the blues in mind with all the tunes I was doing. Before I knew it we had a bunch of material that was ready to go, and I was really happy with what was happening.” Kershaw also points to Zydeco and swamp pop as two other influences that seep into the numbers, citing everything as part of what he heard in his youth.
Sammy Kershaw’s third cousin is the legendary Cajun fiddler Doug Kershaw. He got his first electric guitar at 11, and a year later was touring the Southwest with area bandleader J.B. Perry. He endured some tough times personally and professionally during the ’80s, even at one point departing the music business for the retail world. But a tape submitted to Mercury Records by a friend in 1990, followed by a triumphant showcase performance, led to a deal and the ’90s proved his breakout decade.
Over that time, Kershaw enjoyed huge success doing traditional country and honky-tonk, as well as more pop-influenced material. His 1991 release “Haunted Heart,” one of two early ’90s platinum LPs he enjoyed, is still regarded by many as his finest, particularly the single “She Don’t Know She’s Beautiful.” But he also had big hits on the other end of the country spectrum, among them a fine cover of the Amazing Rhythm Aces’ “Third Rate Romance” and the 1994 LP “Feelin’ Good Train.” His last big hit that decade was “Love Of My Life” from the LP “Labor of Love,” which peaked at number two.
Kershaw pursued both music and politics for several years, finishing second twice in bids for Lt. Governor of Louisiana, while also recording for a variety of labels with limited success and exposure. But he’s bounced back in a big way the past couple of years. The 2014 LP “Do You Know Me: A Tribute To George Jones” ranks alongside “Haunted Heart” in the Kershaw catalog. It features 13 Jones’ classics, plus one stellar original, “The Route I Took.” “That one I didn’t care whether it sold one copy or 100,000, that one was one I had to do,” Kershaw said. “George Jones has been one of my idols pretty much all my life. He’s one of those people who has so much soul and honesty in their voice, someone that you know when they sing, every thing that comes out is truth.”
Along with “The Blues Got Me,” Kershaw’s also issued another release this year “I Won’t Back Down,” which in addition is the first album he’s produced himself. It includes a fine version of R.B. Greaves’ “Take A Letter Maria,” plus the  strong title cut (a Tom Petty number), and a seasonal fun tune, “Grillin’ and Chillin’.” Kershaw is currently maintaining a busy performance schedule, while planning future releases.
“I want to put out a gospel album next, and then one of the swamp pop and rock and roll I grew up hearing,” Kershaw concluded. “I’m also working on my autobiography. I started out in the dance halls as a kid and I’ve been on the road 46 years. I still love my job and I really love all kinds of music. I think that music is something that unites people, and that’s what I want to do with all the projects that I’m going to put out there from now on.”
 When talking about his music philosophy, Sammy Kershaw always comes back to the same things: Don’t mess with the classics. Let a song breathe. Wrap up a record while it’s fresh. Sometimes it’s hard to tell if Kershaw is talking about recording or fine wine, but if we’re using metaphors, in the case of Kershaw’s latest project, The Blues Got Me, it’s a vintage that’s been bottled up for seven or eight years. Not that he’s been working on the album for that long; actually, Kershaw recorded the disc years ago and hasn’t touched it since.
“We didn’t change anything,” he tells The Boot. “We didn’t change a thing. It’s seven or eight years old. That’s it, period. It’s done.” Kershaw doesn’t believe in nitpicking. He trusts what he captured with the original recording.“I don’t want to lose the feel,” he explains. “And there’s a certain feel when you first record a song, there’s a certain feel you get in the studio from all the musicians. It’s fresh and exciting, and I want to keep that fresh and exciting feel on that record.
If we go in there and start nitpicking it every day — look, I could have a guitar player do his ride 50 times in one day, but by the time it’s over, you can’t tell which one you like out of 50.” The way Kershaw approaches guitar solos — and all aspects of recording — is much more organic. He likes to let it ride. “Nothing was planned,” he says of recording The Blues Got Me. “All four of us were sitting in a room … with a board and microphones, and that’s it. There was no planning out rides, there was none of that.
When I wanted somebody to ride, I’d just nod at them, and we’d take a ride … there was no planning. We just sat and did it. It was very raw.”To hear Kershaw talk, it sometimes seems as though all of the choices on his album were a happy accident. Take, for example, his cover of Solomon Burke’s “Honey, Where’s the Money Gone”: It just so happened that Kershaw heard Burke’s recording of the tune on the drive into the studio one day … and he decided to cut it.
“We Googled it and listened to it a couple of times, wrote the lyrics down, and cut it,” Kershaw recalls. “It was something I lived before, and I just loved the song.”
On The Blues Got Me, Kershaw also covers Chuck Berry‘s “No Money Down” and the Allman Brothers‘ “It’s Not My Cross to Bear.” His “no nitpicking” rule definitely applies to covers.
“A hit is always a hit,” he reasons. “I’ve done a lot of cover tunes in my career, but I’ve never changed the song, because the song was a hit for a reason … people liked it for a reason.”
Kershaw also won’t record a song, cover or otherwise, if he hasn’t lived it.
“When you listen to my music, it’s honest music,” he notes. “I’ve lived everything I sing about. If I haven’t lived it, I won’t sing it.” Even though he only sings songs that he’s lived, Kershaw is usually performing tunes written by someone else. But this album is different: He wrote or co-wrote seven of the songs on The Blue Got Me. That choice was “kind of unheard of for me,” he admits, but — another happy accident — the songs “… just came to me, and so I put them on this album.”
The Blues Got Me is a record that Kershaw has been wanting to record for nearly 35 years. But in many ways, “blues” is just the overarching genre umbrella; underneath that umbrella, Kenshaw says, is a lot of Louisiana-inspired music that’s hard to classify.
“There is some blues traditional-sounding things on here, but there’s also, like, Cajun-y-seasoned blues,” he says. The album also has “one song in there that’s got kind of a New Orleans shuffle … it’s just a zydeco-flavored blues song. It’s just different types of music that we have in Louisiana, and I don’t know … where you would put the music except in blues.”
Now that his blues album is finally out, does Kershaw feel the need to explore more genres? Not necessarily, the singer says — not unless the spirit moves.“Look, I just do what I feel. I just do what makes me happy,” he muses. But along with traditional country music, Kershaw does have plans to record a gospel album and a swamp-pop album. He likes having special projects in the works.
“I love all kinds of music … and when I’m not working on a country record, I don’t want to be not making music just because I’m not ready to make another country record,” he admits. “I’ve been doing this for 46 years, so special projects, to me, that’s exactly what they are — they’re special projects.”
As his career continues, Kershaw is adapting to the changes in the music industry. He says that “radio’s not gonna play me again,” but he’s fine with that. For him, the name of the game is finding a way to stay relevant while staying honest. He has his own label now and will continue to cut country records and special projects alike. And he’s thanking God for those years of making music. “I’m gonna use that gift He gave me,” Kershaw concludes. “I’m gonna use it all I can ’til I can’t use it anymore.”
(This piece originally ran in Nashville Scene’s Cream blog).

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Filed under 2009, Blues, Cajun, Country Music, country/soul, Doug Kershaw, Ron Wynn, Sammy Kershaw, swamp pop, Zydeco

‘Lionel Richie’ (1982) from Andre’s Amazon Archive

Lionel Richie

Why am I giving five stars to an albums where I am not 100% crazy about every song?The simple reason is that,in terms of everything Lionel Richie is musically this debut album is one of his most overall richest experiences. Conceptually Lionel’s style of blending contemporary funk/R&B styles with slow,sentimental “countrypoliton” types of ballads really feels at it’s most down to earth and organic here. It would have been nice if Lionel had included more uptempo songs here but that is more of a preference on my part.But for those who feel the same way it is true.

The funk type tunes that are here are some of the very best he ever made.”Serves You Right” and “Tell Me” are great jams,more in keeping with a a kind of “naked sophisti-funk” type of groove then the more polished urban styled jams on Lionel’s final album with the Commodores In the Pocket.The other song of this type here is “You Are”-it isn’t exactly what I’d call funk but definitely a great peppy,uptempo R&B love song. It was really not a bad early solo hit for Lionel and frankly a musical style worth pursuing further.

Of course the majority of this album is weighed toward the ballad end of things,the style Lionel chose to make his musical calling but…….well to be honest not his greatest strength. Romantically and sentimentally satisfying fare such as “Wandering Spirit”,”Truly” and the brief final two cuts “You Mean More To Me” and “Just Put Some Love In Your Heart” are musically excellent for such slow-paced songs.However unlike with fellow Motowners Smokey Robinson,Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye,Lionel seemed to have difficulty inflecting his slow songs with any real sense of emotional expression.
Vocally these types of songs tend to come off as…well overly sentimental in his hand.He basically sounds like a black version of Kenny Rogers on these types of tunes and therefore it’s no doubt their musical connection and that Kenny appears on this album.Of course the bonus tracks really showcase another side of his talent.The demo of “Endless Love” shows the nucleus of a song that,while overproduced to the extreme in its final form really gives you an inside peek into Lionel’s technique as a composer with this demo having a more bare,folksy flavor.
The instrumental version of “You Are” is not only great to dance to but solid proof of Lionel’s 70’s-born concept that the catchiness of a great dance tune didn’t just come from the singing:it was the horns,the keyboards and most importantly the rhythm. If you a Commodores fan just getting into Lionel Richie’s solo music and want an easy starting point,in this case it might be best to start at the beginning here.
The next album Can’t Slow Down was of course hugely more successful commercially (not that this was any slouch in that respect either) but musically that album is a whole other beast entirely,for better or worse. This definitely finds Lionel with one foot in his past and the other in things to come musically and in any case is more than worth hearing
Originally posted on July 27th,2009

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Filed under 1980's, adult contemporary, Amazon.com, ballads, Boogie Funk, country/soul, Lionel Richie, Motown, Music Reviewing, post disco, Uncategorized

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Lillie Mae” by Bobby Womack (1968)

Bobby Womack is understood to me today as being an enormous soul survivor. Both literally and figuratively. This Cleveland Ohio native came up in the same state would produce so many funk luminaries in the 1970’s. Particularly in Dayton. He started in his family gospel band The Womack Brothers,which included his famous brother Cecil. Once they were discovered by Sam Cooke and became his backup band,Sam changed their name to the Valentinos. He bought them to LA with him,and re-focused them from gospel toward pop flavored soul. Following Sam Cooke’s death,Womack worked as a session musician for Ray Charles for the next four years-having disbanded the Valentinos.

Having worked at Chip Moman’s American Sound Studios,famous for launch the late 60’s comeback of Elvis Presley,Womack found himself doing session work for Aretha Franklin on her major 60’s breakout albums. During this time Womack began to work on a solo album of his own. The rhythm section involved on his debut were bassist Mike Leech,organist Bobby Emmons,drummer Gene Chrisman,pianist Bobby Woods and a fellow guitar player in Reggie Young. His solo debut was the 1967 release Fly Me To The Moon. It’s title song was a doo-wop styled version of the Frank Sinatra hit. The song that moves me most off this album however was called “Lillie Mae”.

The song is heavy on the rhythm. The drum is playing a fast shuffle with the rhythm guitar chugging away with equal rhythmic energy. On each chorus and refrain,the horn section either burst out or sustain themselves melodically-depending on the chords of the given part of the song. On the refrain the organ comes in,again playing a very strong sustain. On the end of the songs second refrain,the organ transitions into the chorus with a big,up scaling psychedelic explosion of sound. The song concludes with the refrain of the song repeating as it fades out-having the organ play hi hat like percussive accents on the very last moments of it.

My very first reaction to hearing this song was that it sounded very similar to Elvis’s song “A Little Less Conversation”. That isn’t at all surprising as that was also recorded with Chip Moman’s production. And came out the same year as this. As it stands,this song is a quick tempo’d example at countrified funky soul at it’s finest. The guitar very much picks up on JB’s use of the instrument at the time as a fully involved rhythmic element to the drums in the song. It also includes the instrumental sustains used on Memphis/Stax soul records at the time. So right at the very time the funk was getting ready to burst out into a genre all it’s own,Bobby Womack was playing his part in the entire funk process.

 

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Filed under 1960's, Bobby Womack, Cecil Womack, Chip Moman, country/soul, Elvis Presley, funky soul, guitar, Sam Cooke, The Valentinoes, Uncategorized

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Enjoy Yourself” by The Jacksons

The Jacksons self titled label debut on Epic is a very nostalgic one for me. For one thing, it’s the very first CD I purchased with my own money-if I remember sometime in the autumn of 1994. The history of the brothers breaking their contract with Motown,the record company who made them famous for the sake of gaining more creative control fascinated my burgeoning artistic ethic at the time. I was very interested to hear what the Jackson brothers sounded like having experienced their first tastes of artistic freedom. Even understanding they only wrote two of the ten songs on this album was still an exciting understanding to have as a teenager growing up near the turn of the millennium.

During the final years at Motown,the Jackson brothers had become fascinated by the Philly sound coming out of the PIR studios. Especially under the tutelage of Kenny Gamble,Leon Huff and Dexter Wansel. These were record producers who thought like artists-in the case of the latter two they made records under their own name. So they always approached the record from a quality control rather than a commercially geared manner. Because this was quite a different approach to the assembly line hit factory approach of Motown,it did allow for the brothers to gain a stronger uniqueness to their sound. And the result was the lead off song and single from their 1976 debut as The Jacksons on “Enjoy Yourself”.

A nasal bass pitched rhythm guitar opens with the main melody of the song. It’s accompanied with the medium tempo beat with a bouncing conga drums-perhaps from the Jacksons youngest brother Randy. The harmony’s of the brothers trading off with the leads of Michael are themselves harmonizing with a short chordal burst of electric piano and big band style horns. Those horns play more sustained phrases on the refrains. The bridge of the song is sung by elder Jackson brother Jackie in his gravely lower register along a jazzy funk electric piano part and horns that keep building in intensity up until the song fades out on an even more powerful variation of the chorus.

Conversing with my main musical inspiration right now Henrique about this song has bought me to a significant musical understanding. He describe this song, especially it’s opening rhythm guitar part as having a country sound. My drummer had me on the beat that in musical terms “country” was short hand for country/western music. In fact it referred to a very rural approach to playing an instrument-such as at a family reunion or county fair live band. Considering these brothers were taught old blues and country songs by their mom Katherine,it’s probably no surprise that Gamble & Huff would tailor an uptempo funk/soul tune for them with that strong down home instrumental flavor.

In any event this song was a wonderful way to begin the Jackson brothers adult career. The song really emphasizes them strongly as a group-with their deep,gospel drenched five part harmonies taking presidents on the choruses. The focus of the family was not yet focused so heavily as a dry run for the upcoming solo career of brother Michael. And as I listen to it as an adult with all these new musical understandings, the fact that Gamble & Huff put that country styled soul flavor into their new funk really gave the brothers more musical distinction than the production line approach Motown often used with them. In a lot of ways,it’s a song that says a lot about the Jacksons more personal musical interests.

Thematically the song also has it’s place in the creative liberation of the Jackson brothers. Basically Mike is singing about being at a party with a very insecure date whose “sittin’ over there starring into space” while everyone else is “dancing all over the place”. He’s advising this person to not obsess over what they can’t change. Finally he asks them flat out to have a good time instead of “sittin’ there with your mouth poked out just sweet as you can be”. It was recorded during the bicentennial year. Seems to have been the idea at the time of moving ahead from where the 60’s attitudes left off. And this song simply advises to live the life they’ve got and to enjoy themselves.

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Filed under 1970's, country/soul, Dexter Wansel, electric piano, Epic Records, Funk, Gamble & Huff, horns, Jackie Jackson, Katherine Jackson, Michael Jackson, Philly Soul, Randy Jackson, The Jacksons, Uncategorized

Anatomy Of THE Groove: “Rainbow In Your Eyes” by Leon & Mary Russell

Leon Russell’s contributions to 70’s era black American music were extremely significant. Having been a strong session player with everyone from the B.B. King to Ray Charles, he began his solo career with a similar intent. His 1972 song “This Masquerade” became a major smash hit for George Benson four years later. And he got the Gap Band their first taste of recording as session players themselves on his 1974 album Stop All That Jazz.  As an artist who strongly understood the instrumental and compositional balance that exists in the musical eclecticism of the late 60’s an early 70’s, Russel entered the middle of the latter decade with a whole new creative outlook.

In 1976 Russel formed his own label called Paradise Records. Having already recognized (in a similar manner to Little Feat’s Lowell George) the linkage between his burgeoning southern rock style and the soul/funk/R&B/jazz spectrum, he wanted to further that approach in his own music. During that same year he wed the vocalist Mary McCreary. She had been a member of Sly & The Family Stone’s all female harmony backup group Little Sister during their early 70’s period. The new couple decided to musically collaborate. This culminated in their duet recording  The Wedding Album.  And it all lead right off with a song called “Rainbow In Your Eyes”.

It begins with Mary in a beautifully multi tracked, acapella vocalese duetting with herself in straight up gospel form. Right after this Leon kicks right in with a thick bluesy synthesizer accentuated with some higher pitched,ringing electronics. That same Clavinet like synth tone is the key rhythmic element to the song-right with the swinging drums of Teddy Jack Eddy. This maintains a close relationship with Russell’s melodicism throughout the song. He and Mary exchange each vocal phrase and on the refrains, they’re both in close harmony singing with the accompaniment of the bell like synthesizer sounding very similar to wedding bells.

For me this is one of the most beautiful examples of  Russell’s mid 70’s sound. It’s got a thick, grooving stomp about it. Leon’s Okie drawl and Mary’s deep,gospel belt  both work wonderfully as the pair sing about the inner strength their love will bring to each of them as people. Especially the powerful image of them as a creatively strong biracial couple in the post civil rights era South. And on a purely musical level, the melodies mix of sweet country/western flavors with the thick bluesy funkitivity of the instrumentation bought it to life. Al Jarreau thought so much of it he did  cover of the song on his sophomore album the very same year. It’s one of Leon Russell’s finest slices of funk in many ways.

 

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Filed under 1970's, acapella, country/soul, drums, Funk, Gap Band, George Benson, Leon Russell, Mary McCreary, Paradise Records, Sly & The Family Stone, synthesizer, Uncategorized

Andre’s Amazon Archive for 6/20/2015: ‘In The Pocket’ by The Commodores

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With the huge successes of songs such as “Three Times A Lady”,”Still”,”Sail On” and even “Lady” as recorded by Kenny Rogers? It was only a matter of time before Lionel Richie would leave the Commodores with a distinctive solo style of his own to draw on. As for The Commodores? They began the 80’s with their Heroes album-which looked to grab a somewhat more rock ‘n soul sound on some of the more uptempo numbers. And frankly wasn’t among their more successful musical outings from a commercial standpoint. Well by 1981 things had changed a lot on the R&B/soul music scene. In the US,disco was out of fashion and the radio was freezing out anything dancebale or “black” oriented. Yes it was racist. Yes it was exlusionist. But the one thing Lionel’s hit ballads had contributed to The Commodores was a way from them to ride out that storm. And its likely that at this point? They might’ve been wondering how ,with Lionel already confirmed to be leaving how they could regain their commercial success while also recapturing some of the uptempo and funkier elements that had gradually been eroded in their sound. This was the album that would have to be the proof of the pudding in that regard.

“Lady (You Bring Me Up)” is actually one of my favorite Commodores songs. With it’s melodic electric piano intro and strong post disco rhythm and strings? This song is an almost ideal blend of Doobie Brothers/Steely Dan style West Coast pop and Motown soul/funk which likely both inspired each other from the outset. “Saturday Night” is a smoldering,smoothed out cinematic groove that is extremely funky and sexy-with McClary taking the lead vocal. “Keep On Taking Me Higher” has a strong bass line and a sleek,slinky Walter Orange synthesizer that is somewhat influenced by the then emerging boogie funk sound-only much more live band/late 70’s era funk with a strong percussive bridge. “Oh No” and in particular the epic,gospel inflected “Lucy” which closes the album are the two Richie penned ballads-again with a strong countrypoliton style flavor about both of them. “Why You Wanna Try Me Baby” is a somewhat more funk oriented variation on the catchy West Coast vibe that starts off the album. “This Love” is a heavy,soulful,Walter Orange penned soul ballad while “Been Loving You” is a thick,deep and sleekly produced funk number that,by blending more advanced studio production with the Sly Stone end of the bands vibe,anticipates the way much modern retro funk tends to sound.

On a purely musical level? This primarily uptempo and funk oriented album found the Lionel Richie era Commodores coming to a conclusion that was relatively close to how they began. Yet also taking into consideration their newer found popular success. The bands level of musicianship had consistently evolved. The funk here is of course of a more advanced recorded and lest punchier nature than the sound they started out with. But a sophistifunk record by The Commodores was certainly preferable to no funk at all. Its also become clear to me how Lionel was actually going for a country/soul sound on his ballads in a similar vein to Ray Charles. Difference was Lionel was a straighter,less individual vocalist than Ray. And he never did infuse his country/soul ballads with the same level of blues and gospel either. They always favored the pop side. But in hindsight? They were very well done in the context of this albums generally funky nature. For someone who tends to avert their eyes to latter day Commodores? Thinking their ears might get a little sticky? They might be surprised just how much grooving sweat this 1981 album is capable of creating!

Originally posted on June 21’st,2014

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Filed under 1980's, Amazon.com, Commodores, country/soul, Funk, Lionel Richie, Motown, Music Reviewing, Walter Orange, West Coast