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Jesse Johnson’s ‘Every Shade Of Love’ Turns 30: Jesse’s Third Solo Album & The Changing Face Of Funk In The 80’s

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Jesse Johnson really stood out among the musicians who came in and out of Prince’s purple circle during the early/mid 1980’s. As a matter of fact, he was the only musician on the Minneapolis scene who could be a full on rival to to Prince’s talent. Both were writers, singers,producers and multi instrumentalist performers of their own material. And both were amazing guitar players as well. Feeling quite subordinated in the Time,as if Prince were somehow hogging all the glory he left in 1984 to put together the Jesse Johnson Revue.

His debut album under that name the following year was very much patterned after Prince’s own sound. However his followup in 1986 Shockadelica showcased a harder, more consistently funk oriented sound with horns and a guest appearance from Sly Stone. Again a couple years later,Johnson continued to develop his strong musical talent on this his third solo release. “Love Struck,”So Misunderstood”-with its JB like “good god” chants”,”I’m The One”-the only song featuring another musician in keyboardist Jeff Lorber and “Color Shock” represents half an album of non stop funk of the highest order.

The grooves are thick and strong,the rhythms kick right along and the guitar playing, which commands the listener to be moving to these songs with their romantically desirous yet thought provoking lyrics. The title song is a percussive new jack/hip-hop jam that again deals with interracial romance, which The Time had already covered on their Ice Cream Castles. “I’m Just Wanting You” is a dynamic ballad that otherwise has a more urban contemporary twist- while “Stop-Look-Listen” has new wave era variation of the gospel/funk sound of Graham Central Station with some clever lyrical wordplay.

Ever since I first heard about this album, it was often touted as one of Jesse Johnson’s best albums. And I cannot disagree with that viewpoint. However it was always presented to me as a hard rock album. So of course it was a bit surprising to hear that this album is probably the hardest full on funk release he ever made during the 80’s. The rock element I hear is primarily in some of the Hendrix like,amplified blues guitar solos on some of these songs-a technique Jesse shares with Prince. Difference is Jesse is perfectly willing at all times to cite his guitar influences.

And you can hear them loud and clear on these songs. Overall this is one of the finest examples of strong and live oriented funk being produced during the late 80’s. There is more of a live drum and bass/guitar interaction here. And the synthesizers play more of a harmonic than a leading role instrumentally. That’s pretty amazing for a multi instrumentalist in this era. Though they were sometimes at odds, Jesse and Prince were often following different paths on the same basic road. Every Shade Of Love is a powerful  80’s funk album from an artist who contributed a lot to the grooves of that era.

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