Isaac Hays, born in Covington, Tennessee in 1942 was raised by his grandparents. He was encouraged to finish high school several years after dropping out due to the encouragement of his teachers. After turning down musical scholarships from several universities, Hayes began performing in the late 50’s as a teenager. By the mid 1960’s, he and David Porter became one of the major songwriting partners at Stax. Especially for the duo Sam & Dave. His solo debut Presenting Isaac Hayes wasn’t a big success in 1968. But its jazzier orientation pointed in a vital new direction for his music.
By that time, Stax was in trouble. Otis Redding had died with most of the original Bar Kays in a plane crash. And Atlantic Records had absorbed most of their back catalog. As a label functioning with no music, label owner Al Bell decided to have its remaining artists to record 27 new albums to give Stax new content. Hayes’s sophomore album Hot Buttered Soul was the most successful in 1969. Its extended, jazzy and psychedelic treatments of his own songs and interpretations became his signature sound. Even through his record breaking 1971 soundtrack for Shaft.
With Shaft, Hayes had basically created the production template for the disco era. That was elongated dance songs with heavy string and horn orchestration’s. As the disco era arrived in earnest, Hayes mid to late 70’s albums swam right along with the tide his earlier 70’s works had initiated. Not to mention his continuing soundtrack work for movies like Truck Turner and Three Tough Guys. As similar artists like Barry White ascended to popularity, some of Hayes’ albums got lost on the musical public. One of them was an album with an amazing title song entitled “Joy”.
A 7 hit drum beat (with plenty of hi hat around the middle) starts off the song at an approximately 80 BPM’s-which continues throughout the rest of the song. Then the snaky bass and distant seeming wah wah guitar accents chime in. From there, the strings rise up in volume right into the song-spiraling horn charts in the back round. A sustained organ swirl also joins the mix. A bluesy fuzz guitar plays to Hayes’s vocals. On the b section of the chorus, the melody gets a bit higher key with the orchestration. The song fades out with a long,grunting extended refrain.
At almost 16 minutes, “Joy” is one of those early 70’s funk operas. It actually reminds me a little bit of Barry White’s “I’m Gonna Love You Just A Little More Baby” from the same year. Its among the faster of Hayes’ usual extended ballad approach of the earlier 70s. Still, Hayes’ distinctive psychedelic and jazz tones keep this distinct as cinematic soul/funk was becoming more the mainstream at the time. And its for that reason that its actually one of my favorite Hayes’ solo numbers along with “Theme From Shaft”, “Groove-A-Thon” and his epic version of “Walk On By”.
The Bar Kays have and will probably always continue to funk’s most enduring band for two important reasons. One is that they’ve continually recorded for nearly half a century at this point-always re-imagining the new sounds and grooves of each new time period. Another is that they survived all but two of their original members dying in the same plane crash that killed the singer they backed up: Otis Redding. James Alexander is the only one of these two still in the band. But these Memphis soul survivors have never failed in some way to give up the funk with verve and vitality. And the 70′ were a huge breeding ground for their burgeoning search of the perfect groove.
After 1975 the reformed band,who’d modeled themselves into something of a Southern version of Funkadelic,their original label Stax folded. This put them into a position of having to sign with Mercury Records. Since that was the home of fellow funkateers Ohio Players at the time? It was an excellent move. The Bar Kays first album for the label entitled Too Hot To Stop came out in 1976. There was no shortage of strong funk within it’s eight songs. And it was kind of hard to pick which one to talk about in all honesty. But there was one leaped out at me. One that carried a sound I’d never really heard come from any of their grooves before. It is called “Bang Bang (Strike Em Dead)”.
The band are calling out to each other in rough Spanish or Portuguese from the sound of it over the kinetic Brazilian drums of the intro-just before the Afrocentric percussion comes into play. On the main groove an acoustic piano,Clavinet and a bopping bass are all having one serious conversation as the horn section rises from below into the mix. On the choruses? There is a big descending synthesizer melody along with the wordless, harmonized vocalese of the band members. As the song progresses,the horns begin to take faster and more elaborate solos as the vocal chants and calls of the group members become a total instrumental element all their own.
Somehow the Bar Kays heavy Southern fried funk took on a whole different groove on this song. The thrust of this rhythmically is an Afro-Brazilian groove with somewhat jazzier flavors to the melodic construction,and the nature of the vocals. One thing it continues to carry over from the bands signature sound is it’s extremely high energy and fast tempo. And that’s one thing I’ll say about the Bar Kays. While normally a slower tempo music when you listen to it? The funk this band often came out with was very uptempo and fast paced. And the strong musical Afrocentrism of this percussion based jam really helped to calcify this bands way with strong,thick uptempo funk.
Filed under 1970's, Afro-Cuban rhythm, Funk, Funkadelic, horns, Memphis Soul, Mercury Records, Ohio Players, percussion, Stax, synthesizers, The Bar Kays
Al Green’s music has been a very key reference point on two musical levels for me. One is in my conversations with Henrique. The other is as one of the finest examples of funky soul or “sweet funk”-coming out of producer Willie Mitchell’s Hi studios in Memphis during the 1970’s. Green’s couple of handful’s worth of excellent albums during that decade are a ripe grapevine of these types of grooves. As consistent as his sound was? It seemed like the right time to showcase just how diversely funky this man’s music actually was.
Because it’s well known that Al Green focused mainly on the religious side of his music after the late 70’s? Curiosity drew me to the final album of his classic run-1978’s Truth N’ Time. That name alone said a lot about Green’s spiritual changes a the time. By this point? He was producing himself without the aid of Willie Mitchell-choosing instead to work with different associate producers. The result was music that often took different stylistic detours from his more personal stamp. “Wait Here”,from that aforementioned album,is just one such example.
The song begins with a heavy funky drummer with a powerful wah-wah guitar interacting with a low Clavinet playing the bass line. At the end of each chorus,there’s a musical break that features the chugging wah wah. On the bridge the guitar plays a countrified soul line with hot melodic horns that blast away throughout the remainder of the song-punctuating Green’s vocals as they go. On the final chorus of the song? Green himself plays a wailing and weeping guitar solo of the main vocal line that he used for rest of the song.
The musical genesis of this song is really compelling. It blends the basic melodic/rhythmic line from Sly & The Family Stone’s “Thank For Falettinme Be Mice Elf” with the keyboard harmonies of Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition”. Not only is Al Green blending two key elements of the early 70’s funk era during the disco era? But he adds his own spin to it. The melody,and in particular his closing guitar riff, dripping with the Southern fried 12 bar electric blues. Though it’s probably a somewhat forgotten groove? It’s one of his most compelling.
For the sake of its relative importance to this review,I do have a personal experience with Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings this year. I was watching 2013’s annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade-enjoying the usual parade of happy balloons and the floats,which often contained a musical act of course. Most of them were of course second tier teenpop acts of today. Some of then such as Ariana Grande were not actually half bad. But much to my surprise this band appeared performing “Ain’t No Chimney’s In The Projects”-an extremely atypical type of Christmas song to be appearing at such an event. Shortly after that I learned about the release of this particular album this year. No needless to say I was extraordinarily excited seeing as their last album,while excellent,was basically a collection of outtakes. Whatever the situation,this album is certainly not disappointing to me.
“Retreat” starts out the album with a hugely percussive stop-start rhythm with some lightening fast blues/funk chord changes. “Stranger To Happiness”, and “Get Up And Get Out” both deal with a strongly polished Motown styled uptempo sound while “You’ll Be Lonely”,with its stuttering guitar riffing and slow crawl,represents fine hard Crescent City style funk at some of its finest. “Now I See” goes into the horn heavy soul shuffle with a very strong roadhouse blues style melody-showing how strongly those musical ideas mingled together so well to begin with. “Making Up And Breaking Up” is a grandly performed balled with a beautifully reverbed multi-tracked vocal chorus for that otherworldly flavor. “Long Time,Wrong Time” has this strong electric piano Memphis gospel/soul-funk attitude with it’s stripped down atmosphere. “People Don’t Get What They Deserve” is fast paced Windy City style funk/soul “people music” frankly addressing the inequities between the econimic classes which,sadly,still continues the world over. “Slow Down Love” is a dynamic,horn break oriented ballad to close out this album.
Yes its short but,of course in the Daptone tradition the analog era minded flavor is maintained throughout. Of course two things album this album that I appreciate is the Dap Kings total devotion to their instrumental sound and songwriting. They always realize that its not only important to play “real instruments”,but also to have the creative vision to produce with with strong recording values and substantive lyrical content. Not only that but this is also a band that never ceases to emphasize uptempo funk and soul with prominent melodic content as well. As long as Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings are around,there’ll be very little chance that people will think of retro soul as some type of generational trend. This band is always emphasizing the instrumental and melodic importance/vitality that the mid/late 60’s style soul/funk process era which they’ve embraced had to offer. They’ve done that progressively more so with each of their progressive albums. Somehow or other,each and every time there is just a little more growth and a little more power to their approach. So I can only hope they’ll keep bringing the positive end of the soul and funk spirit out in their music for a long time to come!
“Welcome to a new weekly segment of my own here on Andresmusictalk! For the first posting of this particular segment, I wanted to offer some clarification on why this exists. My blogging partner Henrique Hopkins suggested to me that because my music reviews on Amazon.com give such a well rounded and detailed take on different musical albums,it would be a good idea to post them here in a blog format to bring extra attention to them. Not only did I feel this is a good idea to help inspire other Amazon reviewers to give themselves permission to give more well rounded discourse in their reviews,but will also give me a chance to showcase new music in that funk,soul and jazz vein that is making significant contributions to creative and cultural futurism. This blog will generally appear every Saturday-perhaps a New Music Tuesday edition might appear on Wednesday’s on occasion. Anyhow enjoy this new feature. Thank you!”
It was only a couple of weeks ago that I discovered Aloe Blacc’s previous album to this Good Things on sale at Bull Moose,the local record store in my neck of the woods. Wondered why an album already several years old would’ve been on sale at this particular point. When I looked up the Orange County native with the apparently Panamanian back round,I discovered an unusually multi talented artist. Unusual in the sense that,aside from being a singer/songwriter and pianist but also a trumpet player. Quite unusual to hear of anyone today in the soul/funk spectrum who would be able to recognize that two seemingly disparate sounding musical instruments would both contribute nicely to a one-man band rhythm section. Not only that but before his current signing to Interscope Records,Blacc was involved in a musical collective strongly pushing pro immigration causes. That humanistic element really got my ears braced for what I’d hear when I listened to this album.
“The Man” starts out the album,a wonderfully dynamic wall of sound type soul type anthem of empowerment that brings to mind a contemporary black man’s interpretation of the E-Street Band style arena rock ‘n soul sound-filled with gospel infused spirit and energy. This musical concept returns with even stronger results on “Here Today”. The Pharrell Williams produced “Love Is The Answer” is my personal favorite here-a cleanly played and lean bass/guitar driven dance/funk arrangement that pleads eloquently for caring over cynicism in today’s world with Blacc’s deep and bluesy Gil Scott-Heron like vocal style and phrasing. Though not produced by Pharrell “Can You Do This” evokes a Dap-Tone-like 60’s soul/funk tone similar to what Pharrell is currently doing on some of his songs. A version of his older song “Wake Me Up” is presented here in an acoustic country/folk style. “Chasing” evokes the reverb heavy uptempo gospel inspired Sam Cooke style late 50’s soul while the cinematic “The Hand Is Quicker” and to even more effect “The Hand Is Quicker” have a very deep Southern blues inflected gospel attitude. The album closes with the Memphis style country soul ballad of “Red Velvet Seat” and the almost Philly/Chicago style “sweet funk” groove of the grateful and passionate “Owe It All”.
Overall this is one of the most unconventional and far reaching albums I’ve heard made by a young black man in the new millennium. None of the music here is at all devoted to patronizing anything at all involving contemporary electronic hip-hop/dance style productions that dominates the soul/funk/R&B world of today still. Therefore it is not neo soul either. Nor is it a purely nostalgic retro project of any kind. This is a powerful and diverse album that manages to utilize completely modern musical production techniques and digital sound as a means of communicating what,for all intents and purposes,is something based entirely of the music of the deep Southern funk,soul and especially hard acoustic folksy blues flavors. Most importantly,he utilizes this soulfully rooted instrumental platform as a means to express a number of important lyrical messages-ranging from empowerment to the every changing moods within the ongoing battle of the sexes. His lyrical and melodic construction of his songwriting is strongly indicative of someone who realizes that a modern black male artist can possibly begin to innovate in the soul/funk spectrum without totally embracing the most juvenile elements of the mass market variant of hip-hop. And if this album is any indication,this is definitely an artist that admirers of rootsy soul/funk/blues/jazz will want to keep an eye on in the future!
-Originally written on March 11th,2014