Tag Archives: ballads

All ‘N All At 40: Earth Wind & Fire In A Land Called Fantasy

Earth Wind & Fire’s eighth full studio album All ‘N All is music that’s continue to grow with me. Since the very first time I heard it. Only a few days before this writing, my friend Henrique even discussed with me how vital it was that EWF had three drummers aboard during their salad years. There was Ralph Johnson, as well as the bands founder and conceptualist in the late Maurice White. As well as his brother Fred. Maurice himself played drums on the song “Runnin'” from this particular album, a song that’s a particularly jazzy affair.

A somewhat humorous anecdote deals with All ‘N All‘s opening song “Serpentine Fire”. Again from Henrique. We were discussing the songs seemingly sexual playfulness. And how slow the tempo of the song was in relation to the rest of the playing. Turns out in timing the tempo, “Serpentine Fire” clomps along at around 69 BPM. So there is past, present and future lessons to be learned from All ‘N All for its listeners. The future is not ours to see of course. And its also important to absorb the past lessons the music on this album has taught. And I can only truly speak on personal experience in that regard.

All ‘N All has it own rich history. EWF as a band had just survived the tragic loss of Charles Stepney-as well as recording much of their following album Spirit without him. Maurice White then took a much needed vacation with his wife to Brazil and became deeply emerged in the Latin rhythms he heard out of Rio and Sau Paulo. Particularly those of Milton Nascimento. Milton and Maurice came to the conclusion that a combination of their sound would be a strong new element within Earth Wind & Fire. Especially since Afro-Latin percussion was already an enormous aspect of their sound.

Flash forward to the mid 1990’s and I am just getting into the albums of EWF. I remember riding my bike seven miles or so across a lot of traffic to get to the local mall area where there was a record store called Strawberries. Browsing through their cassettes I came across this album on tape. Though the cover was much tinier,it touched on a deep interest I’d had in ancient Egypt and the pyramids of Giza since before I even learned how to ride a bicycle to begin with. Recognizing at least one song on it,and seeing it was in my price range? I decided to purchase it.

After getting this tape home, I put it in my portable cassette player and…found myself travelling in a musical world I am going to try my best to explain to you now. Beginning with a somewhat Michael McDonald sounding Clavinet riff from Larry Dunn,”Serpentine Fire” kicks into high gear with clinging Brazilian percussive funk of the most meaningful order. I could write paragraph after paragraph about the lyric’s seemingly flexible meaning,but the slithering rhythmic nature of the music may tell the story even better. I’ve heard it said that “Fantasy” is rhythmically deep into the “4 on the floor” disco beat.

“Fantasy”‘s cinematic atmosphere transcends anything else for a song celebrating romantic imagination. The Kalimba interlude “In The Marketplace” goes into the furious horn funk of “Jupiter”-probably one of their cleanest played and most under heralded funk numbers they ever made. “Love’s Holiday” is a quintessential EWF mid-tempo groove that is more verse oriented when it comes to Maurice’s lyrical approach than his usually melodic style. The first part of Milton’s “Brazilian Rhyme” is next-concluding in a stomping,funky jam with Verdine’s bass bopping brightly.

“I’ll Write A Song For You” could be viewed somewhat as “Reasons” part II instrumentally -with the songs eloquently romantic lyrics building into a fantastically orchestrated climax. “Magic Mind” is another excellent uptempo funk number-with some of the most elaborate soloing from the Phenix Horns. “Runnin” is one of my favorites here. Starting out as a vocalese led melodic jazz-funk/fusion jam from Philip Bailey,the already heavy Afro-Latin strains in the rhythm come to a percussive frenzy by the songs second half-with Larry Dunn’s kinetic synthesizers bridging the two sections together.

“Be Ever Wonderful” closes the album with its only fully gospel/soul derived song on this album-ending with a triumphantly sung mid tempo ballad.  The only way I could even try to explain this is that the way in which the Brazilian rhythms and bouncing melodies on this album are carried out? The entire quality of the music on this album has the feeling of a journey, the feeling of motion towards a compelling knowledge outside oneself . This album brings mystery into focus,and brings time to a slower crawl. And its funk that is both spiritually deep and commercially successful.

All N’ All, from its gatefold artwork to its thematic content, also embraces ideas somewhere between monotheism and pantheism. Maurice White once referred to the albums title itself as referencing that idea of all human religions representing one higher power. EWF also blend in their variation of the classic secular/spiritual soul music themes. The romanticism of humanity seem to even become a spiritual matter on these songs. From the change in the bands logo to a golden roman style font onward, the entire affair was a musical rebirth for a band still deep in their peak musical powers.

The golden annivesary of this album seems far away. But at a mere decade away? It has just occurred to me that by 2027, all of the Earth, Wind & Fire members from this era may have passed away. But as its been said many times, the result of art is ones footprint in time. All ‘N All has the potential for its footprint not to be fully realized until all of its creators are gone. Thinking about the passing of Maurice White last year, his musical spirit in particular permeates this entire album. And he and his band of musical brothers fashioned a funk/jazz/soul masterpiece from that creative synergy.

 

 

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Funky Reflections On 1987: ‘The Right Night And Barry White’

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Personally I don’t think it’s possible to count how many times I’ve seen this CD on the racks of the local record store and never been moved by or aware enough of it to pay any mind. One key issue that had me re-thinking this oversight was a blog written by my oft quoted friend Henrique about an excellent song from this album. It again provided a strong reminder just how much funky music charted high both on radio and with the public during 1987. So it all gave me to understand that this was an album that I DEFINITELY wanted to check out. After doing so? It also shows just how much I missed out on not looking into this from the outset.

“Good Dancin’ Music” and “Sho You Right”,the song the directed me back to this album are both hard hitting,bass synth driven electro funk extravaganza’s with some of the most intricate uses of instrumental harmony I’ve ever heard. “As Time Goes By” is transformed from it’s original ballad style to percussive cinematic funky soul number with a sauntering Caribbean vibe. “For Your Love (I’ll Do Anything)” is a slow crawling,slap bass driven groove while songs such as “There’s A Place Where Love Never Ends”,”Love In Your Eyes”,”I’m Ready For Love”,”Share”,”Who’s The Fool” and the nostalgic title song all fall into his classic ballad style.

This album did an amazing job of showcasing how the more electronic instrumentation of the time was still perfectly able to support the man’s arrangements-especially as well integrated it all was. The music ideas and classic romantic monologues are all used to full affect on here as well. During the years I was growing up? Even if they were coming out fairly close together? Each and every new Barry White album was treated as a major comeback-almost as if he’d somehow disappeared off the map between those releases. In any case? This is one of those albums that I truly wished had been a part of my musical life a lot longer than it has been.

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‘Kick’ At 30: INXS Get A New Sensation

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INXS had an amazing period of growth in the 1980’s. In the first couple of years of the decade, the Australian band were a hard touring post punk/new wave outfit. By 1984’s The Swing, the sound of songs such as the hit “Original Sin” got the heavy funk treatment from the production of Nile Rodgers. From that point on, INXS would be a funk/rock powerhouse. Their songs punctuated by an equal combination of big guitars, grooving horns and bass lines and the versatile, soulful voice of its late lead singer Michael Hutchence. This all came to a head 30 years ago today with the release of Kick.

Kick was part of a massive revival of funk/soul sounds in pop music. Whereas more straight ahead guitar rock had been the dominating force during the earlier part of the decade. In fact, the first time I heard of INXS was the video for the song “Need You Tonight”, whose visuals abstract on the cover art for the album itself.  Their grooving sound and extroverted visual presence made this quite an experience for me. Now I’ve heard the entire Kick album for the first time all the way through. And am going to share with you my observations of it-largely from a funk and soul based perspective.

“Guns In The Sky” starts off the album with pounding, spare drums and brittle lead rock guitar of the Farriss brothers Jon, Andrew and Tim. This is matched with lyrics that lashes out against  people’s obsessions with fire arms.  “New Sensation” is a rhythm guitar fueled fusion of funk and rock-especially its horn fueled chorus. As my boyfriend Scott originally pointed out, there is a banjo (or a very banjo like guitar sound) playing just under the rhythm guitar lick.  “Devil Inside” starts out with a round percussion based sound-with mild rhythm guitar and bass accents of Garry Gary Beers

“Devil Inside” also gradually mutates heavier guitars kick in for a slinky rocker-the hardest edged rock piece on the album. And also the longest song on the album.  “Need You Tonight” is built around stripped down “naked funk” as well as call and response vocals of course. That segues without a break into the hip-hop style drum based number-with jazzy phrased synth pads in the back round while Hutchence’s vocal arrangement is structurally similar to Bob Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues”. On this song however, the lyrics focus squarely on the racially unjust South African apartheid system.

“Tiny Daggers” is a very Stonsey slower 12 bar blues number, with a rocky twist. Also a soul-pop melody on the chorus. In terms of totally melding a rock soloing attitude with a funk rhythm section, “Wild Life” and “Calling On Nations” pull off the fusion without a hitch- in a similar manner to “New Sensation” from earlier in the album. The shuffling “Mystify” and the title track both have mid 60’s “rock ‘n soul” flavors to them-with the sax of Kirk Pengilly’s honking solos. “Never Tear Us Apart”, the albums lone ballad, is an update of the 6/8 time 60’s soul ballad-featuring string and another Pengilly sax solo.

“Tiny Daggers” has the driving drums,melodic piano and jangling rhythm guitar of a Springsteen style heartland area rocker. Its resemblance to another hit from this era, Prince’s “I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man” brings out an idea I have about the album. With its dead center funk/rock fusion, which Andrew Farriss declared was always part of INXS’ sound, Kick’s dead center funk/rock fusion sound-along with its lyrical themes combining hedonism and social awareness, is something of  an integrated band equivalent to what Prince was doing with his Sign O The Times album in 1987.

Kick is an album that, having heard it all the way through, is a bit of a time capsule of that re-focusing of pop/rock music towards funk and soul was going by 87. Some of the songs are more stronger funk based, others are more straight rockers, and others totally combine them together.  It also went right along with the momentum INXS themselves were on with funk/soul based pop hits like “What You Need” and the aforementioned “Original Sin”.  INXS’s own stylistic trajectory matching up with the times goes with has made Kick so enduring and iconic for late 80’s funk and pop/rock.

 

 

 

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Anatomy of THE Groove: “Love’s Holiday” by Earth Wind & Fire

Earth Wind & Fire’s 1977 album All ‘N All is about to celebrate its 40th anniversary this coming autumn. Today however, wanted to pick one particular song from this iconic album to talk about. And for a very special reason. Raised in Kentucky, Johnny Graham started out playing the trumpet as a child. And moved to guitar as a teenager. While touring with the new birth, Graham got contacted by Maurice White. Apparently some of the New Birth members had told White how great a guitarist Graham was. And White wanted Graham as one of his guitarists in his rebooted edition of Earth Wind & Fire.

That reboot edition of EWF debuting on Head To The Sky became basically the bands classic 70’s line up. Graham, who turns 66 today, provided a strong amplified blues flavor to EWF during its salad days. And his guitar solos on songs such as “That’s The Way Of The World” essentially added that musical element of earthiness present in their name. Another such solo turned up on the song that closes the first side of the original LP of the All ‘N All album. And a song that’s become album cut by many admirers of the band. The name of the song is “Love’s Holiday”.

A thick,cymbal heavy drum count comes in with the Phenix Horns playing a beautifully jazzy unison horn chart. Than Al McKay and Verdine White’s bass/guitar interaction comes in with the Ralph Johnson’s drum clipping along at approximately 72 beats per minutes The horns, including a muted trumpet play an accessorizing part along with very faint strings in the back round. And especially on the climbing B-section to the chorus, Philip and Maurice’s sing right along with them. Graham’s guitar solo comes in on the closing refrain-playing call and response with Maurice White’s vocalese.

“Love’s Holiday” is an example of that literal “slow jam” that EWF had been perfecting during their years with Charles Stepney and beyond. It would extend from songs like “Devotion” up through “Be My Love” from the early 80’s. By the time of this song in 1977, the band and its many musical collaborators had this densely arranged jazzy funk/soul sound down to a science. Comedian Steve Harvey even singled out this particular song as an example of what “real music” sounded like. Its one of the most melodically and harmonically beautiful ballads to emerge out of the funk era in the 1970’s.

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Too Hot To Handle: Heatwave’s Debut Album’s 40th Anniversary In the US

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Heatwave had been a huge international disco era funk mainstay from the get-go. When the late Johnny Wilder Jr began assembling the band while in West Germany-following discharge for the US Army in 1975. In 1976, the band released their debut album Too Hot To Handle in the UK. The original album cover art was a painting of a sun’s horizon over the sea courtesy of Norman Moore. The album was released on May 30th of the following year in the US. It was given a new cover. This one a comic book design of a vinyl album melting on a sidewalk-this time done by Robert Grossman.

This albums 40th anniversary has already passed. Oddly enough, it was one of the last Heatwave albums I actually investigated. Due to a broken CD player, my first copy of it succumbed to laser rot. A couple of listens to this album gave me to realize that its one of those albums that deserves a full form review of its contents. All the songs on it were written by the late,great Rod Temperton. And most of them showcased Johnnie Wilder’s dynamic, rangy vocal interpretations. So here,song by song is my own overview of the album. Not song by song exactly. But taking each of them as part of a wonderful whole.

The album starts off with a three prong uptempo punch. First is the title song-which uses call and response horn lines and slinky synthesizers playing similar melodic riffs-right along with the vocal trades of the Wilder brothers Johnnie and Keith. “Boogie Nights” starts off with a swinging,guitar based be bop type intro before heading into a driving Moog bass driven groove-one with funk functioning as top end disco. “Ain’t No Half Steppin'” is heavy bass/rhythm guitar oriented funk that’s directly descended from James Brown. Especially with its condensed, funky drum/percussion based bridge.

The album showcases a diverse range of songs from there out. The vocally epic,Philly style “Always And Forever” is a wedding dance classic now. It was recorded by Johnnie vocally as if he was performing live-ad libs and all. “All You Do Is Dial” has a gentle jazzy pop flavor while “Sho ‘Nuff Must Be Luv” has a cinematic Chi Town soul ballad approach. Those are the main ballads of the album. There’s also “Super Soul Sister”-a guitar and Clavinet fueled funk number that starts into a jazzy swing similar to “Boogie Nights” on the bridge.

“Lay It On Me” has a smooth funk vibe with a driving bass Clavinet,muted trumpet, strings and again Johnnie Wilder’s voice leading the way. The album ends with a nostalgic look back at old school child discipline on the (again) James Brown style funk of “Beat Your Booty”-this time with an open,round synth bass wash goosing the lead and harmony vocals along. Overall Heatwave got off to a powerful start with this album. Their basic sound was still built around the songs being played live. Still,their reputations as masters of the disco era funk/soul sound in the studio shines strongly too.

This band that was a little Dayton,a little continental Europe really showcased themselves as extremely funk oriented here. Not long after this, members of this group Rod Temperton and Johnnie Wilder Jr would become linked in different ways to the launching of a record breaking superstar in Michael Jackson. But with the massive hit success of “Boogie Nights” and “Always And Forever”, Heatwave came right out of the box as a funk band who could play serious grooves,right serious songs and sing serious melodies.  And for that, I have no doubt their legacy will live on.

 

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‘Prince’@37: A Sophomore Album That Wasn’t Treated So Bad

Prince 1979

Prince really did create a technical and musical marvel with his debut album For You. Still out of Prince’s two albums of the late 1970’s,its his second self titled effort that proved to be his commercial breakthrough. That is in the sense he had a tremendous hit with it. That hit was “I Wanna Be Your Lover”. This was late 70’s sophistifunk at its sauciest-with a sleek groove that’s both sweetly melodic,but has a full on chunky bass/guitar groove about it. It started off this album. And its also the song that many mainstream pop music listeners pre 1980 might cite as the very first Prince they’d remember hearing.

I first became aware of this record through a handful of its songs making the cute of Prince’s first anthology set The Hits/B-Sides. So its probably best to discuss those songs first. “Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad” is a very mainstream rock tune with some glistening,melodic power chords from Prince on this song written by Andre’ Cymone. The other is a classic Prince one man band version of “I Feel For You”. This is the first version I heard. And due to that reason,much as I love Chaka Khan’s far more famous cover,that’s pretty much its own thing next to this version.

Whats so interesting about this album for me is 3/4 of it is slow ballad oriented. When I first picked up the CD pre-owned,all there was to listen to CD’s were undependable bar code scanners some stores had. So it was a surprised that some songs such as “When We’re Dancing Close And Slow” and “Still Waiting” were rather country western/pop flavored ballads. “With You” has a 1950’s doo wop flavor to its slow ballad flavor. Of the slow songs on the album,my personal favorite is “It’s Gonna Be Lonely”-which has a then contemporary progressive soft rock flavor about it with its processed guitar reverb.

My favorite song on this album of course is “Sexy Dancer”. This is almost an instrumental. Prince’s panting becomes a percussive element to this lean,mean bass/guitar extravaganza that points to Prince’s signature early 80’s funk sound. Not to mention the jazzy Yamaha electric piano solo he takes on the bridge. “Bambi” is the other rocker here. This is a crunching hard rock number too. The focus of the song is on Prince having a crush on a woman who turns out to be a lesbian-spending the chorus trying to convince her “its better with a man”-seemingly for his own physical benefit only.

In the end,I have to agree with Prince on this album. It served its function very well in getting more people interested in his music.  And as he implied,it did what it he intended it to do by featuring some strands of late 70’s pop music. On the other hand,Prince’s frank take on the sexual revolution of disco era and the albums general emphasis on funk made it clear the type of musician Prince would be. He would make melodies,rock out but never totally give up on the funk. In as much as it laid the blueprint for his commercial approach of the early 80’s,this album is a very significant one for Prince.

 

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Filed under 1979, ballads, classic albums, Funk, Minneapolis, Minneapolis Sound, Music Reviewing, Prince, rock and soul, rock guitar

Controversy@35: Funk For Those Who Don’t Want To Die So They Can Be Free

Controversy

Controversy,released on this day in 1981,is one of my very favorite albums of Prince’s immediate pre-crossover period. It came along at a time when he was heavily building his musical persona. Everything from his stripped down instrumental approach,the name Jamie Starr and around this period the introduction of The Time. First time I saw the album on vinyl,it was the basic Prince image I saw on the cover staring hard at me in front of some captivating faux newspaper headlines. The purple trench coat with the studded shoulder and his Little Richard inspired hairstyle were there-as well as the thin mustache.

Picked the album up on vinyl upon seeing this from Dr. Records,in its old location in Orono Maine.  Happily it still had the original poster inside showing Prince posing in the shower, wearing nothing but black bikini underwear.  Its also important to note I heard Prince’s albums almost in order,so heard this fourth in that line. The title track in its full version really got my attention. Especially where Prince is reciting the lords prayer over the pumping rhythm and funkified rhythm guitar before his chant at the end. My boyfriend told me this was the very first Prince song he heard while living Scranton,Pennsylvania.

That chant at the end of course was “people call me rude/I wish we all were nude/I wish there was no black or white/I wish there were no rules”. The albums major funky moments come in the slap bass and synth brass groove of “Lets Work”,one of his finest slices of funk of that time. He also provides one of his major funk ballads in the elongated workout of “Do Me,Baby”-written by Andre Cymone and featuring some lustful vocals and slap bass. “Sexuality” ably mixes a rockabilly rhythm and melody,chicken scratch guitar and new wave synthesizers. Lyrically it also provides a bit of the albums social manifesto.

“Private Joy” is a sleek post disco new wave pop number build around drums and synthesizers-plus a peppy,sexy falsetto chorus. “Ronnie Talk To Russia” is a short,punky new wave number with a rather narcissistic anti nuclear message asking the president to talk to Russia “before they blow up my world”. “Annie Christian” is a striking art rock type number metaphorically dealing with the issues of violence and gun control in the early 80’s. The album ends with sexually playful “Jack U Off”,which is a straight up synthesized version of 50’s rockabilly.

Musically speaking,this album really finds Prince solidifying his sound. The musical pallet is similar to its predecessor Dirty Mind. Production wise however,Controversy is a pretty slick sounding album that doesn’t have the previous albums raw demo like quality. The album also integrates funkiness into its instrumental approach. Many times in the general rhythm of the songs,a lot of them still fall into the retro 50’s rock n’ roll/rockabilly style Prince was dealing with at this time. At the same time,he showcased how R&B,funk and modern synth pop/new wave would represent a major part of the Minneapolis sound.

Conceptually this album is one of his most telling. The Prince of Controversy emerged as a concerned,conscious citizen who also had a mildly unknowing,socially conservative streak. A lot of it is Prince walking the classic soul music line between the secular and the spiritual. In one song alone for example he’s saying “sexuality is all we’ll ever need” and turns around to say “don’t let your children watch television until they learn how to read/or all they’ll know how to do is cuss,fight and breed”.  This mix of sexual freedom and social paranoia is a close early glimpse of Prince’s then developing social conscience.

Prince of course is no longer with us. And with a released catalog almost 40 albums strong in his lifetime,he’s told many different stories both musically and lyrically. My friend Henrique warned me not to try to chase Prince’s motivations because of how intentionally elusive the artist tended to be. For me,this album is probably the closest he came in the 1980’s to laying his soul bare. His feelings on sex,violence and religion are something he’s trying to reconcile throughout this album. Don’t know if he ever did fully reconcile them before he died. But the questions he asked here may be more important than the answers.

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Phyllis Hyman Double Feature

Phyllis Hyman

Phyllis Hyman comes across as someone with a strong creative ethic. She was a strong soul/gospel/jazz vocal powerhouse,not to mention an attractive,stylish 6′ tall physical presence. The arc of her life somewhat resembled Whitney Houston’s however,aside from the fact Hyman lack Houston’s family musical pedigree. Hyman’s adult life was marred by romantic woes,mental illness and addiction problems. This led to Hyman’s tragic suicide in 1995 before she ever saw her 50th birthday.  Still her music still connects with soul/funk music lovers with its spectrum of joy and pain.

After watching some of TV One’s series Unsung‘s episode about Hyman,it fairly quickly became apparent that throughout her recording career,record producers and songwriters simply didn’t know how to handle her voice. This tends to be a reoccurring theme with vocalists who are not in complete creative control of their songwriting and production. Her time in the late 70’s and early 80’s at Arista Records didn’t seem to be her happiest,as she and label head Clive Davis often clashed. Yet the two CD’s I have by her are her most commercially successful for the label. So I am going to overview them here today.

You Know How To Love Me/1979

Of course cannot tell you how many times I’ve heard Phyllis Hyman’s name dropped. And of course how little I’d actually heard of her. Well I blame myself. No good reason. I had this idea in my head she was primarily a balladeer. And there seemed to be a dime a dozen of those out there. Kind of the old idea about uptempo tunes dating fasted and slower ones being more timeless.

Well either way I must say that after hearing this album,I must say Phyllis was possessed of a vocal instrument defined by both great confidence and vulnerability. Now tonally? She’s a soul belter out of the blues/gospel school of singing. And her voice has a nice raspy huskiness to it that is actually quite appealing. Produced by James Mtume and Reggie Lucas I’d actually highly recommend this album as a possible first Phyllis Hyman album. There are reasons.

Two of those reasons right off the bat are the title song and “You’re The One”,both seriously intense gospel fueled Philly type danceable soul perfect for the disco floor and will have you singing to yourself with the same firey and intelligent tone as Phyllis herself. Of course there are two slower grooves here that blow me away too “Some May” and “Give A Little More” both find Hyman’s experienced voice working it’s way through some choppy sophistifunk type grooves.

On “Complete Me” it turns to this flat out epic type gospel/soul ballad type thing,the sort of sound I suppose I always associated with Phyllis. “But I Love You” has this tense and rather fanfare based disco-dance sound while the only song really bound by the era might be “Heavenly”. However nothing to worry about for the discophobes because even for them Phyllis gives it her all as she does throughout.

In the end the impression I get from Phyllis Hyman here is that she seems to function best as an album artist. Her vocal style has a need to stretch itself throughout the spectrum of soul musics sub-genres. And it’s a much wider spectrum than people think. Even within each off shoot of the music. There’s music here that has the ability the impact on fans of Philly soul,disco dancing and even foot stomping funk fans.

True it’s as bubbly and sophisticated a production as good champagne is to the taste. On the other hand every sound here serves to emphasize the talent whose getting the most credit. The participation of the Mtume band didn’t do any harm either. This was a recording oriented around a group of people with unique and special talent. And in this case,they got something extremely special out of Phyllis Hyman. So even if she’s not with us anymore,there’ll always be records like this.

Can’t We Fall In Love Again/1981

Admittedly I’m a bit late entering into the musical world of the late Phyllis Hyman. At this point? I actually only have two of her albums. She was one of those vocalists who moved between the worlds of jazz and funky soul. And always having an extremely talented bevy of instrumentalists at her disposal courtesy of her producer and original musical paramour Norman Connors.

Her entire creative approach matches up to the very qualities that have continually created some of the most dynamic and stunning music in the funk/soul/jazz/R&B spectrum. This 1981 album was her first of that particular decade. And upon locating it on CD? Picked it up without hesitation. Absolutely no regrets.

“You Sure Look Good To Me” is an extremely melodic horn and upbeat synthesizer based pop/boogie funk/post disco number-like a harder edged variation of the sound Richard Perry was then getting with the Pointer Sisters. The title song is a dynamic,Thom Bell like electric sitar led mid tempo love song duet between Hyman and the rich voiced baritone singer/bass player Michael Henderson.

“Don’t Tell Me,Tell Her” is a high stepping horn and slap bass Brazilian funk jam while “I Ain’t Asking” is an assertively romantic number from Ashford & Simpson-with their classic piano heavy and melodic early 80’s gospel/soul/funk style.

“The Love Too Good To Last” and “The Sunshine In My Life” are polished up,medium tempo pop/soul ballads while “Tonight You And Me” as a mixture of that Afro-Latin style drum and bass keyboard chorus of The Jackson’s “Shake Your Body” with a powerful post disco/funk/soul refrain. “Just Another Face In The Crowd” is a melodically epic slow pop ballad to conclude the album.

Well this is one of those albums where all eight songs are uniformly excellent,superbly produced and played on. Hyman herself provides the gospel/soul vocal phrasings of a jazzier and ballsier Dionne Warwick. At least to me anyway,and with an incredibly slippery and husky range as well. For lovers of early 80’s funk/soul music that’s powerfully performed and filled with a jazzy flavor? This might just be an album for you!


Phyllis Hyman offered us some fantastic soulful music. She also lived with bipolar disorder. And this possibly motivated her to end her life prematurely. For more information on bipolar disorder,or feel you may have it yourself,please go to the website below. Life is worth living!

National Alliance on Mental Illness’s Page On Bipolar Disorder

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Purple Rain at 32: Remembering The Day Prince Gathered Us Together To Get Through This Thing Called Life

purple-rain

Purple Rain is probably the big reason why most people are still discussing Prince. That was one of his major motivations for making the film and it’s soundtrack-to bring a broader audience into his sound. Interestingly enough,there is nothing in this album that Prince hadn’t been building to in some way since 1980’s Dirty Mind. Even Revolution members Lisa Coleman and Wendy Melvoin felt there was less of Prince’s trademark funk sound on this 1984 soundtrack. What this album did do was give the American public that impression that Prince was a full on rock star who served up an order of funk on the side.

That being said, Purple Rain comes out of his peak musical period. One in which he was brimming  with instrumental and melodic ideas. The key element of this album was drama. It’s accompanying film was a dramatic,semi autobiographical musical. There are plenty of Bic lighter raising moments on this album for sure. There are also some uptempo songs that still get people dancing even today. Growing up,I only knew one song from it well. But upon first hearing it 20 years ago,it felt like music I’d grown up on. That’s how dramatic it actually was-the sonic familiarity to engender false memories of it.

Many of Prince’s albums over the years deserve a rundown of it’s overall affect. As well as one that breaks it down song by song. Reviewing these albums on Amazon.com usually does the trick on that level for me. Today I’m going to do something a little different in analyzing Prince’s major breakthrough album. Purple Rain had nine songs on it. This article is going to give you that description of each song as it appears on the album. This is especially important as these relate to the plot of the film and the concert footage to be found within. So here we go with Andre’s rundown of the songs from Purple Rain.


“Let’s Go Crazy”

They key to this hard guitar rocker is fast paced,gospel joy. He even uses the synthesizer like a church organ in the intro-declaring that “we are here today to get through this thing called life”. Prince delivers several major guitar solos in the songs-including a slow dragging,feedback laden Jimi Hendrix-like grind at the end of the song. The 12″ inch take of this song is also worth checking out-with it’s stomping,chromatic walk of a piano bridge as heard in the film when Morris Day is first introduced.

“Take Me With U”

The big beat of the drums and orchestral synthesizer of this song leads you into thinking the song will be one thing-just before Prince segues into an acoustic guitar derived psychedelic pop/rock mid tempo number with Apollonia as his duet partner. It’s actually a very close relative instrumentally to other Prince songs such as “Manic Monday” and “Raspberry Beret’. It’s unexpected stylistic shifts match how it’s place in the movie shifts from Prince admiring a custom guitar in a shop window to driving with Apollonia through rural Minnesota on his motorcycle.

“The Beautiful Ones”

Basically this song is a very theatrical synthesized version of a European classical derived ballad. Prince sings and screams this song in a shaky falsetto. It’s one of the concert scenes of the film-one where the looks exchanged between himself and his leading lady Apollonia Kotero really help visualize all the electrified instrumental color of this song.

“Computer Blue”

This is actually one of my favorite songs on this album. It’s generally a very robotic synth rock number-very similar in style to the chilly electronic approach of his previous album 1999. On the bridge,the melody shifts as Prince plays a rather more jazzy melodic theme known as “Fathers Song”-actually composed by his real life father John Nelson. That juxtaposition of new wave/synth pop and electronic jazz bring this to life.

“Darling Nikki”

Prince unintentionally ushered in the age of the “Tipper sticker” on albums with this particular song. Again,it’s a very European classical styled rock opera number-heavy on the drum pedal at the end with Prince screaming “COME BACK NIKKI,COME BACK!” at the top of his lungs. His vivid tale of an encounter with a nymphomaniac was intended to repel Apollona in the film. Again,Prince writhing shirtless on his piano as Apollonia wells up with tears (and stomps out of the First Avenue during the songs performance) illustrates one of the darker,most hurtful elements of “The Kid’s” personality.

“When Doves Cry”

This was the first I ever heard of Prince. Never noticed it had no bass line. Didn’t know what a bass line was at age 5. It’s still not an easy song to describe. It’s very close to Prince’s earlier stripped down Minneapolis funk/rock sound. There’s also a synth playing a straight up European classical string section on the outro. Lyrically it’s a very dark song-with Prince musing on domestic discord/abuse as depicted by his parents in the film as being antithetical to peace: “why do we scream at each other/this is what it sounds like when doves cry”.

“I Would Die 4 U”

Prince spends the first half of Purple Rain as a very self centered character,with strong overtones of misogyny thrown into the mix. By this point,his film father’s suicide attempt has led him to understand himself and those around him. This is one of the more funk structured songs on this album-with brittle bass synth and synth brass playing call and response all the way down-with Prince declaring “I’m not a woman/I’m not a man/I am something that you’ll never understand”

“Baby I’m A Star”

Prince is back with the straight up tent show style uptempo gospel attitude on this song. With the synth horns on the latter half,this is likely the funkiest thing on the whole soundtrack-very similar in musical character to what The Time did on the soundtrack. It also has some strong singalong moments on the chorus.

“Purple Rain”

Most people who know Prince know of this song. With it’s live sound-especially Prince’s highly echoed voice and the string arrangements,it’s one of those arena rock ballads that’s always sure to get the Bic lighters raised by the audience. Hearing Aretha Franklin sing it recently on PBS,it reminded me how much gospel/soul still remains a part of this song-originally his apology to Apollonia for his poor treatment of her in the film.


Interestingly enough,Purple Rain not my favorite Prince album. Not even of his 80’s output. All the same,there’s something addictive about these songs. Each one of them has a certain allure. Some of it might just be the idea that this was the most public display of Prince’s normally somewhat shy persona.  One feels as if they know this man whose playing and singing to them. These songs are up close and personal-not distant. Often more rock then funk and soul-for certain. But it’s not music that anyone can dismiss or ignore. It got Prince noticed. And his purple musical journey was only just beginning.

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under 1980's, Apollonia, ballads, electro funk, Lisa Coleman, Minneapolis, Minneapolis Sound, New Wave, Prince, Prince & The Revolution, Purple Rain, Wendy Melvoin

‘Lionel Richie’ (1982) from Andre’s Amazon Archive

Lionel Richie

Why am I giving five stars to an albums where I am not 100% crazy about every song?The simple reason is that,in terms of everything Lionel Richie is musically this debut album is one of his most overall richest experiences. Conceptually Lionel’s style of blending contemporary funk/R&B styles with slow,sentimental “countrypoliton” types of ballads really feels at it’s most down to earth and organic here. It would have been nice if Lionel had included more uptempo songs here but that is more of a preference on my part.But for those who feel the same way it is true.

The funk type tunes that are here are some of the very best he ever made.”Serves You Right” and “Tell Me” are great jams,more in keeping with a a kind of “naked sophisti-funk” type of groove then the more polished urban styled jams on Lionel’s final album with the Commodores In the Pocket.The other song of this type here is “You Are”-it isn’t exactly what I’d call funk but definitely a great peppy,uptempo R&B love song. It was really not a bad early solo hit for Lionel and frankly a musical style worth pursuing further.

Of course the majority of this album is weighed toward the ballad end of things,the style Lionel chose to make his musical calling but…….well to be honest not his greatest strength. Romantically and sentimentally satisfying fare such as “Wandering Spirit”,”Truly” and the brief final two cuts “You Mean More To Me” and “Just Put Some Love In Your Heart” are musically excellent for such slow-paced songs.However unlike with fellow Motowners Smokey Robinson,Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye,Lionel seemed to have difficulty inflecting his slow songs with any real sense of emotional expression.
Vocally these types of songs tend to come off as…well overly sentimental in his hand.He basically sounds like a black version of Kenny Rogers on these types of tunes and therefore it’s no doubt their musical connection and that Kenny appears on this album.Of course the bonus tracks really showcase another side of his talent.The demo of “Endless Love” shows the nucleus of a song that,while overproduced to the extreme in its final form really gives you an inside peek into Lionel’s technique as a composer with this demo having a more bare,folksy flavor.
The instrumental version of “You Are” is not only great to dance to but solid proof of Lionel’s 70’s-born concept that the catchiness of a great dance tune didn’t just come from the singing:it was the horns,the keyboards and most importantly the rhythm. If you a Commodores fan just getting into Lionel Richie’s solo music and want an easy starting point,in this case it might be best to start at the beginning here.
The next album Can’t Slow Down was of course hugely more successful commercially (not that this was any slouch in that respect either) but musically that album is a whole other beast entirely,for better or worse. This definitely finds Lionel with one foot in his past and the other in things to come musically and in any case is more than worth hearing
Originally posted on July 27th,2009

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Filed under 1980's, adult contemporary, Amazon.com, ballads, Boogie Funk, country/soul, Lionel Richie, Motown, Music Reviewing, post disco, Uncategorized