Bettye LaVette’s career is an example how it often seems that soul, in the context of a genre of music, refers mainly to a type of singing and playing. You can have the right singing,the right playing and somehow it just isn’t quite soul. It’s very much a literal term. Very much an individual conception. LaVette here has a new book out,and one knows she has a lot of stories to tell. But I know two things for sure: her recording career was stalled for decades. And he has a reputation for being a headstrong personality with an enormous sense of conviction in the tradition of all the greats in the genre.
This album,celebrating her half century in the “biz” is musically dedicated to all the music that inspired her along the way. For starters,this album is extraordinarily funkified. In a very deep, southern way too-filled with heavily revered drums, electric guitar, bass and keyboards. Dylan’s “Everything Is Broken”, “I’m Not The One”, “The More I Search )The More I Die”, “Fair Enough” and “Time Will Do The Talking” all showcase this predominantly. Her take on “Dirty Old Town” seems to almost illustrate her own attitude and is presented here in two versions,the later longer and far more spare.
The rhythm goes up on the very heavily funky “I’m Tired”, and actually goes very much the opposite direction on the night time bluesy soul of “Crazy” and “Yesterday Is Here”. Neil Young’s “Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere” gets a countrified treatment whereas Sly’s title song goes more to the gospel roots of the song. One appealing thing about LaVette right off the bat is that,as an interpretive singer,she never veers from altering the song lyrics in certain ways to personalize it, have it make more sense that she’s singing them.
On the other hand all the songs selected for thing album already make sense in terms of her doing them. And considering that this is the first full length Bettye LaVette album I’ve ever heard? The fact that comes out so strongly even for a relative newcomer (such as myself ) speaks volumes for her ability to grab the attention of the largely uninitiated. Also it helps if one is a music lover getting into more interpretive singers at a given time anyway as I am at this point. Even still the overall effect I get from this is that I’d never have known they weren’t originals given her take on them.
One thing I’ll say for Aretha Franklin in the late 60’s: she managed to record almost constantly and churn out one classic after another. Didn’t matter if it was an original or an interpretation. Everything felt so soulfully brand new with her then. Hard to talk about Aretha without mentioning soul all the time. She surely didn’t invent the genre. Nor was she the only soul artist of her day making a gigantic musical statement. . But her identity could be felt a mile away. And with her key year of 1967 having come to an end? 1968 arrived with the lady not losing a single step in her stride.
“Chain Of Fools” starts out the album in all it’s bassy, bluesy gospel/soul glory. She throws in the stomping uptempo gospel soul for a version of James Brown’s “Money Won’t Change You”. Not to mention her version of PJ Proby’s “Niki Hoeky”, the horn based funkiness of “Since You’ve Been Gone “Sweet Sweet Baby” and the rave up of Ray Charles “Come Back Baby”-all Southern fried uptempo funky soul of the highest degree. Of course you have her iconic take of Carole Kings “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman”-that rich string drenched,Sweet Inspirations honeyed vocal gospel/soul ballad treasure.
Good To Me As I Am To You” goes down into the belly of the blues while ‘Ree pumps out every last drop of the gospel soul from the Rascals “Groovin'” before taking on her sisters Carolyn’s souring soul ballad “Ain’t No Way”. Listening to this reminds me of the very strange way I actually got into Aretha’s music: it was very lopsided. It started in 1985-86. And thinking at the time she was a new artist. Of course, it was a year or so that I discovered oldies radio and there was “Respect”, “Chain Of Fools” and “Think”. Same goes for James Brown.
It was more recently that I realized albums like this were also the start of three very important factors in the soul genre. There was the move from balladry to melodic, horn driven uptempo numbers. There was also the idea of crafting albums in mind of being something you’d want to listen to all the way through. Rather than skip to popular radio hits. Not to mention the thematic assertions this made for female artists in general. So as with most of Aretha’s late 60’s Atlantic albums? This was a big time game changer that’s still a delight to look back on.
Prince’s infamous vault of unreleased music-spanning almost 38 years now,has been something that has been thought of has having the floodgates released on following his passing last year. That tons of Prince music no one’s ever heard will be pouring out to the public from now on. It was announced earlier this year that new Prince material would be seeing the light of day soon. It came in the form Deliverance-a six song EP that was set to be released on the first anniversary of his passing. It was even available on Amazon Prime. Than…its release was abruptly pulled. From everywhere.
It would seem that Prince’s longtime recording engineer George Ian Boxill planned on releasing these half a dozen songs (recorded between 2006 and 2008) independently. But he was hit with a cease and desist by the Prince estate. They claimed he never received any proper authorization to release this music. If this reminds anyone of the sort of vexatious litigation Prince practiced in life, they wouldn’t likely be far off. As for me,I managed to snag it as a download before it was pulled and listened to it. So what exactly is Deliverance in musical terms?
The title track of the album is a combination of Southern gospel soul and blues rock-full of organ,piano,choir singers and Prince’s falsetto. “I Am” is a bluesy rock with Prince speeding up his voice and delivering some heavy power chords. “Touch Me”,clocking in at under 2 minutes,is a pop ballad with European classical guitar and string overtones. “Sunrise,Sunset” is more of the same-only with a somewhat more soul inflected chorus. The closer “No One Else” is basically classic stripped down,live band funk/rock from Prince-coupled with some strong synth and horn orchestrations.
Deliverance conceptually comes across as something of a gospel album. As was typical of the Prince material of the early/mid 2000’s heavily built around his Jehovah’s Witness faith. There’s a lot to enjoy here…if your a big fan of Prince as a rocker that is. Only one song-the closer “No One Else” offers up anything right in the groove. While the material does showcase Prince as the amazing guitar player that he was, it also brings out a quality that I’ve only noticed more looking back at Prince’s music from the 90’s and beyond.
A YouTuber calling himself Morrisman,notable for being so critical of Prince as to declare him not to be a musical genius at all,did make one point on Prince’s music that could have strong objective merit. While I do not agree with him that an artist first album is always their best, he did say that some artists who get heavily revered by a devoted fan base can start taking their own music for granted. And sometimes even resort to releasing less than stellar music based on name recognition. This is a huge factor in the rock world. And yes,it did occasionally seem to happen to Prince.
After listening to all six songs (including an extended mix of “I Am”) on Deliverance? I’d have to say that aside from Prince’s unique performance style shinning out,more than half the songs on this album just don’t stand out as having anything particularly special about them. They sound like possible filler tracks Prince would’ve put on albums such as Planet Earth and Lotusflow3r. So aside from a strong book ended start and finish, Deliverance certainly doesn’t sound like a prime example of what Prince had in his vault. Nasty as this may sound, its fairly by the numbers music by Prince’s creative standards.
Brandy Rayna Norwood has had a fascinating career behind her. Following very much on the path of Whitney Houston’s transitions from audio to visual media, she was actually quite a bit more successful as a singer/songwriter/producer and TV star on her late 90’s sitcom Moesha than she was on the silver screen. Personally I always had a creative appreciation for Brandy. With her fluid physical features and polished braids,she proudly and elegantly exhibited a strong Afrocentrism that maintained a street level identification with American hip-hop. As she grew from a teenager into a young adult,her music continually evolved along the same lines as her outward persona.
Today Brandy is a 37 year old with a 13 year old daughter Sy’rai Iman and is engaged to be married again. In addition to having a six album strong discography. In the early 2000’s, she teamed up with then up and coming producer Rodney “Darkchild” Jerkins. Jerkins himself has a gospel back-round and had been mentored by new jack swing pioneer Teddy Riley. As electronic instrumental programming moved on from it’s brittle beginnings,by the early aughts it developed more of a flow in terms of sound. This was excellent for both instrumentally oriented producers like Jerkins and nuanced vocalists such as Brandy. The title song of her 2002 album “Full Moon” is a superb example.
A high pitched mid 80’s new wave style synthesizer opens up the album playing an introductory melody and continues as throughout the song. The refrain of the song maintains a funky,slower crawling 1/2 beat dance tempo. This is accompanied by a crackling bass synthesizer and a bleeping,percussive synthesizer. On the swiftly sung choruses,on which Brandy duets with multiple harmonies of herself,all these electronic solos come together. On the bridge,Brandy’s vocal harmonies beautifully layer over each other while a synthesized duck face bass pops along with her. This is just before the main chorus repeats on into the fade out.
“Full Moon” showcases a magically romantic new groove-with Jerkins skillfully blending a strong post millennial electro funk rhythmic framework with European classical compositional content. Instrumentally the song blends both the more brittle new wave and new jack electronic approach with the beautifully fluidity that modern synthesizer’s were beginning to create. Vocally many early ladies of neo soul such as Alicia Keys and India.Arie were deeply influenced by Brandy’s funky sea of vocals-a technique coming through both Chaka Khan and Janet Jackson. Still it was this song’s embrace of glossy production and strong,funky rhythms that make it perhaps my favorite Brandy number.
Welcome to this first ever volume of Anatomy of THE Original Super Heavy Funk. This (so far) bimonthly segment is going to be devoted to classic songs in the jazz/funk/soul spectrum from the 60’s and 70’s. It was first conceived by friend and blogging partner Henrique Hopkins. It started to make sense,with this blog’s emphasis on newer grooves,to begin exploring their points of origin in a more in depth kind of way. Decided to take on this idea for now while I am flying solo with Andresmusictalk for a little while. In the spirit of my concept on writing about songs from the classic funk era that are lesser known? I’ll start the concept with one of my personal favorites.
Larry Graham was in a very interesting position during the first few years of his band Graham Central Station. Sly & The Family Stone were still operating and even having hits. So the two,with Larry being the connecting thread to both,were at this point very much in tandem. Larry’s own take music was on a very uptempo gospel oriented type of funk built around the interaction between keyboards and this iconic,thick slap bass playing. For the bands second release in 1974’s Release Yourself, the band forged ahead heavily into an instrumental direction that Sly actually began but which GCS were already about to take to the next level. And for me at least? The crowning achievement of this was in the song ‘Tis Your Kind Of Music”.
The song begins with a nasal burst of ARP synthesizer from Larry himself,which melds into pulsing bass tones playing the counter point to the main theme.All along with the pulsing burble of Patrice “Chocolate” Bank’s organ drum programming. After a bar of this,the synthesizer begins playing a staccato type of bluesy lead line-with a string synthesizer orchestration backing it up and the electric piano of Hershall “Happiness” Kennedy playing the different changes. Chocolate sings the first vocal verse of the song in her deep,thick churchy gospel wail-trading off with Larry’s deep bass voice on each refrain. Each of which is followed by a repeat of that second instrumental verse. The song closes out out with a band unison vocal of the songs title-sang as an exploratory chant.
On the very first time I heard this song? It’s instrumental boldness absolutely blew me away. Realized it would be a song I’d be learning from for years to come. And it has been for sure. Most importantly? It brings up a matter Henrique and I have recently been discussing about the pan ethnic forms of music. In fact,it’s very possible to have a situation on many songs with Afrocentric structure but European content. And vice versa. This is a song of a type that,very much in the original spirit of the Family Stone,blows that ethic right out of the box. It not only presents an almost totally electronic mix of still very new synthesizers and drum machines. But also does so with European classical orchestration,spiritual/gospel melodicism (especially on the vocal arrangements) and that heavy jazz oriented funk grind in terms of how the instruments themselves are played. In many ways? This song represents what the entire 70’s “united funk” age meant at it’s absolute,and most futurist pinnacle.
Filed under 1974, ARP synthesier, classic funk, drum machines, Funk, Funk Bass, Gospel, Graham Central Station, Larry Graham, Sly Stone, synth funk
Singer/songwriter/producer/arranger/preacher Andrae’ Crouch already had a very success career with his group the Disciples during the 70’s before venturing out on a solo career during the early 80’s Always consistent in his ability to be musical mission to really bring out the strong gospel core in modern soul and funk music? Many of the musicians that he was working with during this time were likely bringing him a level of awareness that the danceable soul and funk music was adapting to new and electronic oriented instrumentation during the mid 80’s in particular. It was something any gospel act influenced by these changes would have to face. And bringing some familiar instrumentalists along with him? Crouch dealt with it as he always had.
“Got Me Some Angels” starts off the album with a brittle,new wave inflected sound that’s filled with sharp bass synthesizers and accented by the ever-present electric bass thumping of Abraham Laboriel. “Right Now” combines that same modern touch with the classic uptempo soul shuffle and gospel organ swirls with the vocals of Motown’s Tata Vega for one of the most musically powerful songs (and a personal favorite) from this album. “Jesus Come Lay Your Head On Me” and “Somebody Somewhere Is Prayin’ (Just For You)” are both funky slow jams featuring the sweet vocals of Kristle Edwards. The title song is another bass heavy electro funk number that sounds similar to a religious song the Dazz Band would’ve been comfortable with instrumentally at this time.
“Livin’ This Kind Of Life” is my favorite on here-a slinky jazz-funk groove featuring the late,great Joe Sample on some tasty Fender Rhodes electric piano licks while “His Truth Still Marches On”,”Oh,It Is Jesus” and “Always Remember” are swirling,chorus field gospel ballads in Crouches classic style. The only reason I know anything about Andrae Crouch at all is because my father played this album quite a lot on vinyl when I was a child. Coming from a a non Christian family who never,ever attended church? My father made sure to expose me to gospel music early on-with the idea that it was an integral part of black American culture (especially in terms of the civil rights movement) and that this variety of spirituality was an important part of my own cultural heritage as well. There’s many ways for non Christians to love gospel music. And the funky soulfulness of this 1984 album was how it entered into my own life.
Originally Posted On January 9th,2015
Link to original review here*
Ever since my early adolescent years,there’s always been a part of me that really wanted to truly appreciate the music of Mariah Carey. She tended to view her multi octave vocals as an instrumental element and did embrace strong musical values. Trouble was she seemed to all too easily embrace the surface level “R&B diva” mentality a bit too readily on occasion. Sometimes the imagery surrounding her was such a turn off,I tuned out her talents. In recent years Mariah has has begun to change all that. Especially after a very genuine marriage to singer/comedian Nick Cannon and having delivered two fraternal twins a few years back. We’ve seen in history family and childbirth enhanced the creative output of Stevie Wonder,Sly Stone and Prince. After six years of dealing with marriage and child rearing? Mariah stepped back into the recording studio and released a new album Me.I Am Mariah…The Elusive Chartreuse ,one that shows an enormously varied stylistic and very gospel/soul/funk based depth. The first song that caught my ear on it was “Meteorite”.
The song starts out with a video game style electronic effect over which Mariah remarks about Andy Warhol’s remarks that in the future,everything will be famous for fifteen minutes. Than this steady,fast tempo’d Afro-Latin percussion part kicks in along with a series of dynamic,spacey synthesized keyboards playing parallel counter melodies. On each refrain there is a big band muted trumpet that again adds another counter melody for…an instrumental sound pastiche that does indeed bring to mind the imagery of meteorites shooting across the cosmos. Mariah’s voice is featured here in her lower vocal towns-very much an overdubbed symphony of them much in the Marvin Gaye tradition. One voice is singing that sampled/cut up style techno type part,the other is a drawling voice singing the refrain and Mariah’s lowest gospel/soul belt singing the chorus. Lyrically she uses the age of metaphor of the “shinning star” to describe the “musical star” with very funk/disco era lyrical imagery such as “As they watch you burn up,turn up,turnt up all the way”.
Over the years I’ve heard many different types of Hi NRG techno dance songs-mostly all of a very derivative piece. This particular song not only brings to mind many of the best qualities of acid house music. But this also embraces some fascinating and somewhat under explored musical directions from when the disco era came to a direct halt. The big band muted trumpets have the flavor of the electro swing movement,which in itself owes to the big band styled disco records of Dr.Buzzard’s Original Savannah Band and Barry White’s Love Unlimited Orchestra. Also Mariah’s assertion of fame as a source of spiritual guidance through connecting with a larger audience adds some hope and imagination to today’s often more pensively cynical viewpoints on achieving success. Above all? The steady house rhythms are very fast and funky poly-rhythms. And although the song has no discernible bass line? That strong percussive rhythm gives the song all the bottom it would ever need to seriously groove-which it does. Its wonderful to see Mariah Carey,a biracial singer who chose the soul spectrum of music from which to create,has embraced elements of the Afro-futurist funk/disco/dance ethic in order to expand her grooves.
* For my full Amazon review of Mariah Carey’s new album,follow the link below: