Tag Archives: album reviews

Warmer Communications At 40: AWB First And Under-Explored Comeback Album

Warmer Communications...And More

Average White Band began work on their sixth studio album during 1977. According to the liner notes for AWB’s 2014 box set All Of The Pieces, the band were creatively exhausted after their first four studio albums-in particular the hugely successful later three of them. Hamish Stuart, Alan Gorie, Roger Ball, Steve Ferrone and company first recorded a duet album with Ben E. King. Seeing that collaboration could rejuvinate their sound, the band brought in guitarist Cornell Dupree (from Stuff) with a number of NYC session musicians for their 1978 release Warmer Communications.

“Your Love Is A Miracle” is a straight up wah wah guitar powered number-with the in the pocket Family Stone inspired horn charts, “duck face” bass popping, Steve Ferrone’s stop/start funky drum and (vocally) low leads and falsetto harmonies. “Same Feeling, Different Song” has the classic AWB horn style based off the JB’s. The rhythm, tempo and lead guitar comes out of the same vibe. But the liquid rhythm guitar of the refrains come out of the later 70’s sound more. “Daddy’s Come Home” benefits from Dupree’s crying bluesy guitar tone and the organ based country/rock style balladry of the song itself.

“Big City Lights” takes a straight up bass/guitar oriented uptempo funk number-focusing heavy on the horn charts that are often combined with a round synth bass tone for an even bigger sound. “She’s A Dream” is a jazzy melange of bass, guitar with melodic and creamy horn charts playing a medium tempo ballad. The title track lays down a groove that combines the grooves of funk with the repetitive chugging of reggae. “The Price Of A Dream” is a melodically strong sophistifunk styled number-again based heavily in the vocal harmonies.

“Sweet & Sour” is sleek yet heavy horn funk instrumental before the album ends with “One Look Over My Shoulder”. This is the song I remember most off this album for some reason. It has one of the most singable, hit oriented choruses. But the percussive mid tempo groove allows the horns to hit in all the right places. And make both the instrumental and vocal focuses of the song stand out equally. Musically speaking,  Warmer Communications covers pretty familiar territory for AWB. And session players like the Brecker Brothers did make for strong writing and musicality as intended.

Where Warmer Communications  might’ve been somewhat problematic had to do with changes in music among funk bands during the late 70’s. Between 1977 and 1979, the larger horn funk bands such as Earth, Wind & Fire, Tower Of Power, Kool & The Gang and the JB’s were beginning to update to the more high tech production style of the disco era. AWB’s  production approach didn’t change in the late 70’s, even as their writing and playing remained strong. They’d rectify this (with controversial results) in the early 80’s. Still, Warmer Communications remains one of the bands strongest late 70’s albums.

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Prince’s Crystal Ball: Celebrating 20 Years Since The Minneapolis Genius Opened His Musical Floodgates Of The Past

Prince hasn’t been with us for two years now. And there’s a lot talk about in regard to his vault of unreleased music at Paisley Park. It was one of the very first things I personally learned about the man in the late 90’s. Prince wasn’t releasing a lot of new music at that time. Likely because of his messy legal battles with Warner Bros. While the heat was dying down on that later in the decade,he actually seemed to be dipping into the vault quite a bit when it came to his newer releases. During this time, Prince also launched his earliest website and 1-800-NEW-FUNK phone service.

Prince offered up a multi disc boxed set that endeavored to officially release some of his most sought after material from his vault. The title track is full on psychedelic funk-with very tribal drum patterns and atonal flute at various points. “Dream Factory”,the Linn drum powered groove of “Movie Star” (which Prince proudly announces in the liner notes as “D’Angelo’s favorite bootleg”) ,the cinematic soul ballad “Crucial”,the demo jazzy funk groove of “Last Heart” and the acapella “An Honest Man” all derive from his massive 1986 era music production.

“Sexual Suicide” and “Good Love” derive from an unreleased album he’d credit to the name Camille-both utilizing strong hard funk,and the former with strong wah wah powered synths. “Cloreen Bacon Grease” heals from the sessions for The Time’s sophomore album in 1982-nothing but 15 minutes of funky drumming,bass and Morris Day humorously jiving lyrically. Because Prince was intending to release a triple album in 1986 with this same title,what surprised me is how much of this material gave from the first few years of him recording with the New Power Generation.

Some of these songs such as “Acknowledge Me”,”18 & Over”,remake of “P Control”, and “Poom Poom” are heavily bound to hip-hop beats . ‘2tomorrow” showcases him picking up on Miles Davis’s style of jazz hip-hop. A Shock G remix of “Love Sign” (featuring a clever sample of his own “DMSR” in the rhythm) has a G-funk friendly vibe. The NPG find some time to get seriously funky however on “Hide The Bone”,the stripped down “What’s My Name?”,’Calhoun Square”,the Sly Stone inspired “Make Your Mama Happy” and the P-Funk inspired duck face bass heavy “Days Of Wild (Free The Slave)”.

There’s also a clutch of ballads in the soulful, wah wah/horn driven “So Dark”,a wedding song for Maybe Garcia called “She Gave Her Angels” and “Goobye”. You also have the hard rock/blues shuffle of “Da Bang”-with it’s interludes of atonal guitars and the psychedelic soundscape of “Strays Of The World”. Prince is singing the straight up blues on “The Ride”,recorded live while “Get Loose” gets a live instrumental treatment without the industrialist electronics of the original while “Ripopgodazippa” deals with a modernistic pop/reggae rhythm-which has some heavily jazzy horn phrasings.

“Tell Me How U Wanna B Done” is a fast paced “hip-house” style dance number. This set was originally released in two configurations. Both added additional music to the 3 CD set. The store purchasable version added a new folk/blues based album called ‘The Truth’-and this is the version I own. The version only available over the 1-800-NEW-FUNK phone number also added a ballet Prince wrote and composted with Claire Fischer entitled Karmasutra. I never had this version of the album. But do have deep memories of an 18th birthday trip to NYC during the early summer.

Found this at the Tower Records in Manhattan. It felt very lucky to find this album,since there was never much talk about it coming out in record stores at the time. Musically speaking,this may be presented as an full album. But it’s actually an anthology style set. My only personal issue with it is that the songs are not presented in chronological order. With an artist as eclectic as Prince was,a sense of continuity in presenting his unreleased material showcased his musical evolution and experimentation.

On this album, a heavy JB style funk number from 1986 might be followed by a gruff rap/hip-hop number from 7-8 years later-for example. Honestly to me? It would’ve been more appropriate to concentrate on his often brilliant 80’s outtakes than showcasing so much from a then-present which…frankly haven’t worn well with age. But in terms of the funk,hip-hop/jazz,ballad and blues/rock exercises throughout this set? There are many treasures to be heard through this crystal ball.

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‘Street Player’ At 40: Rufus & Chaka Khan At The Crossroads Of Funk

Street Player followed the Ask Rufus album in 1978 with Chaka and the band finding themselves facing new territory. Drummer Andre’ Fischer had departed due to a falling out with Chaka involving her alcoholic and micromanaging husband Richard. Chaka was also moving towards the solo career that seemed inevitable after three of the original band members left in 1974. Not only that, but the band were now without a drummer. While they searched for a more permanent replacement, the band bought in former Leon Russell session drummer Richard “Moon Calhoun for this particular session.

As keyboard player Nate Morgan departed during that same time, David “Hawk” Wolinski, who had co-written the previous albums “Hollywood”, joined Rufus as a regular member. His playing, writing and even singing projected a stronger physical personality into Rufus that no one had possessed since Tony Maiden joined the band in 1974. Since the more reflective (and occasionally slower tempos) of the previous album didn’t always meet with the greatest of enthusiasm, the band decided to take a more contemporary production of their more classic uptempo funk sound.

The title song of this album was written with Hawk and Chicago’s Danny Serephine, and that bands version was included on their 1979 album Chicago 13-an album musically similar to Rufus in many ways. Chaka herself composed “Stay”, a more mellowed out bass/guitar type groove somewhat similar to what was on the previous album yet strong enough to endure as one of her classic songs. “Turn” is a unique hard funk song. Very bluesy in orientation and full of powerful horn, bass/guitar and organ interaction. Moon Calhoun also maintains the classic stop/start rhythmic complexity here.

“Best Of Your Heart” is a melodic, jazzy mid tempo ballad that swings right into the fast paced,percussive Brazilian jazz instrumental “Finale”,featuring a tremendous synthesizer solo from Hawk. “Blue Love” is one of my favorite songs here-starting off with a melodic synth line,it goes from somber break up ballad into an uptempo jazzy funk jam as the confidence level in Chaka’s lyrics rise as the song concludes with understanding “you never know love until somebody leaves you”.”Stranger To Love” is a powerfully orchestrated ballad-built upon its strings and flanger filtered drums.

“Take Time” is one of my favorite Rufus instrumentals-a very bass oriented in the pocket kind of groove with a very strong synthesizer counter melody with Tony Maiden rocking out pretty Hendrix style on lead guitar solo. “Destiny” is a wonderfully melodic bossa/jazz-pop type number that Chaka gives one of her all time stand out vocal performances. As far as I’m concerned? Its one of her classic songs. “Change Yours Ways” ends the album in a very jazzy funk mode-again with somewhat drastic shifts in tempo. This gives Street Player a truly unique quality about it rhythmically.

Each song tends to be like a pocket jazz/funk/soul symphony-often with two unique parts fusing into a single song. And considering what Rufus were experiencing at this time, its only fitting that the lyrical focus of this album zeroed right in on themes of change and growth.  That leaves Street Player as basically the culmination of Rufus’s classic sound. It still has the unique instrumental trademark of mid 70’s Rufus, but a lot of the lushness of the latter 70’s era. In many ways? Its one of Rufus’s most creative, strong and enduring musical works. Especially with its focus on uptempo songs of different musical colors.

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‘Blam!!’: Ride-O-Rocket With The Brothers Johnson!

Image result for brothers johnson blam

Louis and George Johnson were pretty deeply involved with the LA session scene when they released their third duo outing in 1978. Its actually a superb example how even larger groups from that era were often augmented by sometimes over a dozen other session players. On the Blam!! album it was some fine, funky company in that regard. With the likes of Larry Carlton, Steve Khan, Richard Tee, Jerry Hey, Eddie “Bongo” Brown, Michael Brecker and David Foster (among others) as the musicians featured on this albums eight tracks.

Blam!! itself is musically one of the finest albums the Johnson’s made with Quincy Jones. And certainly among the most thoroughly funky. “Ain’t We Funkin’ Now” has that infectious hook-with Louis Johnson’s slap bass right up in your face. Not to even mention the call and response lead vocals that define both the chorus and refrains of it. The liquid instrumentation of the title song and on “Mista Cool” are tailor made for more hard and heavy funk-especially the delicious is the intro to the latter tune, where the keyboard fades in and out of the left and right channels of the speaker as the chords change.

“Ride O Rocket” puts Ashford & Simpson’s songwriting/production stamp on the bands sound. So its a funky uptempo soul tune where the refrain has that disco friendly piano walk down that Nick & Val always achieved so well in their 70’s heyday .As for the closing instrumental “Streetwave”? Well its  probably the finest instrumental these guys had done. It builds to a fevered intensity and works superbly as jazz, funk, R&B and even pop. With the bass and Rhodes providing a wonderfully cinematic intro.  Along with Jones’ big band style, muted horn fueled refrains.

The only element on this album that really contrasts with it’s harder edged core are the inclusion of two ballads. “It’s You Girl” is another instrumentally liquid number-with some beautiful processed guitar and Rhodes-along with Alex Weir singing lead and with an uptempo chorus. is a nice enough quiet storm kind of song but,sometimes a change of pace isn’t necessary if the rest of the music smokes.”So Won’t You Stay” is a more traditional slow jam-with George Johnson doing a pretty sweet vocal lead. Again it has a somewhat faster chorus-though a bit smoother in this particular case.

Blam!represents The Brothers Johnson’s final album released of the 70’s. Coming into recording on their on mid decade, Louis Johnson would soon get the gig of the lifetime. That was, of course playing on the first two Quincy Jones produced Michael Jackson albums, both of which became the biggest selling recordings of all time. The album also showcases the most sonically even blend of hard funk and sleek pop jazz in the late 70’s. And in all fairness, if I was asked to recommend one stand alone Brothers Johnson album that brought in all of their musical flavors in one place, Blam!! would likely it.

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Herbie Hancock-‘Thrust’ & The Continuing Musical Mission Of The Headhunters

Herbie Hancock’s turned career heavily toward funk with the Head Hunters album. Its a style he’s never fully abandoned to this day. True, he never stopped playing acoustic jazz either. There’s a quality of “oneness” he sees in regard to the two musics,which he’d later extend into the hip-hop era. By this point he’s dealt with a lineup change. Harvey Mason has left for a solo career in 1974. So Herbie brought in the worthy, and very talented, successor Mike Clark. This not only made the Headhunters a biracial unit.  But it also represented another musically funky stride ahead.

While it was every bit the success of it’s predecessor, it was out of print on CD until the late 90’s and even still tends to be slightly overlooked. But if your familiar with Herbie’s albums before this you’d know his sound for the rest of the 70’s would’ve been completely different without the presence of this album. While it’s not fundamentally different than Head Hunters there are vital changes in approach that make the difference. With it’s use of breaks “Palm Grease” this funk groove is the closest thing to what was heard on the previous album.

“Palm Grease” also augments the pulsing synthesizers ,as it does on most of this album, with Herbie’s processed Clavinet. Also the synthesizers are more of an orchestral sort-using the newly employed ARP strings which Herbie himself would later lament he too often tried to use to simulate actual strings. This created a dreamier effect than perhaps intended. “Actual Proof”, a title based on a certain type of Buddhist chanting is an extremely fast past, repetitive yet musically crowded piece with lightening fast Clavinet riffs until again, towards the middle it’s back towards more of a jazzy keyboard groove.

“Butterfly” is a wonderful composition, one of Herbie’s finest and features a smoother Rhodes solo showcasing more use of space than the rest of this album tends to,focusing on inventing new melodies from the reeds and keyboards. “Spank-A-Lee” on the other hand is very straight ahead jazz-funk, NOTHING like what you’d hear on the previous album with its in the pocket rhythms and Clavinet riffs. With  striking cover art depicting Herbie in a musical space pod descending upon some lunar base, this has a place as one of my favorite Headhunters era releases.

For me, Thrust contains the most well realized fusion of jazz, funk and soul of any of Herbie in this period. And expands on the sound  forged on Head Hunters. It also show show funk wasn’t merely a 70’s R&B/soul style. But that it represented a creative way of using rhythm in music to expand it towards its most creative end. One can easily dance to this, it contains more than enough musical breadth to enjoy it on the instrumental level. And one can even hum or sing the melody of tunes like “Butterfly”. Whatever else Herbie Hancock has done and continues to do, he can be proud of music of this caliber

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Prince’s ‘For You’ At 40 Years: A Debut Of Love, Sincerity & Deepest Care

Prince Rogers Nelson arrived at the tail end of the 70’s-during the era when P-Funk and jazz funk artists such as George Duke (both his musical heroes at the time) were in the throws of their peak grooves. With Stevie Wonder having hit his peak, and Shuggie Otis having not quite reached it,  Prince emerged as the barely 20 year old “wunderkind” from Minneapolis. As with a number of musicians before him,  Prince was insistent on doing it all right from the get go. Writing,producing-even down to playing all the instruments. Musicians like Wonder before him had a decade of preparation to get to that creative independence.

Prince was apparently so confidant in what he was doing, he stipulated all of this in his recording contract before he got started.  What is important on For You is that even in the very beginning, Prince wasn’t trying to change the face of music itself. He definitely had his musical influence. But he didn’t exactly where them on his sleeve either. Instead, he elected to integrate them into his own unique soul/funk style. This album introduced that style of music that would later be called the Minneapolis sound. With Prince playing all the instruments that sounds main trademark was the multi-tracking of synthesizers.

In the late 70’s, Prince’s arsenal of synthesizers included  Oberheim’s, ARP’s and Polymoog’s. These were polyphonic instruments that allowed him to create his own heavily harmonized electronic soul symphonies. It’s sort of an extension on what Wonder did with TONTO earlier in the decade-only in a somewhat more cinematic style. Most of this album’s sound is built largely on harmony over rhythm:Prince at the drums and Prince playing guitar while his multi-tracked vocal and synthesizer harmonies fit very nicely into that rhythmic backdrop.

And even for that this album, especially for a debut, is very much a magical experience. Prince sings all the songs in his dreamily soulful falsetto voice. After the a capella title track,consisting of nothing but harmonized vocalizing we come to the almost trance like synth funk of “In Love” where we get the first of one of Prince’s famous lines “I really wanna play in your river”. The closest this album came to a hit single is the stop-and-start funk of “Soft And Wet” which contains what sounds like a pretty jazzy, improvised synth solo in the bridge of the song.

Prince always cited Joni Mitchell as an enormous musical influence on him and songs like “Crazy You” and “So Blue” with it’s water drums, fretless bass riffs and acoustic guitar riffs have roots very much in…say something like Hissing of Summer Lawns,an Joni album Prince exhibits a special fondness for. Both of these songs also possess a strong Brazilian jazz flavor at their core. The emotionally naked ballad “Baby” finds Prince baring his heart to his lover whom apparently learned she has become pregnant. His lyrical tone on the song also maintains a sensitivity in its earnestness.

“Just As Long As We’re Together” and the more mid tempo “My Love Is Forever” both have the strong Carlos Santana guitar sound that Prince always cited. And both would fit well sound wise on Santana’s late 70’s albums such as Inner Secrets or Marathon. And even more in that vein would be the fierce guitar fueled funk rocker “I’m Yours”. A lot of people have criticized this album for being both un melodic and boring. Those are two things this album definitely is not. As a matter of fact that may be why a lot of people don’t like it as much as later Prince albums.

The harmonics and melodies on this album are somewhat overwhelming at times. And the production of For You was apparently so elaborate, Prince blew the entire budget he was given on his first three albums on this one project. I’ve long speculated with friends that this reality might’ve led to the more famous stripped down variation of MPLS funk of Prince’s hit period.  As with Bernie Worrell before him, Prince made the still relatively new synthesizer his own personal orchestra..  That factor was already so well established on this album, it’s more than worth a second notice.

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‘Here, My Dear’ At 40-Marvin Gaye’s Funky Space Reincarnation Of Romantic Endings & Beginnings

Marvin Gaye’s back story for his fifteenth studio album is well known by this point. Gaye’s wife Anna Gordy sued him for divorce following as he was pursuing a relationship with teenage Janice Hunter. And it was agreed that half the proceeds from his next album to go to Gordy as part of the divorce settlement. At first considering making a lukewarm album out of spite, Marvin decided to weave the reality about the end of  his marriage into one of his musically cinematic narratives- with a conceptually abstract twist. That was the nucleus of the album that became Here, My Dear.

The wah wah heavy title track starts out the album. As writer David Ritz pointed out, Marvin’s vocal harmony based style is rooted in doo wop. And the 70’s funky soft soul of this number, in the 6/8th country/soul shuffle tempo. “I Met A Little Girl” has a similar style- only a bit gentler reflecting both early 60’s Motown balladry and its narrative about the 12 years of his marriage to Anna. “Everybody Needs Love” is a moment where the basic groove of the opening title song extends into a full blown self examination of Gaye’s view on love in general.

“When Did You Stop Loving Me, When Did I Stop Loving You” is also reprised as an instrumental. But its a whole other beast musically- a powerful, percussion laced groove filled with the kind of jazzy chords and melodic exchanges this album celebrates. Now for songs that get heavily into the jazz styled vibe? “Sparrow” alternates from blues to Afro Latin percussion-including a bop styled sax solo from Ernie Fields. “Is That Enough” goes for a cinematic approach that showcases not only heavily arranged orchestration, but a section of the song where the musicians jam away without lead vocals from Gaye.

“Anna’s Song” returns to the medium tempo R&B shuffling of “Trouble Man” from seven years earlier. “Time To Get It Together” gets deep into the thumping,percussion laced funk groove-filled with Marvin’s melodically soulful yet futuristic synthesizer playing. “Anger” and “A Funky Space Reincarnation” are both musically based on the same type of sophistifunk Rhodes/wah wah/percussion based funk crawl. Each conceptually contrasts the other. On the former, Gaye is reconciling his scattered emotions. On the latter, he in on a sci fi odyssey with Anna-attempt to seduce her in with “Venusian smoke”.

“You Can Leave, But It’s Going To Cost You”  is another funk number-this time with a more bluesy style of bass/guitar interaction as Gaye illustrates with journalistic clarity his final attempt to reconcile with his estranged wife. The almost Barry White like cinematic funky soul of “Falling In Love Again” goes into his assumed future with Janice. Over the years, my friend Henrique and I have discussed this perhaps more than any other Marvin Gaye album. It was actually first brought to my knowledge through my father purchasing the 8 Track during the 1990’s.

Having heard it with this depth of musical knowledge today? Here, My Dear emerges as probably the most funky breakup album to have been released. While it plays out like the kinds of cinematic soul album opera’s that Gaye had been doing with Leon Ware? A good cross section of the music gets as deep into a contemporary late 70’s sophisticated funk groove with a number of variations in flow and style. From deep in the pocket to jazzier and free flowing. And that goes directly with the “moods of Marvin Gaye” during the time this was recorded too.

With musicians such as guitarists Gordon Banks and Wali Ali interacting with  bassist Frank Blair? Not to mention the drum/percussion flow of drummer Bunny Wilcox with percussionists  Gary Jones and Elmira Collins? The added sweeteners of horn players Nolan Smith’s trump and tenor sax players Charlie Owens and Fernando Hawkins all play their roles in providing what amounts to the soundtrack for the divorce of Marvin Gaye. This is even played out in the Monopoly game of “judgement” on the albums back cover.

Here, My Dear didn’t endear itself to Anna Gordy at first. As David Ritz explained in his Gaye biography Divided Soul, Marvin invited Anna to a private listening of the album. Its conceptual voyeurism had her contemplating a suit for invasion of privacy.  That didn’t seem to have occurred. As my friend Henrique also pointed out, the modern cinematic video approach of a Kanye West might’ve helped visualize Marvin Gaye’s narrative on this album. Gaye did however help innovate the confessional funk approach with soul, class and imagination. Resulting in another album that continues to age like fine wine.

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78 On The Longplay: ‘Life Is A Song Worth Singing’ by Teddy Pendergrass

Teddy Pendergrass, at least for his part, wasn’t keen on the notion that he’d be a contributor to the notion that there was a shortage of high quality music in 1978. Life Is A Song Worth Singing stands out as a strong example to the contrary. As potent as the Philly sound was in the 70’s, there were signs in the middle of the decade that there was a need to adapt the style in order to accommodate changes in the R&B/soul/funk world of music. Gamble & Huff already had been doing that as far back their second album with The Jacksons’ Goin’ Places.

Gamble & Huff were taking basic Philly orchestral soul/funk/disco sound, and swinging it just a bit harder driving. Where orchestration was a major part of the whole on Teddy’s debut, this album takes a different approach already with the first two cuts-including the title song and “Only You”. The strings take a strong backseat whereas the horns are upped in the mix. And the slower beats and rhythms are channeled into the same forward thinking musical approach. All with a strong use of rhythmic style electronics and keyboard textures while still being very recognizably the Philly Sound.

The title track not only showcases this production style to a strong degree, but has an excellent message about taking the time to find an inner strength (and hope in yourself) in times of crisis. It’s a message of self determination that Teddy is channeling directly from what James Brown,Sam Cooke and Curtis Mayfield did before him and extended into the disco/funk era pretty much uncut. And I also have to thank Gamble & Huff for keeping that going too. “Cold, Cold World” offers another message of hope on a great mid-tempo tune that looks to the same new direction as the faster tempo beginnings.

The new direction of “Cold, Cold World” is a modernistic sweet funk type of sound- given a toughness largely due to Teddy’s dynamics and that of the arrangement. The classic “Close The Door” and “When Somebody Loves You Back” offer up similar concepts right where one needs them. “Get Up,Get Down,Get Funky,Get Loose” is definitely a classic “Philly Jump” kind of tune and an example of the most positive direction disco was going at this time..  Now “It Don’t Hurt Now” is the slowest song here however it extends on the overall positively affirming and genuine good intentions of these songs messages.

As with its predecessor Life Is A Song Worth Singing makes you think, makes you happy and is romantically and creatively satisfying at the same time. And that makes it yet another example of an album that avoids the sophomore slump syndrome  It’s also a prime example of what made Teddy Pendergrass such a great voice and artist. And on this album, Teddy also represented what writer Rickey Vincent referred to as the black male soul singer as a symbol of strength and pride. This makes Life Is A Song Worth Singing one of Teddy’s definitive albums.

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‘Chaka’-Life Is A Dance: Almost 40 Years Of Chaka Khan’s Debut Solo Album On Her 65th Birthday

Chaka Khan made a detour from Rufus in 1978 (just before they recorded their Street Player  album with her) to record her solo debut album. This came at a time when her  massively successful period as the lead singer of that band was beginning to become less personally fulfilling. With a more than enviable group of musicians at her disposal who all spanned the jazz, R&B and soul spectrum, the potent musical environment she was in an excellent position to create her persona outside of Rufus. It was  her presence that helped bring out the individual sound of  that band.

The question was still probably at this point about whether it was Rufus who were making Chaka the success she’d become. Or was it the other way around? This album actually revealed that it was a potent combination of both. “I’m Every Woman” of course starts things out,Chaka’s solo anthem and every bit a late 70’s Ashford & Simpson, piano laden disco-soul number if there ever was one. “Love Has Fallen On Me” is musically ideal for Chaka as the Charles Stepney composition has these heavy gospel/soul-jazz type chords and this intense change in arrangement.

“Roll Me Through The Rushes” actually extends the gospel flavor on what starts out as a very slow, electric piano heavy ballad than goes into some heavy funk at the end. “Sleep On It” and “We Got The Love”,with George Benson are both superbly grooving jazz-funk numbers filled with Richard Tee’s beautiful processed Fender Rhodes piano playing . “Life Is A Dance”, “Some Love”- with its chunky slap bass/wah wah guitar interaction, and “Message In The Middle Of The Bottom” get down to business with some gloriously produced funk that represent the most grooving songs here.

This album also features the more jazz-funk side of disco soul here on “A Woman In A Man’s World”,the more somber flip side to “I’m Every Woman” lyrically and closes with a potent,musically modernized update of “I Was Made To Love Him”,originally by Stevie Wonder and sung from a woman’s point of view. As a matter of fact, it’s the woman’s point of view that defines this album. Chaka presents herself here,from the cover art to the lyrics,as someone with a great deal of sex appeal but someone you could have an extremely deep conversation with as well.

Chaka’s creative approach is always very honest. In terms of her singing, this album is both instrumentally and vocally one of the more ambitious of her solo albums. This was helped all the more by the masterful production of the late, great Arif Mardin. The range of tempo and instrumentation in the material is diverse, not always 100% commercial and she even does herself one better than her customary singing her own back up vocals-all  by multi tracking them with some fuzzed out echo here for a symphony of Chaka’s. And for a wonderful a, promising debut  that gets better with each listening.

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‘There’s A Riot Goin’ On’- Sly Stone And Another Kind Of Family Affair!

Sly & The Family Stone made key contributions to the overall musical landscape of the late 1960’s. And those contributions are still somewhat under explored in professional literary terms. Sly Stone himself took the funk of James Brown, then blended in a helping of Bay Area California psychedelic pop/rock. The results were enduring hits such as “Dance To The Music”, “Stand”, “I Wanna Take You Higher” and the full on funk breakthrough “Thank You Falettinme Be Mice Elf”. It was a racially and sexually integrated group too-with female instrumentalists and black and white members.

The Family Stone WERE the musical face of the American social revolutions of that late 60’s period. As the 70’s came in, the band and their times remained deeply connected to one another. Sly’s drug use, and resulting isolationism, impaired the bands ability to perform with him. In America at large, the all inclusive mass social protests of the late 60’s were giving way to a form of activism known by some as the “single issue cause”. Women, LGBT people and the black community were now each demanding to have their own voices heard as individual groups.

By the early 70’s some notions of sharing, peace and love became diminished as these individual groups fought for their own recognition. The same occurred within The Family Stone. As often happens with heavy drug users, Sly’s focus became more focused on his creativity. So for his 1971, originally titled Africa Talks To You, Sly utilized the talents of himself along with the late Ike Turner, Bobby Womack and Billy Preston more than the members of his band.  This sense of isolation and disconnect from the world around Sly changed his creative focus for the late 1971 release of There’s A Riot Goin’ On.

“Luv ‘N Haight” starts out the album with a rumbling, motor like drum which is powered by heavy wah wah guitar/bass interaction. Its deeply funky groove wise. But the chorus scales up and down in the manner of classic Family Stone. “Just Like A Baby” is a slow, bluesy shuffle. Its melody is Clavinet based-played in its higher registers. That gets a bit lower with the economic bass and…what I’d guess would by Womack’s soulful guitar accents. Sly’s strained voice, also with a high pitched tone, flows in and out as an almost ghostly presence.

“Poet”s stop/start rhythm utilizes the Maestro Rhythm King 2 drum machine-along with layers of call and response Clavinet/bass/guitar interaction. “Africa Talks To You “The Asphalt Jungle”” takes on a very similar flavor-with Womack’s guitar again being a key melodic element-with some pulsing Moog bass assisting the live on towards the end. “Family Affair” again features the MRK2 drums playing a more steady rhythm-with the wah wah and Rose Stone singing the hook to Sly’s low,drunken sounding delivery along with a melodic electric piano counterpoint.

“Brave & Strong” uses both the MK2 drums and live ones-depending on how advanced the rhythms are. Cynthia and Jerry’s horns play their classic counterpoint to the bass/ guitar/ Clavinet interaction remaining at the center of the song. “(You Caught Me) Smiling” begins with a live drum/electric piano/Clavinet led pop/jazz type melodic statement before the slap bass and horn rises play the bluesy funk based vibe of the rest of the song-balancing the songs hesitant conceptual mood with separate musical statements. And it says a lot that the “title track” is merely a silent second of audio.

“Time” has a deeply slowed MK2 allows for Sly’s bluesy/soul jazz inspired organ and Clavinet melodies to accompany to fill in the vastly empty spaces of rhythm within the song-all along with his own vocals. The drum machine on “Spaced Cowboy” has a bossa style rhythm , while the live drum rocks right along to a wah wah/Clavinet based sound. Essentially, its a satire of blues tinged country/bluegrass type of song.  “Runnin’ Away”s chorus has a steady drum, bass and organ sound to it. The refrain has the drums and bass get more rhythmically complicated-with the horns and guitar providing the melody.

“Thank You For Talkin’ To Me Africa” operates as a slowed down remake of “Thank You Falettine Me Be Mice Elf”-recorded for but not released on this album, with the bass, guitar and organ playing over the empty sections of the drum’s rhythm. That approach to Sly’s major funk innovation of the previous year showcases how, even there, his thematic focus was growing more paranoid. Especially as throughout this album, there are constant lyrical references to “feeling so good inside myself”, “frightened faces on the wall” and even declaring that “the brave and strong survive”.

There’s A Riot Goin’ On musically established Sly’s 70’s era sound. Its a spare one that’s based heavily in the organ styled MRK2 drum machine he was using-along with the bursts of different electric pianos with the bass/guitar interaction. Only on two occasions (in the albums hit songs “Family Affair” and “Runnin’ Away”) did the more brightly melodic singalong style of late 60’s Sly & The Family Stone shine through strongly. Otherwise, the album (both musically and lyrically) emphasizes that connection between both Sly and politicized Americans as turning inward as the 70’s began.

Riot isn’t a Sly album that I personally take out and listen to very often. While musically its very innovative in terms of how the funk genre was progressing? The album’s psychedelic element lacks a sense of musical form and structure that functions so well for Sly Stone-both before and after this album. Yet as an aural psychedelic funk work of art, There’s A Riot Goin’ On might be its own self contained 45 minute musical sub genre. The fact that its an album that exists in its own musical world goes right with its reflection of Sly’s shift from talking to the people to talking more as an individualist.

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