It’s a well-known fact that most white music critics don’t “get” ’80s Stevie Wonder. And for a long time, I was no exception: I took as gospel the truism that it was all downhill for Stevie after Hotter Than July, and I levied what I considered to be the appropriate amount of scorn on his material from the era. You know that scene in High Fidelity where Barry throws the guy out of the store because he wants to buy “I Just Called to Say I Love You?” That was basically me.
But with age comes wisdom, and with wisdom comes a less snobby attitude toward popular culture. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I still don’t like “I Just Called to Say I Love You.” But I’m not too proud to say that I love another song from Wonder’s much-reviled 1984 soundtrack to The Woman in Red, “Love Light in Flight”–how could any self-respecting Jheri Curl fan not? Like another song I wrote about for Jheri Curl June this year–“Ooh Love” by Kashif–it’s a stellar example of a new subgenre I pulled out of my ass called “sophisticurl”: you can picture it being played at a yacht party, with discreetly jheri-curled attendees wearing Coogi sweaters and clinking their champagne glasses. It’s genteel, but indelibly funky: a vibe that Stevie Wonder nailed effortlessly in his middle years. And it doesn’t even require an appreciation of poorly-aged Gene Wilder comedies to enjoy!
As I explained back at the beginning of the month, I’ll be posting highlights from my blog Dystopian Dance Party’s annual celebration of ’80s R&B, Jheri Curl June, every Saturday this month (so, one more next week!). For more, you can visit Dystopian Dance Party every weekday.
On their final 70’s album Energy To Burn,BT Express showed themselves to be a band who was in the process of slickening up their sound. One year after that their keyboardist Michael Jones,key to their new sound,left the band under his new name of Kashif Saleem. He would of course go onto become one of the premiere producers of the next decade and a key architect of the boogie funk sound. What would be left for guitarist/singer Rich Thompson and company to do within the band who had only a few years earlier been so successful. Similar to Gil Scot Heron and Brian Jackson,B.T Express elected to title their 1980 album after the year itself-every bit as symbolic of their comeback as with the changes any musician could see coming up from under the groove at the time.
“Takin’ Off” begins the album with a symphonic fanfare of horns before launching into a hyper kinetic,percussion dance/funk number. “Heart Of Fire” literally doesn’t skip a heart beat,with a rhythm helped along by a punchy had smooth as glass synth bass intro that repeats on the refrains of the song. “Does It Feel Good To You” has a strong choral melody and a bass/piano led disco friendly dance/funk number with some powerful horns and percussive effects. “Give Up The Funk (Let’s Dance)” leaps right out as a possible best track on the album with it’s rapped intro increasing in volume until the slow 4/4 beat and percussive early drum machine kicks in to Thompson’s hard groove rhythm guitar and the classic B.T. Express call and response horns,vocals and percussion.
“Closer” and “Better Late Than Ever” are both fine ballads that are beautifully orchestrated and melodic while “Have Some Fun” is another disco friendly melodic dance/funk groove. “Funk Theory” ends the album on a rhythmically and melodically dynamic Brazilian dance/funk note with lyrics that talk about how especially in uncertain times,funk music has enormous power to bring different people together to do their dances-whatever they may be. Musically speaking this album has exceptionally high energy level. Possibly taking cues from Barry White and Quincy Jones’ productions of that era,the sound is extremely crisp and studiocentric rather than the more live sound the band was noted for. Not only that,but it really tuned into funk futurism. What with the mixture of drum machines and live drumming and at least one nod to the oncoming presence of rap. A wonderfully funky B.T. Express intro to the 80’s. And very likely more important to where the music had been and where it was going than anyone may even still think.
Originally posted on January 16th,2015
Link to original review here*
Almost since the very start of the 80’s Kashif had been one of the key innovators of a style known as boogie funk,which was very complimentary to the Minneapolis sound of the era as it created a cinematic dance/funk sound with electronic rather than live band orchestrations. His first three solo recordings were solidly in this style,with some wonderfully creative jazzy musical ideas present as well. By the time 1987 arrived,funk/soul music had suddenly moved on in such a significant way that there wasn’t much room left for the innovation of boogie to go that far forward anymore. Lucky for Kashif he was also expert at a type of sound that suited every period of the 80’s very well:the urban ballad. And that is largely where he focused his energies on this album. But in terms of the uptempo music? That was another story.
Kashif begins the album with the title song,a sleekly produced ballad with the talented,gospel drenched singer Meli’sa Morgan,who even does a bit of in studio patter with Kashif vocally. Towards the end of the album he turns up the class even more with Dionne Warwick on the elegant “Reservations For Two”. These songs remind me of Brenda Russell only with somewhat of a harder edge,which also defines his solo ballads here such as “It All Begins Again” and “Somebody”. “Midnight Mood”,featuring a solo by Kenny G (whose rather gutsy early solo records benefited heavily for Kashif’s imput) is a very inspiringly composed instrumental with some jazz-like bass/guitar harmonies around the middle as well. One of the highlites of the album as far as I’m concerned. With the slow,pounding go-go shuffle and guest spot by Doug E Fresh “Loving You Only” is only beat out by the Force MD’s and Keith Sweat as the earliest New Jack Swing type dance number.
“Fifty Ways To Fall in Love”,”Who’s Getting Serious?” and “Vacant Heart” are the main uptempo funk material here. They are well down and very much on the Jam/Lewis style of things but don’t possess Kashif’s more destinctive touch with uptempo music he’d begun with earlier in the decade. This album is one that finds Kashif looking to rediscover his musical identity,after his pioneering days of boogie funk had officially come to an end. He had the general musical ability and strong association with other popular talents that gave him a bit more breathing room than a lot of his contemporaries to reinvent himself in this way. The overall effect of this album is one of searching. Luckily though his personal songwriting stamp and way with melodies remained perfectly intact. So nothing on this albums comes close to being badly done in any way. It’s more a question of how smooth a ride the music is. But it’s at least a pretty all inclusive journey he takes us on.
Originally Posted On August 22nd,2012
Link to original Amazon.com review here*