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Andre’s Amazon Archive: ‘Nard’ by Bernard Wright (1981)

'Nard

After hearing “‘Nard” the one definitive impression you’ll have is that New York pianist Bernard Wright has a large number of musical influences ranging from Herbie Hancock,George Duke,Lenny White and of course Dave Grusin (his producer) and Miles Davis.But one thing the 16 year old musician does very well is find unique and creative ways of gathering his influences into his own special kind of musical sound.

Released on vinyl in 1981 on GRP “‘Nard” is at it’s core a funk-jazz album,but all that means is that the backup has a rhythmic R&B style over which Wright plays very memorable and often improvised solo’s on his acoustic piano,Fender Rhodes and sometimes the occasional synthesizer.But only on the spiky funk of “Just Chillin’ Out” and “We’re Just The Band” do synths play that big a part.

“Master Rocker”,”Spinnin'”,”Firebolt Hustle” and the jamming “Bread Sandwiches” are all based on a chunky backup of guitars,rhythms and often sudden melodic exchanges,that plus the comically absurd vocals of “Haboglabotribin'” brings up the George Duke connection.The general sound (especially on the one ballad in Weldon Irvine’s “Music Is The Key” showcases Bernard Wright as an artist with a firmly established 1970’s-based sound..

The electronic and glossy sheen of 1980’s style jazz-funk an R&B in general are not to be found in huge doses on ‘Nard’.But thanks I’m sure to poor promotion on GRP’s part this album (and artist in general) have gone almost forgotten until this CD reissue.I brought it only on customer recommendation and I couldn’t be more pleased with what I heard.And despite it’s often hefty price tag ‘Nard’ will be more then worth the investment.I recommend it not only as an ear pleasing guidebook for other aspiring young musicians but to any fan of late 70’s/early 80’s transitional jazz-funk in general.

Originally Posted On November 15th,2004

Link To Original Review Here!

 

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Filed under 1980's, Amazon.com, Bernard Wright, Dave Grusin, Fender Rhodes, GRP Records, jazz funk, Music Reviewing, piano, synthesizer

Leon Russell: 1942-2016-Thank You 4 Your Service,Leon!

Stop All That Jazz

Leon Russell had an extremely good early 70’s. Not only did he release a series of highly well received albums but he would collaborate with George Harrison and Bob Dylan on Concert for Bangladesh in 1972. The same year he wrote “This Masquerade”,a song which would several years later become a huge hit for George Benson. Leon,an Oklahoma native had a musical sound that was almost impossible to classify. There was a very heavy country/blues component to his sound. But he is also clearly a part of the singer-songwriter era.

And he is always open about expressing the strong jazz and soul aspects of his sound. On earlier albums it was that country-blues side of him that took presidents for the most part. For this 1974 album,Leon began using synthesizers in his music. He also bought in a trio of brothers named Ronnie,Robert and Charlie Wilson from Tulsa to back him up. These brothers than called themselves the Greenwood,Archer & Pine Band. Later this would be abbreviated into The Gap Band. This albums serves as their introduction to the world. And that’s fitting since it’s the beginning of an important music breakthrough for Leon himself.

The title of this album is not meant ironically since it is in fact a very jazz oriented album. But since this is Leon Russell we’re talking about here. He starts out the album with a stomping New Orleans style R&B version of “If I Were A Carpenter”. That particular side of this album stays with him on originals such as “Leaving Whipporwhill” and “Working Girl”. On “Smashed” this very pointed jazzy soul groove comes out of this sound once the Wilson’s begin participating. This is one of the albums strongest numbers. That plus a very like minded soul-jazz version of “Spanish Harlem”,filled with Ronnie Wilson’s soulful horn charts and the appropriate dash of Latin percussion.

“Streakers Ball” blends a bit of a stronger,funkier groove into this sound with the synthesizers providing some otherworldly electronic orchestral touches to the almost countrified soul groove. Now in terms of serious funk there’s a version of Bob Dylan’s “The Ballad Of Hollis Brown”. It’s a deep,uptempo,heavy bass and drum led funk march. With the Charlie Wilson’s vocal harmonies on full display the song is not quite full funk,or full blues or full gospel. But a hybrid strung together of the most powerful elements of all three. It’s unlike any other song I have heard before really. Closest comparison would be something like Rose Royce’s “First Come,First Served”.

The album ends with “Mona Lisa Smile” and the title song. Both are easy swinging jazz numbers,the latter with this heavy southern soul chorus blended in for good measure. The bonus tracks are some lush country-western takes on “Wild Horses” and a ho down of “Wabash Cannonball” sung with Willie Nelson. Especially with the bonus tracks,Leon Russell is out to do a lot of different things on this album. And he does. What keeps it from being a sloppy mess is that there is one strong unifying focus to everything on this album: that not so simple little factor of soul.

It’s part of everything from Leon’s…unique vocal style (an odd combination of Willie Nelson and Dr.John in a way) to the very way in which he composes,produces and arranges music. This album was recorded deep in the middle of what I will refer to as the funk era. And while it’s not an album defined by one particular genre,including funk,that particular musical era and the atmosphere it produced is evident from the very beginning of this album to the very end.
After hearing it,and it’s a very very difficult CD to track down I’ll tell you that,I have some trouble understanding why it’s not better liked than it is. It’s a carnival tent show of songs with a groove and directly in the eye of the groove. And the melodies and instrumentation are absolutely enchanting. It’s one of Leon Russell’s most musically and creatively potent works I’ve ever heard.

Will O' The Wisp

Now this album is not my introduction to the music of Leon Russel but it is as far as full length albums and,as far as I’m concerned there’s absolutely no disappointments to be heard. Now just to go back a bit to another point I made with a friend that,if one is looking for it you can easily find great funk in any aisle of a record store/department. It was a genre that consistently bled into rock,jazz,blues and during the mid 70’s the genre of funk was helping so much music to bleed together that it all came together (much as jazz’s creation from the outside) into a tasty musical gumbo with a lot of diverse herbs and spices of sound.

It’s not surprising with the Wilson Brothers’ (known today as The Gap Band) appearance on Leon’s previous album Stop All That Jazz that this was going to be the direction his music would continue to take and it did. The music on this album is a decidedly southern flavored blend of jazz,funk,country-soul,blues and excellent pop songwriting with some wonderfully fluid piano playing,occasional tasty sax riff and some wonderfully textural use of synthesizers. Some heavy duty funk such as “Little Hideaway”,”Make You Feel Good”,”Down On The Deep River” and the tasty groove of “Bluebird” really bring all of this together.

In addition all of these songs showcase the close back round harmonies of Mary McCreary,whose presence in both Leon’s music and life would grow only by leaps and bounds in the very short future. When you get to the elongated,percussive “Can’t Get Over Losing You”,”My Father’s Shoes”,”Stay Away From Sad Songs” and the tropically inclined harmonies of “Back To The Island” slow the funk down to a breath taking slow crawl in which the groove really has a chance to burn really hard.

Even though Leon was from Oklahoma and not New Orleans his music came out of a similarly torrid spirit as Dr.John,Allen Toussaint and The Meters and even though he never exactly gained the same type of recognition as any of those people this along with a handful of other excellent recordings Leon Russell made during his prime years would certainly put him easily in the same league.

 

Wedding Album

After the release of his excellent Will O’ the Wisp Leon Russell wed his backup singer Mary McCreary and the pair commemorated the event with a duet album between the two of them. One of the most exciting parts of the album is not only do the two share vocals on this album but Mary herself  a very active participant in this music with her new husband,playing synthesizer and percussion quite often and creating these beautifully elaborate choruses of back round vocals as well as her leads. The spirit of sharing and mutual cooperation,an integral component of any marriage lends itself here as a musical element as well.

Musically this album embraces styles Leon always had in his music as this is a full out funk-soul/R&B album with the textural synthesizers are enlarged in number,mixed far higher in the music and the melodic/harmonic arrangements of the music are more complex and elaborate. These songs are not in fact all too separated from what you might find on a Stevie Wonder,Smokey Robinson or Ashford & Simpson recordings of the period. The introductory song,the romantic “Rainbow In Your Eyes” is one of the very strongest and romantic songs Leon ever wrote.

The melodic keyboard/synth sound carries the song along with the intricate melody and it was so strong Al Jarreau covered the song very quickly on his album Glow of the same year,also opening the album with that song as well. The swelling “Love’s Supposed To Be That Way”,the cosmic sounding “Fantasy”,”Satisfy You” and “You Are On My Mind” all maintain the exact same level of quality and dynamic arrangements. Mary’s elastic,powerful vocalizing is a great combo with Leon’s tougher,rubbery singing style and the way they work them into the songs is just so wonderful to behold.

Unlike a lot of albums made after a musician gets married the intensity of the music actually increased in this case,largely because the couple were involved in making music and were already very experienced at doing so. “Lavender Blue (Dilly Dilly)” gets down into a heavy honky tonk/funk groove with Leon and Mary trading off some very meaty lyrics. On the midtempo “Quiet Nights” and “Windsong” the jazziness really gets going in the music. I would never call these songs sappy at all;they are beautifully cool and reflective in flavor and give both the music and vocals a chance to glide across each other smoothly.

“Daylight” closes the album again on a more uptempo melodic funk not. Considering it’s celebratory title this album fully lives up to it’s ambitions and concept in every way and upon hearing it I am very surprised it wasn’t more popular in it’s day than it was. Still it’s wonderful to have this very unsung and buried 70’s funk/soul masterpiece available (thanks to Wounded Bird again) and give modern listeners a chance to hear it with remastered sound and just the plain dignity of having it around again.

Leon and Mary Russell’s debut album together Wedding Album was a personal and musical triumph for everyone involved. So it seemed obvious that a fairly immediate follow up album was in order and they delivered one. At the very same time this is a completely different musical experience. Mary’s participation on this album on every front is somewhat played down as Leon gets a bit more involved. There’s more of a similarity to his earlier solo albums in parts and generally speaking is a mix of tunes similar in flavor to their debut album and some that follow Leon’s own musical lead a bit more.

“Easy Love” and the title song bare the most similarity to the previous album as somewhat uptempo soul/funk but the groove is a lot slicker and the synthesizer arrangements are a lot less thick overall. Still the music on these songs is every bit as brilliantly written as before. A good number of these songs such as “Joyful Noise”,”Now Now Boogie”,”Say You Will” and “Hold On To This Feeling” have a more organic,chunky honky tonk style funk groove more in keeping with some of the earlier Leon Russell solo albums and showcasing the band more than the individual styles of himself and Mary.

This album was released the same year as Saturday Night Fever so some of the style of disco does show up on a few of these tracks. Actually the ones that do;”Love Crazy” and “Love Is In Your Eyes” are harder edged disco-funk flavor tunes with some chunky,heavily processed Clavinet’s and some nasty rhythmic exchanges. The swoony romanticism of the previous album is replaced by a heavier sensual passion on this album and these two cuts display that more than others.

The last tune on the album features Mary the most on the somewhat psychedelisized Caribbean groove of “Island In The Sun”. As with the previous album there really are no bad cuts at all on this album. They’re all different though and that can be a wonderful thing often enough. In this case the pair require a cohesive musical concept to be their very best and this album doesn’t really possess that kind of cohesiveness so it’s only one star less powerful than the previous album.

 

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Filed under 1970's, country/soul, Funk, funky soul, Gap Band, Leon Russell, Mary McCreary, Music Reviewing

Andre’s Amazon Archive: ‘Changes’ by Charles Bradley

About five years ago,I got seriously into the whole Daptone label music scene. The whole theme they had was very authentically retro. It wasn’t just the instrumental style of the music that came out of it. It was the sound of the recordings,even the old school film based photographic style of cover art. Charles Bradley is their key male solo artist. And his chief musical influence was James Brown-even working part time impersonating the man. As for me I have his first two albums. And was very excited to pick up his third when it came out. Again,there’s no disappointment.

The album opens with a partially spoken word,organ/piano based version of “God Bless America” where Bradly discussed the pros and cons of being black in this country. “Good To Be Back Home” is stomping,bluesy funk with phat electric guitar and horn accents throughout. “Nobody But You”,the title song,”Crazy For Your Love” and the closer “Slow Love” are all reverbed guitar heavy ballads.

“Ain’t Gonna Give You Up” is a thick,slow deep funk groove with a bee like synthesizer buzzing. “Things We Do For Love” is a brightly melodic uptempo gospel/soul number filled with multiple backup singers and “You Think I Don’t Know (But I Know” has the same vibe about it. “Change For The World” is an brief late 60’s/early 70’s Ike Hayes like psychedelic funk message song warning about the revival of segregationist racial behavior.

In a lot of ways,this might just be the very best album Charles Bradley has made thus far. The backup instrumentation of instrumentals such as the Budos Band provide a sound that is squarely in both the deep Southern soul and psychedelic funk sound of the late 60’s. The vocals and arrangements are full of enormous drama as well. Bradley’s voice,especially on his impassioned howls,are echoed intensely throughout nearly every song here. With a large focus on uptempo songs,this really brings out the full power of what this artist has had to offer up musically from his very outset.

Originally posted on April 8th,2016

Link to original review here!

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Filed under 2016, Amazon.com, Budos Band, Charles Bradley, Dap Tone, Funk, funk albums, funky soul, Music Reviewing, new music

Andre’s Amazon Archive: ‘Wild And Peaceful’ by Kool & The Gang (1973)

Wild And Peaceful

It would take a very long time to even begin to explain why I’ve neglected purchasing this album for such a long time. It would also take a long time to explain my viewpoints on funk music at this point. All I can say is this. A friend of mine once described funk as the “punk music of the black community”,mainly in the sense it was the hardest edge (and by and large most sociopolitical) of the soul music genre. Difference was funk required a very high level of musicianship,usually in a band context to bring out the best in it.

When this album came out Kool & The Gang had been a musically successful recording and performing band for almost half a decade. And had released loads of excellent music,both in the studio and live. But something clicked with this release. It was the “united funk” era. And the music in every sense was in it’s peak period. And this is one of a slew of albums that represents that.

This album got three big pop chart hits for Kool & The Gang,their first if I recall with “Funky Stuff”,”Jungle Boogie” and “Hollywood Swinging”. These songs are 100% first period era K&TG: with the heavy horns,dynamic rhythms and these looseness of playing that defined the bands sound. Aside from that this albums goes deep into another important factor of the funk. Though almost a breezy ballad the conversational “Heaven At Once” finds an adult and teenage man engaged in a dialog over what they should expect of themselves in society.

“This Is You,This Is Me” offers a really charged up rhythmic section,with a churning bass/guitar and the message of “in the ghetto I’ve never seen a tree/this is you/this is me” indicating funks central message of the celebration of difference rather than us all being alike. On “Life Is What You Make It”,it’s a very upbeat and empowering groove. The album ends on the 9+ minute title song,a soothing jazz oriented instrumental number giving members Spike and Dee Tee,on trumpet and flute respectively more chances to solo.

In a way this album links one era of Kool & The Gang to the next. Earlier on in their career,before this album they’d been a band that emphasized instrumentation more than vocals. Their vocal set up was even looser than their sound was. Even when the harmonies were looking to be close. They seemed to be a band more about music than getting pop hits. Somewhere along the line with this album,pop hits found them. Although in two cases on songs that had a very implicit sexual impulse and one that celebrated their success.

At least I’d like to hop it attracted people to the album because the non hit material is often what has the most musical and lyrical value. The message of this album is one that the band would continue on with over the next several albums: a strong awareness of Afrocentric spirituality and a call for unity among all those deemed as unique. This was the conclusion of one era for the band but the beginning of another. But that’s another story.

Originally posted on July 25th,2012

Link To Original Review Here*

 

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Filed under 1970's, Amazon.com, classic albums, classic funk, Funk, jazz funk, Kool & The Gang, Music Reviewing

‘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

‘Spirit’ Turns 40-Earth Wind & Fire Discovering What Imagination Could Do

Spirit

Earth Wind & Fire’s seventh studio album Spirit turns 40 in the month of September. Which by no coincidence to me considering that was the name of one of EWF’s major hit records a couple years later. Its also no coincidence today that my personal thoughts are on the now departed Maurice White-founder and conceptualist of the band. This album was released when EWF,following up their breakthrough album That’s The Way Of The World with its first proper studio followup,lost Charles Stepney to a heart attack at the beginning of the sessions for this album.

The sad part about this album was that the band members were mourning the loss of what amounted to a un-credited member in Stepney. He helped arrange for Ramsey Lewis when Maurice White drummed for his trio. And was the key to EWF’s breakthrough hits “Shining Star”,”That’s The Way Of The World” and ‘Reasons”. His production style matched White’s Unitarian style spirituality and positively inspiring lyrics. At the same time,I am reminded of a quote that my friend Henrique’s father once told him: what we don’t see is our opportunity.

In that “spirit”,the positive part about this album is that Maurice White could showcase all that he’d learned from working with Charles Stepney as a producer for the past few years. That’s because he’d be producing this album himself. And with the band,Phenix Horns and guest players such as Dorothy Ashby,Harvey Mason and Tom Tom 84,he had the wherewithal to extend on the sound Stepney had laid out for the band. I am listening while writing this to a vinyl copy of this album given to me by another beautiful human being with an amazing record collection named Scott Edwards.

Spirit is an album I’ve listened to on three formats: first cassette tape,then CD and now in its original vinyl release. As I do I think of the energies of Maurice White and Charles Stepney in an unknown world-back together creating a type of music that we the living will not hear. Also thinking of Maurice’s own words about the album being very hard to get through. This is expressed in his dedication to Stepney on the inner sleeve. He describes him having left to the next place-leaving behind much beauty and inspiration to feed upon. On a musical level,here’s what I wrote on Amazon.com about this album


Even though it was a hit there were many elements of their 1975 breakthrough that hadn’t quite defined how EWF would develop in the future. Between the sleek,very live and mic’d up production on this album and the astounding arrangements this album,coming mid decade during the bicentennial year (a great year for funk in general,by the way) this actually was the beginning of the sound most people during the late 70′ associate with EWF and also the middle ground between their mid and late 70’s period.

“Getaway” really points the way to the future as the rhythm becomes more elaborate and the funk grows a bit faster. One would be hard pressed to find a song more determinedly and genuinely positive minded than “On Your Face” and,also the chunky rhythms and point on horns and hand claps tell as much of the story of the vocals. This is also an excellent place to hear both Philip Bailey AND Maurice White singing in falsetto at the same time.

“Imagination” is one of the all time triumphs of Philip Bailey’s career as a vocalist and the orchestration and dynamic arrangement is indeed poetic and imaginative,showing once and for all with all the right parts in place how glorious mid tempo R&B/funk was and how much that style contributed to the genre during this period. The title track is a mass of layered keyboard parts and rhythms that was intended as a tribute to Stepney but also serves as a tribute to the human spirit in general.

“Saturday Night”,upon first listening comes off as a somewhat slicker production of “Shinning Star” but the upbeat hooks easily give it away as a totally different song. There’s even a tune here named for the band itself,another dynamically orchestrated mid tempo funk arrangement that puts into the play the entire manifesto of the band,a blend of their different varieties of spirituality set into something that comes very much from a terrestrial source.

“Biyo” is a very interesting instrumental as it does strongly anticipate the disco sound of the next several years but also shows you how essential funk is to that genre,kind of sealing the concept that disco was less a music than it was merely a dance style based on a certain variation of funk. “Burnin’ Bush” takes another dynamic arrangement and brings to everyone,non Christians included an interpretation of a biblical event interpreted EWF style.

Because of this albums far reaching musical and lyrical themes it’s very hard to figure out how exactly this kind of music would be totally erased from the pop charts a decade later-barely ever to return at all. I cannot say exactly why or how;there are too many reasons to go into but the fact this did exist in the context it did is likely a lesson in and of itself.


My own personal experience with this album is itself having an anniversary this year-the 20th in fact. Since I first experienced this fully during the summer of 1996 when I picked up the CD. Spirit did succeed at maintaining EWF’s mid/late 70’s commercial winning streak-with songs such as “Getaway”,”On Your Face” and “Saturday Night”. On the other hand,there was just something almost intangibly special about this album. The melodies,vocals,how they are arranged and played on are some of the most beautifully soulful and funky ones EWF ever made. And for me,that is Spirit‘s enduring legacy.

 

 

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Filed under 1976, Amazon.com, Charles Stepney, classic albums, classic funk, Earth Wind & Fire, Maurice White, message songs, Music Reviewing, Philip Bailey

Sonny Rollings Hold The Stage,For The Forth Time: An Overview By Ron Wyn

Sonny Rollins

Today at 2:25 PM

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Filed under Bobby Broom, concerts, Jazz, jazz icons, Live music, Music Reviewing, Ron Wynn, Sonny Rollins

‘Come’ At 22: If Prince Had A Chance To See The Future,Would He Try?

Come

Prince’s 1994 release Come is,in actuality,part of a series of records released to fulfill his contract with Warner Bros. 1993 was a very prolific year for Prince in much the same way that 1986 had been. Much of this material saw release throughout the middle of the 90’s. Come  is a dark album,often dealing with uncomfortable topics such as racism and child abuse. Even if some of the compositions had a gloomy atmosphere,Prince actually brought out some strong jazz,industrial and hip-hop hybrids into his funky grooves on this album. Here’s an Amazon.com review I did on this album five years ago:


It would likely be hard pressed to find any part of Prince’s career more enigmatic and provocative as the mid 1990’s. The man was dealing with not only a battle for creative autonomy from Warner Brothers because apparently,he didn’t have as much control over the financial aspects of his music than we actually thought. At the same time there was a personal change occurring within him and these two factors came together in a name change to an unpronounceable symbol that would begin his liberation from the excesses of the recording industry.

This decision earned him a lot of negative attention in the press. And commercially? Well it was almost the musical equivalent of “jumping the shark”. But Prince was on a mission,away from his name and himself and this album,clocked in artwork resembling a gravestone reflected this mission. Musically however,it’s a whole other story. There’s been so much time passed since I fully absorbed this that I forgot what a funky album this actually was.

Likely recorded during his 1993 battle with Warner’s from the production values of it,the title song features a 10 minute JB type horn funk send up with some production nods to the jazz-hip-hop fusion of the day. Really a very musically incredible tune. “Pheromone” and “Papa” are every bit as funky,while both taking on very dark and serious issues such as (what sounds like) cocaine in the former and (definitely) child abuse,very explicitly in the latter,with Prince stating at the end “Don’t beat your kids or they’ll end up like me”. “Space” is rather a melodic 90’s variation on funky-soul,not outside the spectrum of what TLC were doing at this particular time.

“Loose!” is one of the most musically aggressive songs Prince has ever done with it’s mixture of industrial house and speed metal. “Race” again finds Prince in his hip-hop/funk places with another strong number,this time taking on the issue of race in a more direct manner than before,even taking on the whole “our blood is the same” racial universalism concept head on. “Letitgo” explores similar territory only with a tad bit more of a deeper bottom. “Dark” is an excellent contrast,a warm and melodic retro-southern soul ballad with lyrics that couldn’t be more opposite.

“Solo” finds Prince poetically musing in near a cappella cries and growls over a harp like sound while the ending “Orgasm” is…well too descriptive in it’s graphic depiction of voyeurism. But that’s nothing new for Prince is it? I’ve heard this album be accused many times of being derivative, boring and an album released only to fulfill a contract and embark on his own creative pursuits . Honestly I’m not sure how Prince could do that. It’s just not part of his musical oeuvre.

And he doesn’t do it here one bit. It’s no accident that he at last decided to release his shelved 1987 recording Black Album‘ this same year. On the crawl up into middle age at this point,aside from the personal changes he was dealing with Prince was in a position to put his music back in the harder funk direction he began his career with. Not only that but again he was playing up the somewhat darker side of his emotional and carnal fantasies much the same as he had in the late 80’s. And that’s what he did with this album as well.


One interesting fact about this album is that,from the cover/jacket artwork to the lyrical progression these songs tend to have,its almost a eulogy of Prince’s life up to that point. Considering the man is not with us anymore,this album finds him staging his own fictive funereal as his O(+> persona was about to emerge. During the time I was just getting into Prince on album based terms,this was one of his (then) newer albums that really interested me. And considering that the 90’s would be such an on and off decade for Prince,this album stands the test of time in some surprising and unique ways.

 

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Filed under 1990s, Amazon.com, hip-hop funk, hip-hop jazz, Industrial funk, Music Reviewing, O(+>, Prince, The Artist Formerly Known As Prince, Uncategorized, Warner Bros.

Never Too Much At 35 : The Sugar And Spice Of Luther Vandross

Never Too Much

Luther Vandross is someone whom I’ve come to view as the 80’s era Smokey Robinson. His focus was on the sensitive male soul singer of the 70’s era Thom Bell variety. At the same time, he over a decade of experience as a backup singer before his performance on the band Change’s song “The Glow Of Love”. This in turn led to his solo debut album in 1981’s Never Too Much. This album turns 35 today. Vandross had a difficult time crossing over throughout his life.  But this debut is one of his most defining for many reasons. Here’s an Amazon.com review I wrote five years ago about some of those reasons.


Considering that,similar in manner to the career of Huey Lewis that it took over a decade for the musical career of Luther Vandross to really take off it may also come as no surprise I also got into him rather late. My first exposure to this album came from a cassette tape I found at a yard sale almost a decade and a half ago. At the time what I knew of Luther’s musical accomplishments came from books. Honestly? The album had a pretty near instant appeal when I first heard it.

Considering the fact I was at that point already deeply interest in early 80’s post-disco urban funk/soul and the music of Marcus Miller for that matter,that too was a plus. Two things surprise me. For one,I apparently haven’t reviewed this album I’ve listened to many many times before. Not only that but in the time I’ve listened to this on both tape and CD how much every part of it just gets better and better with the passing of time.

Especially considering the late Vandross’s reputation as a balladeer the music on this album is primarily based in uptempo urban funk. It’s full of great guitar/bass interaction and plenty of heavy popping bass from Marcus Miller. The title song is a great debut hit for Vandross,sophisticated jazzy funk/soul pop with a great guitar line,a popping bass,terrific arrangement and powerful hook.

Even though it wasn’t a hit,the major key “Suger And Spice” has a really heavy bass/guitar rhythm and some great soul/gospel type back round chorus including Vandross himself. “I’ve Been Working” blends in this album Donald Fagen type rock and soul shuffle with one of Vandross’s most powerful vocals on the whole album. “She’s A Super Lady” is basically “Jump To It” mark 1,with this great drum/bass funk break at the beginning from Marcus and Buddy Williams.

While the slow funk grooves of “Don’t You Know That” and “You Stopped Loving Me” are the best slower numbers here to me I’ve actually warmed up a lot to “A House Is Not A Home”. This elongated cover is actually very tastefully and sparingly done,with Vandross actually incorporating some near acapella and bittersweet vocal breaks,particularly near the end. For a debut album this is very effective. It’s fully arranged even though it primarily emphasizes the music of the five core musicians involved.

Not only that but it’s a true showcase for Vandross’s writing and producing talents. Because of the sensitive and sassy nature of his writing,his style in that area lent itself very well (stereotypically that is) to producing for female talent. Most famously Aretha Franklin. And while I enjoy all of Luther’s music on different levels,this album still holds a special place in my heart. And I am sure many others as well.


One of the things about this album that keeps endearing it to me is how much it focuses on Luther Vandross: the funk based post disco soul/pop uptempo artist. For one thing,big time jazz/funk players such as Nat Adderley Jr. and slap bazz maestro Marcus Miller are all over this album. And mixed up high on all these songs. While the melodic singability of Vandross’s writing,producing and arranging are all over this album,its truly amazing how much he was making gospel drenched soul and funk the major priority on his very first solo album. And that’s why its such a special album to me,for what it is.

 

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Filed under 1980's, Amazon.com, classic albums, funky soul, Luther Vandross, Marcus Miller, Music Reviewing, Nat Adderley Jr, Never Too Much, pop funk, post disco, slap bass

Betty Davis-They Say She’s Different

Betty Davis

Betty Davis,nee’ Mabry was one of the few women deeply involved in the late 60’s/early 70’s funk process. This was both on a professional and personal level. She recorded her first single in 1964,and her work with the Chambers Brothers in 1967 prompted her to take the focus off her successful modelling career because she felt singing/songwriting challenged her mind more,stating “its only going to last as long as you look good”. She also had a relationship with Hugh Masakela and a marriage to Miles Davis. By these associations she was a key figure for helping launch the jazz/funk fusion genre.

She introduced Miles Davis to the music of Jimi Hendrix and Sly Stone-as well as to the people themselves. She was also as much of a fashion icon as Davis was. He produced her second major recording sessions (her first being in 1964) in the late 60’s before they divorced. Just about every liberated Afrocentric female artist from Chaka Khan,Grace Jones to Rihanna owe their persona’s to hers. Her second solo was called They Say I’m Different. Aside from the medium tempo tempo closer “Special People”,the rest of this 1974 album is hardcore uptempo funk/rock. Here’s my Amazon.com review of the album:


Betty Davis is an artist I’ve been hearing a lot of hype about for years.’They Say I’m Different’ is an album I’ve been hearing about forever as well.I was almost entirely certain there was no way that this album could possibly live up to the hype.Well when Light In The Attic records decided to put this out on CD,…..well to put it mildly this MORE then lived up to it’s long held mystique and hype.The best way to describe this music is unhinged and unpolished funk.EVERY song on it fits that description.As for Betty Davis’s singing,it lays somewhere between the the styles of Tina Turner,Sly Stone and Janis Joplin.

All of the songs celebrate her liberated spirit but there’s one that just blows you away in less then a second.”He Was A Big Freak”…….I don’t know WHAT MAN she was referring to but she really paints herself as a wild,wild funky diva BIG TIME here;she wails out about her “man” who enjoys being tied up.The Ohio Players did a lot of S&M based album art at the this time but TALKING OPENLY ABOUT IT,A FEMALE FUNK SINGER?And it never seems like a gimmick either because you actually believe she lived a lot of the “wild style” she speaks about.And the grooves on that and every other song here are as raw a funk as you’re probably ever going to hear.


With  the likes of Azteca’s Pete Escovedo on percussion and Graham Central Station’s Hershall Happiness Kennedy on keyboards and trumpet,this album turned out to be the second of only a trio of albums Davis released during the 1970’s. With the  documentary ‘Nasty Gal-The Many Lives Of Funk Queen Betty Davis” currently in production, the life of this influential and captivating personality may come to the fore. As it stands, Davis is a key reference point in the jazz/funk music that this blog stands for. And am happy to wish Davis a very funky 71st birthday today!

 

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Filed under 1960's, 1970's, Afrocentrism, Amazon.com, Betty Davis, Betty Mabry, funk rock, Hershall Happiness Kennedy, jazz funk, Miles Davis, Music Reviewing, Pete Escovedo, Uncategorized