Category Archives: funk albums

Andre’s Amazon Archive: ‘Changes’ by Charles Bradley

About five years ago,I got seriously into the whole Daptone label music scene. The whole theme they had was very authentically retro. It wasn’t just the instrumental style of the music that came out of it. It was the sound of the recordings,even the old school film based photographic style of cover art. Charles Bradley is their key male solo artist. And his chief musical influence was James Brown-even working part time impersonating the man. As for me I have his first two albums. And was very excited to pick up his third when it came out. Again,there’s no disappointment.

The album opens with a partially spoken word,organ/piano based version of “God Bless America” where Bradly discussed the pros and cons of being black in this country. “Good To Be Back Home” is stomping,bluesy funk with phat electric guitar and horn accents throughout. “Nobody But You”,the title song,”Crazy For Your Love” and the closer “Slow Love” are all reverbed guitar heavy ballads.

“Ain’t Gonna Give You Up” is a thick,slow deep funk groove with a bee like synthesizer buzzing. “Things We Do For Love” is a brightly melodic uptempo gospel/soul number filled with multiple backup singers and “You Think I Don’t Know (But I Know” has the same vibe about it. “Change For The World” is an brief late 60’s/early 70’s Ike Hayes like psychedelic funk message song warning about the revival of segregationist racial behavior.

In a lot of ways,this might just be the very best album Charles Bradley has made thus far. The backup instrumentation of instrumentals such as the Budos Band provide a sound that is squarely in both the deep Southern soul and psychedelic funk sound of the late 60’s. The vocals and arrangements are full of enormous drama as well. Bradley’s voice,especially on his impassioned howls,are echoed intensely throughout nearly every song here. With a large focus on uptempo songs,this really brings out the full power of what this artist has had to offer up musically from his very outset.

Originally posted on April 8th,2016

Link to original review here!

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Filed under 2016, Amazon.com, Budos Band, Charles Bradley, Dap Tone, Funk, funk albums, funky soul, Music Reviewing, new music

Look Out For #1@40-George & Louis Johnson Tell Us About The Funk That All Of Us Release

Somehow it never occurred to me that the Brothers Johnson’s debut album Look Out For#1 was celebrating its 40th anniversary. Sadly,it did so without the presence of the late great Louis Johnson-who passed away in the spring of 2015. One of the most important things to say about this album,released on new years day of 1976,is that it represents the very peak of #1 funk-a time when the music was at its strongest in terms of crossover. It was also Quincy Jones’ first major funk/soul production for another artist. Which in turn paved the way for Quincy’s success in that arena in the early 80’s.

George and Louis Johnson started playing professionally with Billy Preston as teenagers. As they approached adulthood,the guitar/bass duo backed up Quincy Jones on his 1975 album Mellow Madness. The setup was that the brothers wrote the songs,played the guitar and bass parts while George did the majority of the vocals with his high,percussive vocal stutter.  This was essentially the setup for Look Out For #1. Other prominent jazz/funk instrumentalists such as Dave Grusin,Ian Underwood,Lee Ritenour ,Billy Cobham,Toots Thielemans and Ernie Watts were among the musicians who played on the album as well.

One thing I’ve come to appreciate about this album is how it presents funk at its best recorded,produced and with its highest variety. “I’ll Be Good To You”,the primary single for the album,has a strong Sly & The Family Stone melodic singability. The instrumental “Tomorrow” has a similarly melodic vibe about it. Of course the song that gets the most harmonically advanced about that style is “Land Of Ladies”,the one song sung by Louis in his grunting,cooing vocal approach. Of course,after one goes from there Look Out For #1 is extremely dense with funk.

“Get The Funk Out Of My Face” is the most commercially successful example of this albums funkiness-with its fast tempo and processed wah wah effects. “Free And Single” and ‘Dancin’ And Prancin'”,with their heavy horn charts,take that same sound to the next logical step. A version of The Beatles “Come Together” and the closing “The Devil” are slow,gurgling deep funk that just grind the groove into the subconscious very deeply. The groove that pulls the sound of this entire album together in one song is titled for the brothers nicknames “Thunder Thumbs And Lightin’ Licks”.

There’s a deep point to this album that actually passed by even me,an avid funkateer,for sometime. A lot of times,even the most classic funk albums of this period mixed heavy funk in with jazz,rock or heavily arranged ballad material on an album. Even though this album has at least one slower ballad type number,the main priority of this album is on heavy uptempo funk. The immense talent of the Johnson brothers,as well as the instrumentalists playing with them,showcase how much the funk genre celebrates instrumental,melodic and rhythmic complication at its finest.

Conceptually,this album attracted me from the first time I saw the album cover on CD 20 years ago this year. It was a fish eye view from below,featuring the brothers playing their bass and guitar in front of a bright blue sky-both seemingly in the middle of singing. George is wearing a silver shirt and slacks with Louis has a silky,Indian looking shirt draped over him while in jeans. The whole image is that of just what they were-two super hip young brothers looking to play funky music for the people with enormous skill,style and flair. And that is what Look Out For#1 represents to me as it turns 40 years old.

 

 

 

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Filed under 1976, Billy Cobham, Brothers Johnson, classic albums, classic funk, Dave Grusin, Ernie Watts, Funk, funk albums, Funk Bass, funk guitar, George Johnson, Ian Underwood, instrumental, Lee Ritenour, Louis Johnson, Quincy Jones, Toots Theilmans

Prince Summer In Full Swing: ’20Ten’ turns 6!

20ten

20Ten is one of my favorite Prince albums of the new millennium before his 2014 comeback on Warner Brothers. Questlove wrote an article in Wax Poetics magazine five years ago about the 33 reasons why Prince was hip-hop. The 20Ten album provided a possible 34th reason-that being most contemporary hip-hop/R&B music with it’s stripped down drum machine/synthesizer sound is based on the same early/mid 80’s Minneapolis sound that Prince pioneered,and then returned to with this album. This is also one of very very few times I saw Prince return to the musical sound that made him so famous.

This was a difficult album for me to find. It was released shortly after Prince received a Lifetime Achievement Aware at the 2010 BET Awards. But in the UK only. And even for that as a covermount CD on British magazines like the Daily Mirror. My local record store Bullmoose would’ve had to ordered the magazines themselves to even sell copies of this. And that seems that they did because I managed to pick it up. After jamming to the first album a couple of times during that first week of having it,I went over to Amazon.com and had the following to say about it:


On his previous release Mplsound Prince was making it abundantly clear that he was reaching towards his classic one-man-band Minneapolis sound as a means of progressing into the future. This is actually a move he made on a number of occasions when his music and career seemed in question. Well right now his career isn’t in that state at all. He’s musically revered by many in this generation and was recently given a tribute on the BET Music Awards this past year. Prince himself also seems to obsessed with some strange form of eternal youth in which his music doesn’t age but his lyrical themes mature.

You will not find any explicit lyrics on this album for sure,same as you won’t find them on any of his albums since 2001. That doesn’t mean that effects the music at all because these are the most energized,lively,funky and musically sophisticated songs Prince has done in the new millennium. The album opens and ends on the same basic musical note with “Compassion” and “Everybody Loves Me” embracing the shuffling LINN drum led rockabilly styled funk with lyrics that alternately speak of both selflessness and selfishness. “Beginning Endlessly”,the amazing “Sticky Like Glue” and “Lavaux” all embrace the classic Prince all encompassing funk groove with some delicious synthesizer squiggles and layered drum and percussion tracks.

He hasn’t lost his touch as a multi instrumentalist in the least bit and actually has expanded on it to include light rhythmic nods to both hip-hop/R&B and contemporary 80’s dance revival (itself based on his own original music) without shamelessly surrendering to either style and still being himself. Songs like “Future Love Song”,”Walk In The Sand” and “Sea Of Everything” also embrace Prince’s touch with the slow jam to it’s absolute best effect. Typical of Prince he makes you flip through 75 separate 2-4 second empty tracks before we get to cut 77,which is the title song offered as a very hidden bonus selection. This is very much a TAFKAP era sounding funk/rap styled number but still his one-man-band style is very much in attendence. After all these years Prince obviously has no intent on being a fossil. He wants to keep being himself and now that he’s in his 50’s he also refuses to musically look down on those younger than them and also embraces many of their ideas into his own.


The summer season is already a few weeks in as I’m writing this. But wanted to officially inaugurate this as Prince Summer here on Andresmusictalk. It’s been underway for a few months now already. But there will continue to be a consistent emphasis on Prince’s own music here for a long time to come-as well as a continuing emphasis on the enormous influence of the many forms of the Minneapolis sound. Even if Prince himself didn’t always realize it,he is likely the last artist to really innovate musically in the funk/soul genre. And the album 20Ten is more than solid proof of this.

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Filed under 2010's, Amazon.com, funk albums, Hip-Hop, Linn Drum, Minneapolis, Minneapolis Sound, Music Reviewing, Prince, Questlove, synth brass, synthesizers, UK, Uncategorized, Wax Poetics magazine

Grooves On Wax: Black Wax In Black Music Month

James Brown Showtime

James Brown’s albums up to the beginning of the mid 60’s seem to be helpful in showcasing what was influential on the future Godfather Of Soul. This 1964 album,his debut for Smash,is an excellent example of this. JB starts out with a spirited cover of the R&B classic “Caledonia”,originally by Louie Jordan & The Timpani Five. As a studio album overdubbed with applause,these songs find JB singing the blues on a number of rhythm & blues shuffles-removed for the most part from his typical live show of the era.

Key Jams: “Evil” and “Ain’t Nobody Here But Us Chickens”

Mirium Makeba

Miriam Makeba is an artist I’ve always interesting in hearing more from. This is an excellent album from 1967 for her. It really does a lot to bring out the sound of African soul-with a lot of elements that would eventually go into the world fusion sound in the future. Especially with the songs not all being sung in English. She even adds a folk song called “A Piece Of Ground”-which runs down the horrid inequity of apartheid in South Africa.

Key Jam: “Pata Pata”

Odyssey Of Iska

Wayne Shorter made this 1971 avant garde jazz album as he was transitioning from Miles Davis’s second quintet of the mid/late 60’s onto fusion pioneers Weather Report. And it really shows as Gene Bertoncini’s guitar-with it’s rhythmic overdrive along with former quintet made Ron Carter’s bass and Alphonse Mouzan’s drumming give this album the kind of Afro-Brazilian jazz/funk process sound Miles himself was already diving headlong into.

Key Jams: “Storm”,“De Pois Do Amor,O Vazio” and “Joy”osibisa-woyaya(16)

Osibisa are a  British,mostly Ghanan Afro pop group who were first described to me as being called “Obsidica”,and sounding like the Isley Brothers. Neither of those things being true of course,this 1971 album is in the Afro-Latin funk/rock/soul collection jamming much in the style of Mandrill and Santana.

Key Jams: “Beautiful Seven” and “Move On.

robertaflack-quietfire-cover

Roberta Flack is someone who today could almost be considered the godmother of neo-soul. Her understated vocal approach and naturally based instrumental style was a precurser of that. Especially on her earlier albums.  On these records though,they caught some heavily funky fire on a song or two. This 1971 release actually has a bit more than others-especially her ultra gospel drenched version of the Bee Gee’s “To Love Somebody”.

Key Jams: “Go Up Moses” and “Sunday And Sister Jones”

Edwin Birdsong

Edwin Birdsong,keyboardist and songwriter for the Roy Ayers Ubiquity who later worked with Stevie Wonder,really put himself out on this ultra funky 1972 debut album. He was a heavy purveyor of sociopolitical “people music” message songs as well. Even the lone ballad “It Ain’t No Fun Being a Welfare Recipient” tells the kind of story you generally don’t hear on too many slow jams. Birdsong’s holds-no-barred approach to humanitarian lyricism really inspires my personal funky emotions.

Key Jams:”The Uncle Tom Game” and “When A Newborn Baby Is Born,The Gets One More Chance” 

Open Sesame

Kool & The Gang totally reinvent the chemistry of their groove on this 1976 album,in their positions as The Scientists Of Sound. The jacket folds in half on the front to find portraits of the band members in the garb of Morrish royalty. From the casting of the “genie of sound” on the title song onward,this album finds their sound in direct transition from the heavy jazz/funk based sound of their earlier music to the disco era soul/funk melodicism of their under appreciated late 70’s pre JT Taylor period.

Key Jams: “Open Sesame”,“All Night Long” and “Super Band”

brick------_goodhigh-_101b

Brick’s sophomore album was where I discovered this heavily jazz based disco funk band. This 1976 debut album for them really helped put together their “disco jazz” type of music very well-with songs that featured more instrumental oriented jamming on many of the songs rather than the more heavily constructed pop type songs they would be known for on their following recordings.

Key Jams: “Dazz” and “Brick City”

Melba Moore

Melba Moore’s Broadway experience really helped her theatrical variety of heavily orchestrated soul balladry and disco/dance records she recorded during the 70’s. This 1978 album from her,produced by the Philly team of McFadden & Whitehead,contains one of my very favorite songs by her in the funkified “You Stepped Into My Life”.

Key Jams: “You Stepped Into My Life” and “It’s Hard Not To Like You”

Ohio Players - Jass-Ay-Lay-Dee -

The Ohio Players final album for Mercury from 1978 has gotten very mixed views from fans of this classic funk band. Yet from the very beginning,they make it more than clear that the then burgeoning disco sound was not yet effecting their heavy funkiness. As a matter of fact,this particular album is home to some of the hardest hitting funk the band ever made.

Key Jams: “Funk-O-Nots”,“Jass-Ay-Lay-Dee” and “Dance (If You Wanta)”

Pleasure

Pleasure’s jazz-funk sound out of Portland,Oregon is one that I am just beginning to explore. This 1980 album of theirs has become something of a big deal in recent years. With their sophistifunk production and jazzy instrumental solos,the band seem to have made their mark in the annals of funk as it transitioned from the 70’s onto the 80’s.

Key Jams: “Now You Choose Me” and “Yearnin’ Burnin'”

brass-construction-attitudes-20120328040716

Brass Construction’s title song for this 1982 album was one I thought came from Cameo due to a mislabeled MP3 sometime ago. It led me to the vinyl album,which is now recognizable as the bands transition to the stripped down,electro/naked/boogie funk sound of the early 80’s. It’s almost completely uptempo funk based saved for the jazzy mid tempo ballad “ETC”.

Key Jams: “Can You See The Light”,“Forever Love” and “Attitude”

slave-bad-enuff-1089025-1437603644

Slave were the last and youngest of the classic Dayton,Ohio funk bands,and were some of the architects of the boogie funk sound. That’s very prominent on this 1983 album,their first album of the 80’s without Steve Arrington. Actually,it’s a strong transition from their original live band approach to their more electro funk oriented sound that was about to come.

Key Jams: “Steppin’ Out” , “Turn You Out (In & Out)” and “Show Down”

isley-jasper-isley-broadways-closer-to-sunset-blvd-bonus-track-version-5954759-1448546073

Ernie and Marvin Isley along with Chris Jasper struck out as their own trio in 1984. This debut album from the same year is actually one of the strongest boogie funk albums of its era. That’s because the brittle drum machines are accented by the same powerful percussion the 3+3 Isley Brothers were known for.  That rhythmic approach mixed with layers of synthesizers,bass and guitar make this an superb extension  of the Isley sound as heard on the Between The Sheets from a year earlier.

Key Jams: “Serve You Right” and “Break This Chain

 

 

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Filed under 1960's, 1970's, 1980's, Afro Funk, avant-garde, Blues, Brass Construction, Brick, Edwin Birdsong, electro funk, Funk, funk albums, Isley-Jasper-Isley, James Brown, Kool & The Gang, Melba Moore, Miriam Makeba, Ohio Players, Osibisa, Pleasure, rhythm & blues, Roberta Flack, Slave, Uncategorized, Vinyl, Wayne Shorter

Cameo’s Albums In Review: We All Know Who We Are

Cameo Blog Photo

Cameo is a constant conversational reference point between Henrique and myself. And with Prince gone now,those conversations have more resonance then ever. The band came together in the late 70’s during the height of P-Funk. And were inspired by it. As the 80’s progressed they survived by paring down their lineup,eventually to it’s three core members. But they did survive. Most importantly,they got hardcore funk back on the pop charts with 1986’s “Word Up”. They are still touring to this day in fact. And are even preparing a new album for release as of this writing.

With seventeen albums in their 39 year history,I’ve actually only heard eight. But they are thoroughly enjoyable records that I took the time to review on Amazon.com. There are a many Cameo jams rife for reviewing on the Anatomy of THE Groove segment. But also it’s important to point out how,even if they didn’t always have huge conceptual unity on them,that Cameo were always capable of chocking their full albums full of quality material -from funk,disco and ballads and later to rock/hip-hop hybrids. So today I’ll start band founder Larry Blackmon’s birthday celebration by giving props to Cameo as album artists.

‘Cardiac Arrest’-1977

I don’t think it can be stated enough that for fans of the mid 1980’s Word Up! period are in for a huge shock with ‘Cardiac Arrest’,the band’s debut presenting a 13 member lineup (including a horn section) that play hardcore 70’s funk.The emphasis in this period of Cameo’s career is on the rhythm section with electronics pushed to the wayside as is typical of most funk bands in the mid 70’s. And there’s plenty of that here with “Still Feels Good”,”Good Times” and the stomping “Post Mortem”.
There are two indisputable funk classics here-the hit “Rigor Mortis” (which we all pretty much know) and “Funk Funk”-the undeniable Star Trek parody which,because of it’s rapped lyrics and crazy rhythm bought up the P-Funk comparisons. And this album also contains two great ballads in “Smile” and “Stay By My Side”,especially since Cameo were obviously not trying for ballads.This was the sound that Cameo would progress and evolve from in the next decade.A more individual style would later develop but Cameo already stood out even from the beginning.

Early Cameo was something I was very hesitant on because of (apparently) misguided literature describing them as a singles act. And further that there were “no shortage of bad Cameo records out there prior to 1980”. This was the album that proved to me that it was untrue. Originally had it on vinyl. And only had the chance to play it once before loaning it to a friend who never returned it. Recently picked it up on a twofer CD? I decided to review the two albums separately. So I could say more and show the progression of the music.

“I’ll Be With You” is heavy stomping percussion,slap bass,slippery horns,drawling lead/harmony vocals and uncut funkiness all the way. “Anything You Wanna Do” brings the same instrumental approach to a somewhat faster groove while “Insane”,one of the most descriptive songs in terms of funk has the Moog and slap bass both riding each other along with the high on the neck rhythm guitar in the passenger seat. “I Want You” adds a rocking blues guitar to an extremely thick,stomping groove. The title song is a sleeker,danceable groove in the mood of James Brown’s “Rapp Payback” in terms of the percussive rhythm.

With the orchestral soul ballads of the racially themed “Give Love A Chance”,”Friend To Me” and the more swinging jazz-pop styled mid-tempo slow jam of “Two Of Us” rounding out the album? This shows off how talented Cameo were with grooves,melodies and both instrumental and vocal harmonics. They had strong enough singers and powerful arrangements enough for the slow numbers. But the majority of this album is funk. And it’s dense,hard funk too. In fact? This album is home to some of the hardest,greasiest funk of 1978 from what I’ve heard from that year so far in my life. It showcases how musically talented and full on funky Cameo really were in their late 70’s beginnings. And I very highly recommended to all jam fans!

Cannot tell you how many times I turned down this CD in the budget bins of the record haunts I used to go to. In the area I lived in? There seemed to be a peculiar mixture of the funk revivalism through hip-hop and rap sampling and the worn out anti disco attitude. It was a contradictory impulse in many ways. But somehow there was a fear of social punishment involved with me always having second thoughts about this. With that gone now? And my understanding of the late 70’s dance music scene broader than it was? It’s wonderful to come back to this 1979 album with a fresher and stronger perspective.

“Energy” opens the album with a very Barry White/Michael Jackson/EWF friendly upbeat dance/horn funk groove that declares “ain’t nothin’ wrong with disco/it goes along with funk/if you do not like it/don’t get mad at us”. “I Just Want To Be” has a stern opening bass line with slippery synthesizer squiggles to go along with the falsetto/bass vocals and horns. The 9 minute “Find My Way” is a straight up mixture of orchestral,big band jazz with the bands vocal yelps to the 4/4 disco beat-at one point the strings referencing Gershwin’s “Rhapsody In Blue”. “Macho” brings in a thicker and more percussive funk stomp while “The Rock” just throws the heavy percussive horn based stomp right back in it.

“Sparkle” is a sleekly produced EWF style horn based funk/soul slow jam per excellence while “New York” takes the Afro-Latin based funk/disco to new heights with it’s tribute to the bands home city. This album is an excellent example of how musically expert Cameo were as they were actually only getting started. The album actually hit the era with some extremely heavy funk. The usual slow stomp they had was augmented by faster tempos here. Not to mention the somewhat sleeker arrangements. But the straight up hard funk hadn’t gone anywhere. And their nods to disco took the form of big band style jazzy arrangements of a type often heard out of the NYC club scene at the time. A wonderful and highly underrated way for Cameo to close out the 1970’s!

Cameo had been making heavy funk in the late 70’s very well and kept the large horn funk band style going on this 1980 release.The sound is crisp,well produced and GROOVES LIKE CRAZY!It’s a mixture of funk somewhere between EWF and George Clinton and Chicago/Philly style ballads.The first two songs are grooves-the title cut throws funky power and the heavy horns right in your face and,well as most know “Shake Your Pants” takes that same style to the point where you must obey-it’s the most P-Funk-ish piece on the album.”On The One” takes the feel of the title track-direct funk right on the money.
“Please You” is a more subtle,romantic groove but great slow grinding funk.All the ballads are great too.
But if I had to pick a favorite it would be the closing track “Why Have I Lost You,correctly implying the loneliness can play tricks with your mind if you not in touch with yourself and does so with great Impressions/Teddy Pendergrass vocalizing and arrangements.’Cameosis’ is the epitome of what a great classic funk album should be-great jams,great grooves,great smooth groove ballads and above all great TUNES.This is classic Cameo-the sound that made them.And while I enjoy their electronic ‘Word Up’ era too I feel about it as I do with Kool & The Gang-both bands had a funky and poppier period but both produced some crackerjack music however the music hits you.I am truly thankful this impressive album is still in print on CD.I think every true funk and R&B fan should hear it.
Well there’s little argument on two factors:Cameo are not only one of the GREATEST classic funk bands but they kept the groove (and the spirit) alive during a time when the whole 70’s concept of funk was being besieged. Well there is no heavy handedness here-it was 1982,their was still a music industry recession but to hear the enthusiastic groove of Cameo you’d never knowing. This album is brimming with energy from every direction.And it’s amazing how many musical ideas pass in and out of this music as the band jams away.
The first half of the album is a SERIOUS funk party. Having paired Cameo down to a quartet Larry Blackmon,the bands front man suddenly gives Charles Singleton,master guitarist and unheralded force in the band a chance to really stretch out not only on his axe but on keyboards as well. The new-wave/electro funk influence of later Cameo masterpieces such as Word Up! really begins here,even as the influence of 70’s funk (and quite a bit of rock) still prevail. “Be Yourself” really starts out the affair encompassing all of this-baaad beat,serious bass lines and an empowering lyric celebrating funky existentialism in all it’s glory.
“Soul Army” has the same “funky soldier” mentality of Funkadelic’s Uncle Jam Wants You,only the groove is more upfront and it is FIRMLY on the one-another in a series of neglected funk masterpieces.Many of us have heard “Flirt” before-now THIS tune just KILLS!Just stripped down drums,bass-somewhat hip-hop in it’s execution but totally forward thinking for Cameo.Not only is it pretty far from the the glorious if somewhat older school horn funk of Cameosis two years earlier but with it’s short,heavily pitch adjusted synthesizers punctuating the beat it’s part of the “new wave” funk vanguard led by the likes of Prince and Rick James at the same time.
Now none of this is to say Cameo have no pop savvy;the positive thinking catchiness of “Enjoy Your Life” is also out the box funky as well-one of the reasons why funk AND pop listeners like this band so much in the first place. The title track is where things really get interested;it’s presented here,in all it’s B-52’s-like funk/new wave hybrid glory with the totally gospel soul ballad of “Secrets Of Time”,showing not only that Cameo can put off such a lyrical AND musical transition from song to song perfectly-a quality often more noted in progressive rock bands. Of course the music of the song is also very much in the art rock vein too.
“I Owe It All To You” is actually,for this time frame,very retro 60’s/Motown/Chicago Vee Jay styled R&B-very short,very doo woppy but with Cameo’s funk over it-it may well be the best funk/doo-wop hybrid since Graham Central Station’s 70’s work in that somewhat unexplored genre.”For You”,the only ballad “slow jam” on the album does have a period adult contemporary sound about it but,even if it’s not high in the mix,the bass line is just KILLER all the same.The best part is:ALL OF OF THIS IN JUST 30 SECONDS OVER HALF AN HOUR!!!!!!This is not only proof that being on the one doesn’t necessarily mean one has to be long winded,but that Cameo had (and still has) a lot more to offer a lot more musically then just a great groove. Their musicality and yes-great sense of melody and humor is something I hope will resonate into musics future because BOY this still sounds great!
Cameo are a band that get’s a lot of props from me-always have and always will. At the same time while I have a high opinion of them,after hearing this album I just upgraded my opinion! Despite being constantly written off (very wrongly)as a novelty by too many critics and books Cameo set a standard in their time for musical excellence that not only showcased funk resilience in the musical world but gave them a great reputation as a band. In every respect this album brings all of that to the forefront as Cameo,again put it all out with their terrific melodies and musicianship on seven cuts that all jam and jam hard while all also being excellent songs in and of themselves.
During this time the band was still relatively large and was still basing a lot of their sound in horns and that all important bass line. They never abandoned the latter one bit but in many ways this is still very much a mid 80’s variation of their 70’s sound;the heavy techno funk strains of the Word Up! era is still a little ways off but they are acknowledging that sound. The title song is one of the best examples as rap is an influence as are synthesizers but it’s all totally in the spirit of Cameo’s classic sound. Even though the hits on this album are top notch and great to hear on their compilations there’s no question Cameo are also a great album act and “Love You Anyway” is a great example.
It starts off in the vein of a melodic funky pop tune and by the end shows this great jazz sensibility with Charlie Singleton’s guitar and the vocal scat all getting off on this George Benson kind of thing. “Talkin’ Out The Side Of Your Neck” goes for this punching funk/rock kind of hybrid with Larry Blackmon rapping hard about the sociopolitical economics of the period with t
his strong sense of defiant wit that is wonderfully refreshing:a message song from the mid 80’s that isn’t the LEAST bit corny-in fact very much the exact opposite.
“Tribute To Bob Marley” flexes the band well earned musical diversity on a synth-reggae jam about……reggae jamming as well as throwing in the idea that Marley’s music was not quite as appreciated before than it was after his early passing. “Groove With You” gives the horns a bit of a workout on a great melodic funk number that proves once and for all that Cameo were no mere jamming one hit wonder,if there is any possible doubt. “Hangin’ Downtown” is a MONSTER!!!;slow grooving funk that not only gives the one a major workout but again showcases a jazz influence especially in the sax solos.
“Le’ Ve Toi!” is a great concept:French naked funk where not only does every groove to the very end up the words are actually in French too. If your interested in finding a Cameo album that showcases all their best qualities as well as one that has a few songs you might know this would be a great place to go. It embodies everything great about this band and never ever falls off in quality for a nano second!
Truth be told? This album probably represented the very first funk by a contemporary artist I ever heard. Keep in mind it was when it came out. And at the time I had no idea what a musical genre (let alone funk) even was. The music of Cameo has always had a strong attraction to me ever since-likely due to that core musical memory. Historically for Cameo,this was an interesting time.

Starting with 1984’s She’s Strange,Cameo pared down to a trio of three members in bandleader/founder Larry Blackmon on lead vocals and bass with Nathan Leftenant and Tomi Jenkins as vocalists. Charlie Singleton left the band functionally to start a solo career. Yet the deepest thing about that was that Charlie,along with other members of the band,didn’t leave completely. He,along with session musicians such as the Brecker brothers remained behind on this album which,as it were wound up being their iconic breakthrough album commercially-at least as far as pop char success was concerned.

The title song and “Candy” are of course the signature mid 80’s Cameo sound-stripped down funk sound,slap bass the texture of thick liquid. Another element that makes them stand out is the strong percussion breaks and Michael Brecker’s sax solo on “Candy”-making for one of the strongest rhythmic patterns of mid 80’s hard funk. “Back And Forth” is a straighter dance/funk groove that’s highly catchy and melodic.

It seems like a naked funk number,but the arrangement is filled with layers of dreamy synthesizers as well: a full sound creeping up from behind rather than immediately out front. “She’s Mind” is the one slow jam here-really more mid tempo boogie with an appropriately jazzy pop sense of song craft showcasing what terrific songwriters Cameo were.

“She’s Mine”,a drum beat oriented hip-hop/funk hybrid as well as the furious live band oriented funk of “Fast,Fierce & Funny” and “You Can Have The World” are all brightly composed and heavily rhythmic grooves-all focusing on the theme of materialistically demanding women that was a mainstay for Cameo throughout the years.

Many “jam fans” who have an intense dislike for the music of the first half of the 1980’s refer to the period in which this album came out as a rebirth of the funk. As soon as James Brown hit the airwaves with “Living In America”,music that was strongly linked with classic funk began to be innovated on.

That also found itself spreading into the next generation of hip-hop as well-especially as the functional original funk bands who didn’t have the commercial success of Cameo abandoned the idea of radio play and musical commerce. So the “nu funk” as it were,and the generation of hip-hop that both inspired it and was inspired by it was all part of the culture from which this album came.
It would seem looking back that no one was particularly self conscious about this burst of funk creativity. It seemed to be a degree of life breathed into the “number one funk” aestetic of the 60’s and 70’s-where music that celebrated advanced rhythmic ideas and lyrical wit in a contemporary context could flourish. This album is one of the many that really captures that spirit. And reminds any cynic who thinks that funk is dead that,when it seems to be gone,it can survive and (in cases such as this) be enormously successful as well.
From the moment I first heard about this album,it was always described as Cameo as only being the purveyors of some huge musical business unto themselves. This has very often be described as being an album that was made to “cash in” on the success of their previous album Word Up which,if I remember was still strongly in the public consciousness by the time this follow up arrived in 1988. Of course funk itself was not about capitalism ,communism,escapism or any “ism” in particular. It reflected on them,commented on them and to paraphrase the late Gil Scott-Heron” put you in the drivers seat”.

It used clever witty humor to make its points too. This was all part of Cameo’s musical sensibilities from the very outset. They were from an era of bands who started out playing funk-not necessarily developing at least recording music together that had a strong jazz/Latin/blues/psychedelic back round from which the first generation of funk bands had started. Yet as the times changed,Cameo just changed the way they played funk. But never,ever became un-funky. By the time this album was released,there were noises being made by musicians/artists about a funk revival-at least music heavily inspired by it. And being in the commercial position Cameo were in at this point,they had something creatively potent to add to this new grooving brew starting to emerge.

The album opens up with “You Make Me Work”,featuring a strong re-harmonizes the title songs refrain from the previous album with a heavier rock guitar element and some light electric organ touches in the back round-giving it a little more of a blues favor melodically in a fantastic hard funk number. The strong,uptempo dance-funk of “I Like The World” is a potent message song about empowering oneself in terms of protecting..well a world you really like and want to make better for yours and future generations. Its delivered with assertive power lyrically and vocally.

Same goes for the more intensely bass/guitar driven “Skin I’m In”-with re-appropriates the racially assertive attitude (given such a boost up by the conscious hip-hop of the day such as Public Enemy and Boogie Down Productions) that brings out the cultural double standards people put in place that make human differences seem like weaknesses rather than strengths. “Promiscuous” has a thick,horn packed funk ethic to it whereas “Pretty Girls and “Honey” both bring back the bass oriented hard funk rhythmic intensity (and in the case of the latter the melodic structure) of “Candy” from the previous album. “In The Night” brings in Miles Davis for a song in which the band very accurately replicates the reggae oriented opening bass/guitar line and the jazzy keyboard chords of “Fat Time” era Miles-done up in the rhythmically thick style of Cameo of course.

“Soul Tightened”,with its JB informed groove (one of my favorites on this album) as well as the reggae of the closing “DKWIG” further emphasize the important closing point I am about to make about this album. Although this is very contemporary for the late 1980’s this album finds Cameo,while still firmly in it’s trio format,making something of a return to a well produced live band oriented funk sound as opposed to the naked and somewhat more electronic tinged direction they began in the middle of that decade. By bringing in the late musical icon Miles Davis into this session makes an everlasting point about Cameo’s musicality.

It can be even better defined by…well the reason some people see this album as a retread of the previous album. One of the qualities that may have allowed Cameo to continue playing hard funk while many of their contemporaries developed more pop oriented sounds to stay afloat was one ethic they kept to from James Brown himself. They often liked to take songs that had been successful with and re-arrange them into others in infinite combinations,or in some cases out and out re-visitations. And by linking that further into jazz-funk here,with sociopolitically charged message songs that have a strong racially aware consciousness,Cameo have made their cultural influences outside of funk abundantly clear. That is why I’d personally contend that this is one of Cameo’s most importantly under-appreciated albums.
It’s amazing, looking back at these album reviews, just how many musically related ideas that discussing Cameo’s contributions to funk have engendered. Though they hailed out of New York City, the originally 13 member band came to prominence during the same time as most of the new funk bands of the day came out of the mid-west. So it’s only fitting that they did as an musically integrated band,they were having a strong level of popular success at the same time as Prince was on his own with a backing band. And that represents the recorded musical legacy of Cameo.

 

 

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Filed under 1970's, 1980's, Cameo, Charlie Singleton, Funk, funk albums, Larry Blackmon, Nathan Leftenant, Tomi Jenkins, Word Up