Tag Archives: Prince

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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Prince’s Crystal Ball: Celebrating 20 Years Since The Minneapolis Genius Opened His Musical Floodgates Of The Past

Prince hasn’t been with us for two years now. And there’s a lot talk about in regard to his vault of unreleased music at Paisley Park. It was one of the very first things I personally learned about the man in the late 90’s. Prince wasn’t releasing a lot of new music at that time. Likely because of his messy legal battles with Warner Bros. While the heat was dying down on that later in the decade,he actually seemed to be dipping into the vault quite a bit when it came to his newer releases. During this time, Prince also launched his earliest website and 1-800-NEW-FUNK phone service.

Prince offered up a multi disc boxed set that endeavored to officially release some of his most sought after material from his vault. The title track is full on psychedelic funk-with very tribal drum patterns and atonal flute at various points. “Dream Factory”,the Linn drum powered groove of “Movie Star” (which Prince proudly announces in the liner notes as “D’Angelo’s favorite bootleg”) ,the cinematic soul ballad “Crucial”,the demo jazzy funk groove of “Last Heart” and the acapella “An Honest Man” all derive from his massive 1986 era music production.

“Sexual Suicide” and “Good Love” derive from an unreleased album he’d credit to the name Camille-both utilizing strong hard funk,and the former with strong wah wah powered synths. “Cloreen Bacon Grease” heals from the sessions for The Time’s sophomore album in 1982-nothing but 15 minutes of funky drumming,bass and Morris Day humorously jiving lyrically. Because Prince was intending to release a triple album in 1986 with this same title,what surprised me is how much of this material gave from the first few years of him recording with the New Power Generation.

Some of these songs such as “Acknowledge Me”,”18 & Over”,remake of “P Control”, and “Poom Poom” are heavily bound to hip-hop beats . ‘2tomorrow” showcases him picking up on Miles Davis’s style of jazz hip-hop. A Shock G remix of “Love Sign” (featuring a clever sample of his own “DMSR” in the rhythm) has a G-funk friendly vibe. The NPG find some time to get seriously funky however on “Hide The Bone”,the stripped down “What’s My Name?”,’Calhoun Square”,the Sly Stone inspired “Make Your Mama Happy” and the P-Funk inspired duck face bass heavy “Days Of Wild (Free The Slave)”.

There’s also a clutch of ballads in the soulful, wah wah/horn driven “So Dark”,a wedding song for Maybe Garcia called “She Gave Her Angels” and “Goobye”. You also have the hard rock/blues shuffle of “Da Bang”-with it’s interludes of atonal guitars and the psychedelic soundscape of “Strays Of The World”. Prince is singing the straight up blues on “The Ride”,recorded live while “Get Loose” gets a live instrumental treatment without the industrialist electronics of the original while “Ripopgodazippa” deals with a modernistic pop/reggae rhythm-which has some heavily jazzy horn phrasings.

“Tell Me How U Wanna B Done” is a fast paced “hip-house” style dance number. This set was originally released in two configurations. Both added additional music to the 3 CD set. The store purchasable version added a new folk/blues based album called ‘The Truth’-and this is the version I own. The version only available over the 1-800-NEW-FUNK phone number also added a ballet Prince wrote and composted with Claire Fischer entitled Karmasutra. I never had this version of the album. But do have deep memories of an 18th birthday trip to NYC during the early summer.

Found this at the Tower Records in Manhattan. It felt very lucky to find this album,since there was never much talk about it coming out in record stores at the time. Musically speaking,this may be presented as an full album. But it’s actually an anthology style set. My only personal issue with it is that the songs are not presented in chronological order. With an artist as eclectic as Prince was,a sense of continuity in presenting his unreleased material showcased his musical evolution and experimentation.

On this album, a heavy JB style funk number from 1986 might be followed by a gruff rap/hip-hop number from 7-8 years later-for example. Honestly to me? It would’ve been more appropriate to concentrate on his often brilliant 80’s outtakes than showcasing so much from a then-present which…frankly haven’t worn well with age. But in terms of the funk,hip-hop/jazz,ballad and blues/rock exercises throughout this set? There are many treasures to be heard through this crystal ball.

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Prince’s ‘For You’ At 40 Years: A Debut Of Love, Sincerity & Deepest Care

Prince Rogers Nelson arrived at the tail end of the 70’s-during the era when P-Funk and jazz funk artists such as George Duke (both his musical heroes at the time) were in the throws of their peak grooves. With Stevie Wonder having hit his peak, and Shuggie Otis having not quite reached it,  Prince emerged as the barely 20 year old “wunderkind” from Minneapolis. As with a number of musicians before him,  Prince was insistent on doing it all right from the get go. Writing,producing-even down to playing all the instruments. Musicians like Wonder before him had a decade of preparation to get to that creative independence.

Prince was apparently so confidant in what he was doing, he stipulated all of this in his recording contract before he got started.  What is important on For You is that even in the very beginning, Prince wasn’t trying to change the face of music itself. He definitely had his musical influence. But he didn’t exactly where them on his sleeve either. Instead, he elected to integrate them into his own unique soul/funk style. This album introduced that style of music that would later be called the Minneapolis sound. With Prince playing all the instruments that sounds main trademark was the multi-tracking of synthesizers.

In the late 70’s, Prince’s arsenal of synthesizers included  Oberheim’s, ARP’s and Polymoog’s. These were polyphonic instruments that allowed him to create his own heavily harmonized electronic soul symphonies. It’s sort of an extension on what Wonder did with TONTO earlier in the decade-only in a somewhat more cinematic style. Most of this album’s sound is built largely on harmony over rhythm:Prince at the drums and Prince playing guitar while his multi-tracked vocal and synthesizer harmonies fit very nicely into that rhythmic backdrop.

And even for that this album, especially for a debut, is very much a magical experience. Prince sings all the songs in his dreamily soulful falsetto voice. After the a capella title track,consisting of nothing but harmonized vocalizing we come to the almost trance like synth funk of “In Love” where we get the first of one of Prince’s famous lines “I really wanna play in your river”. The closest this album came to a hit single is the stop-and-start funk of “Soft And Wet” which contains what sounds like a pretty jazzy, improvised synth solo in the bridge of the song.

Prince always cited Joni Mitchell as an enormous musical influence on him and songs like “Crazy You” and “So Blue” with it’s water drums, fretless bass riffs and acoustic guitar riffs have roots very much in…say something like Hissing of Summer Lawns,an Joni album Prince exhibits a special fondness for. Both of these songs also possess a strong Brazilian jazz flavor at their core. The emotionally naked ballad “Baby” finds Prince baring his heart to his lover whom apparently learned she has become pregnant. His lyrical tone on the song also maintains a sensitivity in its earnestness.

“Just As Long As We’re Together” and the more mid tempo “My Love Is Forever” both have the strong Carlos Santana guitar sound that Prince always cited. And both would fit well sound wise on Santana’s late 70’s albums such as Inner Secrets or Marathon. And even more in that vein would be the fierce guitar fueled funk rocker “I’m Yours”. A lot of people have criticized this album for being both un melodic and boring. Those are two things this album definitely is not. As a matter of fact that may be why a lot of people don’t like it as much as later Prince albums.

The harmonics and melodies on this album are somewhat overwhelming at times. And the production of For You was apparently so elaborate, Prince blew the entire budget he was given on his first three albums on this one project. I’ve long speculated with friends that this reality might’ve led to the more famous stripped down variation of MPLS funk of Prince’s hit period.  As with Bernie Worrell before him, Prince made the still relatively new synthesizer his own personal orchestra..  That factor was already so well established on this album, it’s more than worth a second notice.

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#princeday LIVES: “The Dance Electric” (1984)

Prince’s expanded edition of  his breakthrough album Purple Rain is said to have been the last full musical project he ever worked on. My former blogging partner Zach Hoskins went into beautiful detail on the early reported contents of the album. There is one aspect to this 1984 album I brought out before though. The original albums contents,even according to some members of the Revolution,was a new wave dance/rock album with very little funk or soul influence. With the inclusion of vault material recorded during these sessions, the expanded addition of Purple Rain has changed that.

In August 1984, Prince recorded an 11+ piece just two days before “The Screams Of Passion”,which would eventually be given to The Family.  Its been said Prince gifted the song to Andre’ Cymone after his mother asked him if Andre’ could record it-Andre’ apparently being “too proud” to do so. Andre’ then recorded his vocals for the song and released it on his AC album in 1985. It became a major success for Andre’. For years, Prince enthusiasts I’ve talked to have been hoping to hear Prince’s original version of the song. And now they can. The name of this song,of course is “The Dance Electric”.

A thick set of combined Linn Drum rhythms-filled with Minneapolis style flanger,shuffle and echoed claps begins the song cold. No decisive intro. And it stays there for the entirety of the song. Each clap is accompanied by a round synth bass tone. On the first chorus, high pitched and brittle synth strings are accompanied by a wiry wah wah guitar and laser beam like space synths moving between each segment. Every few choruses, the song strips back down to the the drum and synth bass intro. On the bridge,the laser synths and rhythm guitar take precedence before the extended chorus fades it all out.

There’s a distinct possibility that “The Dance Electric” is the most powerful piece of funk to emerge out of the sessions for the Purple Rain. I have no doubt Prince had every intention of releasing his version,even as a B-side,if his childhood friend hadn’t asked for it. The song is reminiscent of Alexander O’Neal’s 1987 number “Fake”. The overall rhythm of the groove is a punishing kind of funk. Its an end of the Minneapolis sound that finds the one right off. And lets that take the song exactly where it wants it to go. Its a great funky delight to hear Prince’s version of this officially available now.

 

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#princeday LIVES: “Stare” (2015)

Prince’s final album Hitnrun Phase Two , to me anyway, still lives in the shadows as the Prince swansong it was never intended to be. It was a completely different album than the more contemporary pop centered first volume in the series. This was generally a live band album featuring a 28 member lineup of the NPG-very likely the largest lineup of that band Prince ever had. It also featured contributions from other artists such as Ledisi and Cassandra Wilson. The oddest part about the album was that it was released on CD only a couple of weeks following Prince’s passing.

The album was originally only released digitally through Tidal,in a bundle with the first volume of the series, at the end of 2015. Up until April of the next year, it was slowly released for sale on CD in different places and venues. In particular at the Paisley Park gala performance of Prince’s Piano & A Microphone tour. With absolutely no bias on my part, I found Hitnrun Phase Two to be the strongest album of his 2014-2016 comeback period. Especially in terms of funkiness and musicianship. The song that stands out to both Henrique Hopkins and myself is “Stare”.

Prince starts out with a hard hitting slap bass line-starting out slowly and speeding up on the final part of its bar. This hefty bass run provides the basis for the entire groove. After the unaccompanied intro,the drum plays every rhythm change within the bass line. The NPG Hornz and Prince’s low rhythm guitar each accent these changes with ever more elaborate variations as the song progresses. There’s even a sample of “Kiss”‘s opening rhythm guitar early on. The bridge of the song is basically a false fade-followed up by an emphasis before the song comes to an actual dead stop.

“Stare” finally allows every type of funk that Prince ever dealt with coming into its full flower. It has his live band funk style he’d been perfecting on and off since the late 80’s. But also has the digitized crunch of his earlier electronic grooves even with the live instrumentals used for this. This also emphasizes the hard slap bass more than most band oriented Prince funk,which was generally paced on a higher pitched rhythm guitar sound that isn’t present here. Its funky,stripped down,Minneapolis and all the way Prince. And as it turned out,as good a funky swansong as one is likely to get.

 

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#princeday 2017 Part 2: “Controversy” (1981)

Prince’s image and attitude always went right along with his music. Talking to friends like Henrique today, its a bit easier to notice how obviously Prince carried on the tradition of “freaky” black American artists such as Little Richard. Especially in the early 80’s,Prince wore the clothes of a European dandy,very frilly hairstyles and lots of makeup. While this fit right into the new wave androgyny of the era, some adherents to Reagan era conservatism felt that Prince’s image and blatant lyrical sexuality would send his listeners down an alienating direction in life.

This type of attitude is nothing new against the rock world that,by 1981,Prince was positioning himself to be a part of. But Prince was at his core a funk artist too. And therefore had the same understanding James Brown and George Clinton had of what I’ll refer to as “calculated prettiness”-using wardrobe and image to showcase self control. For his part,Prince decided to record an album that addressed his observations and the perceptions of him for his fourth album. And it was introduced in a tremendous way by its opening title song called “Controversy”

A blast of high synth brass starts out the groove. Followed by a round,brittle synth bass pulse and a marching drum. That soon becomes a steady funk beat with a driving rhythm guitar/bass interaction and bass synthesizer playing the melody. That’s the basic groove of the entire song. On the choruses,the chords go up a key or so and the synths become more orchestral in nature. On two of the bridges,one of which is vocal,the drum/bass and rhythm guitar is the store of the show. On another later in the song, it reduces down more to the synth as the song fades out.

Lyrically the song progresses right along with each part of the naked,stripped down groove. Prince begins by asking the same questions of himself others ask of him: “am I straight or gay”,”was it good for you,was I all you wanted me to be”. On the first bridge,he’s suddenly reciting the Lords Prayer rather reverently. By the end,he’s chanting “people call me rude/I wish we all were nude/I wish there was no black or white/I wish there were no rules”. Prince also sings the majority of this song in his lowest vocal registers-in particular his bass vocal end.

“Controversy”, both musically with its stripped down Minneapolis funk and lyrical self manifesto, could easily be Prince’s “theme song”. As jazz critic Gary Giddins said of Louis Armstrong once,only the great artists are given or write that song that epitomizes them so strongly. This was the very first Prince song my boyfriend Scott ever heard. Controversy would end up becoming a qualifier that would be used to describe Prince and his musical art on many occasions throughout his career. And he really set that whole thing up right here in the funkiest way possible.

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#princeday 2017: “Let’s Work” (1981)

Prince was someone who,for my entire childhood was viewed by me and my family as a rock artist. The promotion of him through the rock press (as well as Prince himself) did seem to foster this impression further. During the 1990’s when I began to understand funk as a musical genre, Prince’s music re-entered my life in a much more serious way. When listening to a lot of his earlier music,it became clear that his music was based in funk. He was an amazing and even sometimes underrated rock soloist. But he focused generally on music with a sleek and spare groove known as the Minneapolis Sound.

Prince would have turned 59 today. Still seems strange that,as my friend Henrique points out many times,that jam fans cannot say “we still have Prince around” anymore. And as tiresome as this is to keep pointing out, Prince’s posthumous musical presence online is still just beginning to branch out the way it deserves to. After this years Grammy Awards tribute to Prince,online streaming service Spotify (along with several other such services) did do us a favor by placing his Warner Bros era music back up to listen to. Thanks to them,am now able to present an overview of Prince’s 1981 jam “Let’s Work”.

A four beat drum count in begins the song. After this, Prince and the band are heard singing the songs title over a slow and steady funk beat-two beats accenting on in the middle. The vocals play call and response with a brittle,high pitched synth horn burst-an extension of which has a flanger effect. Than the 6 note slap bass with variations comes in-accenting by the same synth horns for most the refrain. Those synth horns become much more horn charts on the choruses. After a reboot of the songs intro,that same chorus follows the song to the drum machine segue out of it.

“Let’s Work” is one of those songs that defines Prince’s distinct Minneapolis funk sound during the very late 70’s and early 80’s. Generally only two instruments are heard at any one time. So the funk is very condensed instrumentally. At the same time,the sounds of the synthesized horn blasts and charts,along with the iconic chunky slap bass line, showcase a strong understanding of the depth of funk’s groove,it’s “rhythmic nucleus” as it were. It was also one of his most commercially successfully early 80’s funk numbers as well. That makes it a defining moment in the Minneapolis sound as a whole.

 

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Prince-One Year Later: “She Spoke 2 Me” (1991)

Prince developed a carefully crafted persona as a man of mystery. That extended far into his music as well. If one looks at any Prince based website today, he seems to have revealed uneven information on his recording sessions: when he made what and who played with him if applicable. What is well established is that he’d recorded dozens of songs for each album,as many artists actually do. And siphon off the cream of that crop for the album in question. This is a likely case involving a song I’ve enjoyed by him since hearing it during the mid 90’s.

On the soundtrack for the Spike Lee Joint Girl 6,one song that every single member of my family fell in love with was “She Spoke 2 Me”. It was one of two unreleased songs (including a seemingly new title song) Prince provided for the film. A few years later,Warner Bros released a collection of Prince music recorded in the early 90’s called The Vault: Old Friends 4 Sale. This included an extended version of “She Spoke 2 Me”,apparently recorded with the original NPG lineup in late 1991 according to PrinceVault.com. And that’s the version of this song I’m reviewing today.

A rumbling bass and drum begins the song,before it all settles into the musical statement of the chorus. This brings in a sizzling jazz-funk styled drum break with Prince playing a bluesy 7 note ascending rhythm guitar part-with the NPG horns responding with an instrumental version of the vocal hook. The refrain has more sustained muted trumpets and a slightly higher chord progression. After several rounds of this,the last 3-4 minutes of the song go from a swinging big band jazz chart with a break for a free jazz horn freak out. The main melody of the song returns as it all fades out.

Especially as an extended song,”She Spoke 2 Me” is one of my favorite Prince songs of the 90’s period. It really showcases Prince actually being in a very collaborative state with the NPG. Overall,its a slinky nigh club friendly jazzy funk groove with a totally live band flavor. This comes to light especially well on the swinging final part. Just Kathy Jensen and Brian Gallagher’s avant garde “sax attack” on it says it all for this songs power. The NPG have often been described as the best band Prince ever assembled. And this song is a very strong contender to prove that position as having merit.

 

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Prince-One Year Later: “The Gold Standard” (2014)

Prince surprised a lot of people after a five year absence by releasing two albums on the same day: September 30th,2014 to be exact. It was an event that was just in time to be covered by this particular blog as well. Out of the two, Art Official Age seems to be the album that got the best response. During this time,Prince was expanding the NPG off into an all female side project called 3rdEyeGirl. The husband of one of its members Hannah Ford,Joshua Welton marked the first time Prince worked closely with an outside producer. Presumably to give his sound a more youth friendly sound for the 2010’s.

Welton’s contributions to Art Official Age were not as prominent as they’d be on the rather more modern teen EDM styled Hitnrun Phase 1 a year later. Prince was still ever deeply in control of the writing,instrumentation and yes-production on the former album. Still,its likely Welton’s presence reminded Prince of what made his music so appealing when he was at his most vital creative peak in the 1980’s. So with that Prince decided to reinvigorate his classic funk sound and came up with a song for the Art Official Age album entitled “The Gold Standard”.

A one note Linn drum kick starts of the song before a descending synth brass riser punctuates his slowed down rhythmically spoken vocal. The high on the neck rhythm guitar,slightly digitized live bass line and the accenting charts of the NPG Hornz. On the first bars, Prince is singing mainly with the drums and bass alone. Then the horn sections JB’s like charts take higher priority in the mix. The synth brass finally joins in with the live horns After a hand clap powered rendering of the chorus,a P–Funk synth bass initiates as bass/guitar/horn based cadence that fades out the song.

“The Gold Standard” brings together two different sides of Prince’s 80’s funk approach. His classic Minneapolis sound is represented by the brittle synth brass and stripped down arrangement. His rhythm guitar sound at its ever peak performance here as well. Aside from some modern production touches,particularly on the bass line,this also brings out his horn fueled mid/late 80’s period from songs such as “Girls & Boys” and “Housequake”. What it all does so well is showcase how much of an innovation for its time Prince’s condensation of funk was for the genres future-especially in the 2010’s.

 

 

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Prince And His Music’s Deliverance From Official Release

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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.

 

 

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