James Brown would’ve been 81 years old today had he not passed away on Christmas Day of 2006. He lived the life he always had; consistently on the road and performing as best as his body would allow almost until the very end. While its been noted of late that lack of vulnerability has been somewhat overstated in reference to black American men, James symbolized such a concept in reference to his music. Though in terms of losing a son in the early 70’s and other domestic problems in the 1980’s? He was actually quite vulnerable. Music was what liberated him. It took him on a journey to being black and proud,and encouraging millions who admired him to do the same: learn,achieve and get involved.
Viewing James’ vast recorded catalog of music,like the largest collection of albums and singles in popular music history, selecting which albums to purchase depended largely on what little of it is actually in print. Between a couple of vinyl records and CD’s,I dug up a good handful of his records here and there. When I decided to post a review of one these recordings for this weeks blog post,a similar daunting task presented itself. Each of the James Brown albums I have are another link in a chain in terms of the funk genre he innovated. There was even a thought of breaking with tradition and selecting two reviews. Realizing how cumbersome that would be,I checked my reviews of his music and decided to select the following album-which I feel reflects perhaps several important steps in his musical evolution.
Okay that’s got to be my worst review title but after hearing this album you may have a similar reaction. True it took a several years and many a patchwork album for James Brown to finally get to this,one of his earliest full on album masterpieces. And in all honesty? It’s an album I only really knew a lot about recently due in part via a strong recommendation via the members of Breakestra in Waxpoetics magazine. In all likelihood this the earliest full length studio assemblage of the original JB’s lineup with Bootsy and Catfish Collins and such. One of the qualities that makes this such a unique album even by James’ standards is how much he goes for the cinematic approach to funk here-taking the basic framework of his sound and often augmenting it with either dynamic orchestrations,arrangements or both within his still intensely rhythmic framework. Not only that but he’s concentrating very heavily on melody. The idea of James combining melody and arrangements into his trademark tight funk sound opened up his music to many new possibilities and allowed his new musical recruits the change to challange themselves instrumentally. The title,in fact is no lie.
It goes way beyond music here. Culturally James is at the PEAK of his Say It Loud: I’m Black And I’m Proud period. So the message in his music is in full swing. The first two numbers in the title song and “Let The Man Come In And Do The Popcorn” are perfect examples of his “new funk” as it were. Very much in the league of his early full on funk period but also superbly arranged as well. On “World” he actually showcases how the cinematic groove has bought him to a distinctive funk ballad style and he re-harmonizes his older “It’s A Man’s World” and “If I Ruled The World” in much the same way. The result is their original message is also deepened as well. “Georgia On The Mind” takes the song normally associated with Ray Charles and takes his own lyrical liberties,even adding “I’m from August Georgia”,an interesting reference for this South Carolina native. “Give It Up” is an instrumental rendering of one of his biggest funk era numbers. The closer’s “Man In The Glass” and “I’m Not Demanding” are additional great examples of his unique brand of cinematic funk-the latter making his social agenda more than clear as he insists (I’m not demanding,I’m begging and pleading),showing a type of…confident desperation if you can imagine it as he speaks to “the people” very directly and honestly.
In addition to the musical aspect of funk James Brown was more than key in developing the consciousness in it’s lyrical message. It’s a type of construct I myself refer to as “people music” and it was key to the development of what funk writer Ricky Vincent calls the united funk period in the music. On this 1970 album James is laying the groundwork for all of that. I am not sure if anyone does or ever will think of James Brown as an album artist in any way. But if they do,or ever do it’s likely works like this will be part of what’s mentioned in that context. It’s not merely the focus on longer songs. But also they fact there is a very flowing musical concept at work here. Something James had been putting together in one way or another since the mid 60’s. And it was finally coming into itself in the early 70’s on albums such as this. As for his 60’s innovations there are many compilations that tell the story about as perfectly as one could ask. But as for where James stood at the start of the album oriented 70’s funk era? This would be an excellent release to explore along with his many full length triumphs to come early in that decade.
-Originally Printed On August 23rd,2011