Category Archives: funky soul

Anatomy of THE Groove: “California Woman” by Eddie Kendricks

Eddie Kendricks was the one member of the classic Temptations lineup who had a consistently successful solo career. He had many hits,many of them strutting uptempo numbers such as “Keep On Truckin'”,”Boogie Down” and “Girl You Need A Change Of Mind”. Many of these songs were produced by Leonard Caston Jr.  After mixed results with two 1976 albums recorded with Norman Harris,Kendricks turned back to Caston to fully produce his final Motown solo album in 1977 entitled  Slick. One song from the album actually found its way into my musical rotation very heavily this past year.

During this past summer of 2016,I actually took the time to do more bicycle riding. Unlike previous years,decided to take advantage of my phone’s MP3 player to listen to music while on these bike rides. Most of these songs were endowed with an appropriate sense of motion. And all of them were from within the soul/funk/jazz/Latin spectrum of music. During the course of the summer,I brought different songs in and out of this rotation in order to keep things fresh. And one of them was an Eddie Kendricks song that originally concluded his final Motown album. Its called “California Woman”.

A pulsing bass and drum pulse starts the song out-accompanied only by low rumble of strings. Shortly after,a loud vocal chorus scales up into Kendrick’s refrain. Here,the bass the and stomping shuffle of the drums are accompanied by lightly harmonic strings and horns-along with the vocal chorus serving the same function. On the chorus the horns and backup vocalists melodically descend with Kendricks. After a reprise of the intro on the bridge,the chorus of the song repeats for a couple more bars before the song abruptly ends on an outro of a very similar nature to its beginning.

In some ways,this song has some of the hallmarks of Leonard Caston Jr’s productions with Eddie Kendricks from before. The difference here is there isn’t as much focus on the bass/guitar interaction as there is the orchestration. Its basically just the kind of “sound with a good melody” as Kendricks himself preferred-with much care put into the production to make sure the groove was funky and the sweeteners on top had plenty of life to them. The lyrical tale of a “down home lady” becoming a movie star goes beautifully with the music’s strutting “OG” style of cinematic funky soul.

 

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Filed under 1970's, backup singers, California, cinematic soul, drums, Eddie Kendricks, Funk Bass, funky soul, horns, Leonard Caston Jr., Motown, strings

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

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

Anatomy of THE Groove: “To The Top” by Omar

Omar first came to my attention via the Lenny Henry starring “brit-com” entitled Chef, with its theme song “Serious Profession” performed entirely by Omar. During the early to mid aughts,exploring Omar’s then very hard to find import albums on CD was like hunting for buried treasure. Thanks to my online friend Jeremiah,a lot more exposure to Omar’s music came my way a decade ago. What I noticed about Omar’s music was that,very different from American neo soul very much based in live instrumental hip-hop beats,Omar’s variety of the music concentrated heavily on ornate arrangements.

Born Omar Lye-Fook in London in 1968,he grew up in Canterbury,Kent. He was classically trained trumpet,piano and percussion at two separate conservatories in London and Manchester. He worked as a computer programmer for Microsoft before pursuing music full time. His first single and album There’s Nothing Like This became his first chart hit. And established him as a founding father of neo soul. Over the years his sound swelled to incorporate elements of Brazilian jazz,dance hall reggae and cinematic funk. On the latter end,one of my favorite songs from him is 2000’s “To The Top” from his album Best By Far.

A swinging mix of hollow percussion and piano walk down introduce the song. This kicks off into a sea of strings and melodic flute harmonies before Omar himself begins duetting with his swelling backup vocals. This represents the chorus of the song,for all intents and purposes. The refrains of the song find Omar’s lead and backup vocals playing more call and response to a shuffling,funky snare drum and piano. There are two repeating chorus/refrain bars of this song. On the final chorus before the song fades,Omar’s lead and back-round vocals become the full focus of the song over the instrumentation.

Omar does something that really gets to me musically on “To The Top”. Most neo soul/proto neo soul male artists who hailed as “the next Marvin Gaye” in the beginning. And truth be told,Omar’s style of arrangement and love of backup vocals singing lead is straight out of the Gaye school of cinematic funky soul on this particular song. What Omar does is brings in the heavy funk. As with most neo soul,its lacking in any synthesized electronics. What it does have is less of a stripped down sound,and more emphasis on orchestral production. That makes Omar one of the funkiest neo soulers of his generation.

 

 

 

 

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Filed under 2000, arrangement, backing vocals, cinematic funk, cinematic soul, drums, flute, funky soul, Neo Soul, Omar Lye-Fook, percussion, piano, strings, UK Funk

Anatomy of THE Groove For The Brothers And Sisters Who Aren’t Here: “Little Ghetto Boy” by Donny Hathaway

Donny Hathaway was one of the earliest musical figures I remember hearing by name. Though at that time,it was seven years late to the party that was his musical life. He committed suicide over a year before I was born-apparently after suffering with paranoid schizophrenia during what would’ve normally been the peak of his career. An alumni of Howard University,the Chicago native first took up with Curtis Mayfield’s Curtom label. He began producing and doing session playing for the likes of Aretha Franklin,the Staple Singers and The Impressions before embarking on a music career of his own.

Hathaway only recorded three studio solo albums in his lifetime. There were also a pair of live albums as well. Another project that Hathaway was involved with was a 1972 film score recorded with Quincy Jones entitled Come Back,Charleston Blue.  The album was brought to my attention by DJ,musician and Donny Hathaway admirer Nigel Hall. He encouraged me to seek the record out. And I finally discovered a vinyl copy online. It sat in my collection until several months ago when I dug it out for a vinyl based segment on this blog. And the song that stood out for me was called “Little Ghetto Boy”.

A funky conga drum shuffle begins the song with Hathaway’s bluesy,heavily reverbed Fender Rhodes piano serves as the intro to the song. As his vocal comes in,so do the climactic string arrangements and the stirring bass line. This essentially provides the choruses of the song-which provides the bed for the vocal narrative. Woodwinds come more into play for the refrains of the song-which lyrically serve to ask rhetorical questions of what was illustrated in the choruses. And its on this extended refrain that the song finally fades itself out.

Donny Hathaway has recorded some of the most amazing soul/funk standards over the years. Among them “Everything Is Everything” and the holiday favorite “This Christmas”. This song,with its Afro-Latin soul jazz shuffle is somewhat reminiscent of Marvin Gaye’s “Inner City Blues”. Hathaway really set two different modes on this song too. He starts off talking about the title character with low expectations and opportunities. Then asks those ever important questions as to what will become of the “little ghetto boy” in the future. Its one of Hathaway’s finest message songs consequently.

 

 

 

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Filed under 1970's, Chicago, Donny Hathaway, Fender Rhodes, Funk Bass, funky soul, message songs, percussion, Quincy Jones, Soundtracks, strings, woodwinds

Never Too Much At 35 : The Sugar And Spice Of Luther Vandross

Never Too Much

Luther Vandross is someone whom I’ve come to view as the 80’s era Smokey Robinson. His focus was on the sensitive male soul singer of the 70’s era Thom Bell variety. At the same time, he over a decade of experience as a backup singer before his performance on the band Change’s song “The Glow Of Love”. This in turn led to his solo debut album in 1981’s Never Too Much. This album turns 35 today. Vandross had a difficult time crossing over throughout his life.  But this debut is one of his most defining for many reasons. Here’s an Amazon.com review I wrote five years ago about some of those reasons.


Considering that,similar in manner to the career of Huey Lewis that it took over a decade for the musical career of Luther Vandross to really take off it may also come as no surprise I also got into him rather late. My first exposure to this album came from a cassette tape I found at a yard sale almost a decade and a half ago. At the time what I knew of Luther’s musical accomplishments came from books. Honestly? The album had a pretty near instant appeal when I first heard it.

Considering the fact I was at that point already deeply interest in early 80’s post-disco urban funk/soul and the music of Marcus Miller for that matter,that too was a plus. Two things surprise me. For one,I apparently haven’t reviewed this album I’ve listened to many many times before. Not only that but in the time I’ve listened to this on both tape and CD how much every part of it just gets better and better with the passing of time.

Especially considering the late Vandross’s reputation as a balladeer the music on this album is primarily based in uptempo urban funk. It’s full of great guitar/bass interaction and plenty of heavy popping bass from Marcus Miller. The title song is a great debut hit for Vandross,sophisticated jazzy funk/soul pop with a great guitar line,a popping bass,terrific arrangement and powerful hook.

Even though it wasn’t a hit,the major key “Suger And Spice” has a really heavy bass/guitar rhythm and some great soul/gospel type back round chorus including Vandross himself. “I’ve Been Working” blends in this album Donald Fagen type rock and soul shuffle with one of Vandross’s most powerful vocals on the whole album. “She’s A Super Lady” is basically “Jump To It” mark 1,with this great drum/bass funk break at the beginning from Marcus and Buddy Williams.

While the slow funk grooves of “Don’t You Know That” and “You Stopped Loving Me” are the best slower numbers here to me I’ve actually warmed up a lot to “A House Is Not A Home”. This elongated cover is actually very tastefully and sparingly done,with Vandross actually incorporating some near acapella and bittersweet vocal breaks,particularly near the end. For a debut album this is very effective. It’s fully arranged even though it primarily emphasizes the music of the five core musicians involved.

Not only that but it’s a true showcase for Vandross’s writing and producing talents. Because of the sensitive and sassy nature of his writing,his style in that area lent itself very well (stereotypically that is) to producing for female talent. Most famously Aretha Franklin. And while I enjoy all of Luther’s music on different levels,this album still holds a special place in my heart. And I am sure many others as well.


One of the things about this album that keeps endearing it to me is how much it focuses on Luther Vandross: the funk based post disco soul/pop uptempo artist. For one thing,big time jazz/funk players such as Nat Adderley Jr. and slap bazz maestro Marcus Miller are all over this album. And mixed up high on all these songs. While the melodic singability of Vandross’s writing,producing and arranging are all over this album,its truly amazing how much he was making gospel drenched soul and funk the major priority on his very first solo album. And that’s why its such a special album to me,for what it is.

 

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Filed under 1980's, Amazon.com, classic albums, funky soul, Luther Vandross, Marcus Miller, Music Reviewing, Nat Adderley Jr, Never Too Much, pop funk, post disco, slap bass

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Future Shock” by Curtis Mayfield

Curtis Mayfield has one of the most important legacies to black American music of his era. He was probably the first to fully recognize recording contracts in his day as a form of creative slavery. And formed his own label Curtom in the 1968. He inspired artists  ranging from Stevie Wonder to Prince in terms of taking similar actions in their careers. By the time he began his solo career in 1970 with his iconic debut Curtis,he had already developed his melodic style of psychedelic funky soul into fine musical wine. And with each forthcoming album,his music just continued to develop in terms of breadth and scope.

Curtis’s choice of creative independence really paid off when he scored the 1972 Sig Shore film Superfly. It helped make Curtom an enormously successful indie label with it’s commercial success. Especially with Curtis’s songs for the album deliberately countering what he saw as the films promotion of cocaine. The next year Curtis released his fourth solo album Back To The World. It was a similar thematic concept to Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On-only as a third person perspective of the post Vietnam War America. The song that really pulled it all together for me personally is “Future Shock”.

The drums kicks off into full funkiness-with Curtis duetting with himself on deep wah wah and higher sustained guitar tones. This is accompanied with a phat bass line scaling down and back up in the opposite direction. The horn charts sustain heavily on the fanfaring refrain. The bluesy chorus and refrains have a very close relationship-with Curtis guitar tones,the bass line and the drums getting all of their melodic responses from the darting horns maintaining the heavy instrumental conversation. By the final bars of the song,the flute plays the gentler elements of the melody as it fades out.

“Future Shock” is a superb example of a funk era tone poem. Curtis’s lyrics declaring “we’ve got to stop all men from messing up the land” sets the tone for the songs lyricism. On the refrains he states poverty,apathy and racism as all being a sinister triad that’s keeping humanity from taking care of the planet Earth. It’s a message that resonates up to today’s climate change problem. Curtis literally makes his guitar whimper and weep throughout the song-setting up the tone poem by the musical tracks of his tears. And throughout the groove preaching the ecological gospel to the people.

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Filed under 1970's, Chicago, Curtis Mayfield, Curtom Records, drums, Funk Bass, funky soul, horns, message songs, rhythm guitar, Uncategorized

Andre’s Amazon Archive: ‘Neither One Of Us’ by Gladys Knight & The Pips

Neither_one_of_us_album

Even by the time I was seriously (and unfortunately) giving this CD the slip in the mid 90’s? There was that wondering what might’ve been if Gladys Knight & The Pips were given the full support and development within Motown. True they were around long before the label was. That being said?

They just bought so much uniqueness into the classic Detroit soul sound. As performers? They had the (then) forward thinking approach of having a woman as the lead singer with the male backup singers. Musically they presented the most important new flavors to the label’s sound. But that’s the main story behind this review anyway.

The title song,with it’s electric piano and the somewhat doo-wop version of “For Once In My Life” are both ballads built around the rhythm guitar. “It’s Gotta Be That Way” and “Can’t Give It Up No More” are more piano driven gospel soul slow jams. “This Child Needs A Father” is a spare,slow grooving Staples-styled Southern funk driven by wah wah along with the albums sumptuous,bluesy strings.

The grinding bluesy funk electric piano/rhythm guitar grind of Bill Withers’ “Who Is She (And What Is She To You),the another uptempo wah wah driven groove in “Daddy Could Swear,I Declare” and the Rhodes piano and percussion driven uptempo groove of “Don’t It Make You Feel Guilty” round out the album.

From where I sit? This is one of those albums where the vibe of every song just totally works on every level. The ballads have strong melodic,vocal and instrumental meat about them. And the uptempo numbers never,ever for a moment try to fake how funky they are. And it’s that Southern fried funkiness of Gladys & The Pips that truly brings this album to life.

The whole thing actually has much more of a Stax flavor than a Motown one to me actually. Even the way the orchestration is used. All of these songs tell stories and have messages straight to the listener-all focusing on romantic and family love. It’s warm,intimate and deeply rootsy funky soul that I very highly recommend.

Originally posted on May 27th,2015

LINK TO ORIGINAL REVIEW HERE!

 

 

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Filed under 1970's, ballads, Funk, funky soul, Gladys Knight, Gladys Knight & The Pips, Motown, Motown Sound, Southern Funk, Southern Soul, strings, wah wah guitar

STEVIEWONDERLAND!: Celebrating An Icon In Three Decades-“Sensuous Whisper” by Stevie Wonder (1996)

Stevie Wonder seemed to have suffered a little writers blocks following his (subjectively) wonderful 1987 album Characters. Aside from performing the soundtrack to the Spike Lee Joint Jungle Fever in 1991,it seemed as if Wonder would continue his infrequency of releases in the 90’s as he had in the 80’s. When President Jerry John Rawlings invited Wonder to spend his weeks in the African nation of Ghana,Wonder wrote 40 new songs. He also stated the artist formerly know as Prince “helped him to see music again” in the liner notes to the 1995 album that came out of Wonder’s African visit: Conversation Peace.

Personally I have a vivid memory of hearing a new reggae styled song by Stevie Wonder called “Take The Time Out” used during the 1994 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade to encouraging people to give food to the needy. It was a comforting reminder of Wonder’s ever present humanitarianism.And his new album finally came out in January of the following year. Took me a year or so to really give it a good listen. And a decade or so more to begin singling out my personal favorites songs from the last Stevie Wonder album of the 20th century. One of the strongest for me is a song called “Sensuous Whisper”.

Wonder gets the song rolling with a hi hat heavy drum swing and a shuffling bass with an Arabic type tone. Then he kicks into a funky chromatic walkdown on piano. This consists of the basic body of the song. Stephanie Andrew’s sexually charged grunts provide a vital percussive element as the sax of Branford Marsalis and trumpet of Terrence Blanchard provide unison horn breaks on the vocal changes. Wonder swings and scats the lyrics on the refrain,while Anita Baker sings the song title chorus as the back-round with Wonder’s call and response vocal lead.

The bridge of the song features Wonder singing a harmonically complex set of notes that I personally couldn’t begin to describe-scaling up and down between each phrase. He backs himself up with the same instrumentation as the rest of the song that,along with the horn charts,improvise strongly on the chordal changes he’s making throughout. After this,the song returns to the drum/bass intro before seguing back into the chorus of the song. This chorus repeats itself over and over again-with Wonder scatting the vocals more and more until the song itself just comes to an abrupt stop.

Stevie Wonder was always someone my family and I recognized as having a strong jazz influence-from his 1963 instrumental debut album to his 1991 song “Make Sure Your Sure”. This song not only found him collaborating up front with jazzy players and jazz derived singers,but also embracing the funkified jazz/hip-hop hybrid that the Native Tongues groups like Tribe Called Quest and even Miles Davis himself had started to embrace. So Wonder was not only heavily embracing jazz here,but showcasing it’s possibilities for the newer hip-hop informed style of funky soul.

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Filed under 'Conversation Peace', 1990s, Anita Baker, bass guitar, Branford Marsalis, chromatic walkdown, drums, funky soul, hip-hop jazz, horns, piano, Saxophone, soul jazz, Stephanie Andrews, Stevie Wonder, synth bass, Terrence Blanchard, trumpet

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Book Of Broken Hearts” by Mayer Hawthorne

Mayer Hawthorne’s musical vitality has continued to grow on me every time I hear his music. As many times as he’s been written about musically here,his own story as a musician is a very important one to this day and age. Born Andrew Mayer Cohen in Ann Arbor,Michigan the man came out of loving hip-hop growing up-inspired by his father Richard being a bass player in a local rock band called The Breakers and his mother Kathi having once played guitar. He took his stage name from the street he grew up on. After moving to LA, the multi talented instrumental/arranger/producer/singer/songwriter signed up with Peanut Butter Wolf’s Stone Throw Records.

Hawthorne originally recorded  instrumental tracks for the label specific purpose of sampling by other artists on the label. When Wolf heard them,he decided they were worthy of a solo album for Hawthorne. After three of his solo recordings released between 2011-2013,Mayer Hawthorne teamed up with hip-hop producer Jake One for the electro funk/boogie album project entitled Tuxedo. Hawthorne was more a musician than a vocalist. But his soulful phrasing and range lends itself well to the instrumental craft he has continued to develop. His newest album is entitled Man About Town and the song that perhaps best shows off all his talents here is “Book Of Broken Hearts”.

The drum patter that opens up the album sounds (and possibly is) directly from the early 70’s drum machine the Maestro Rhythm King. Than Hawthorne’s revving bass lines opens into the song-whose main chorus is build around sunny rhythm guitar strumming. He surrounds this with several equally melodic layers of electric pianos and horn charts. On the refrains of the song,he builds this instrumentation on the pumping rhythm of the bass line. His  vocals have the same propulsive quality. On a bridge of the song towards the end,Hawthorne sings with a sea of his own vocal harmonies before it all closes out on the chorus that began the song.

The fact that Hawthorne’s chief musical inspirations are producer/arranger’s such as Isaac Hays,Curtis Mayfield and Barry White it’s no surprise how he approaches his grooves. His vocal arrangements on this song come out of the Daryl Hall school. At the same time his West Coast style of funk sound has the heavy pop craft of Sly Stone and Quincy Jones’ productions for the Brothers Johnson in the mid 1970’s. Hawthorne doesn’t concentrate on trying to be new and original rhythmically,an approach which can lead to cold and boring music today. Instead he focuses on a solid pop/funk groove based on the time honored musical process that created so many of the classics of the genre he admires.

 

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Filed under 2016, electric piano, Funk Bass, funky pop, funky soul, horns, Maestro Rhythm King, Mayer Hawthorne, Peanut Butter Wolf, rhythm guitar, Stone Throw Records, Uncategorized, West Coast