Tag Archives: psychedelic soul

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Candango” by Airto Moreira

Airto Moreira is someone whom I recently covered here. Since his official birthday is Saturday, decided to pay tribute to a song by him that I just couldn’t resist. The origins of the album the 1976 Airto album Promises Of The Sun in my collection comes from the budget vinyl crate digging days. Just learned about Airto from his work on Miles Davis’s album from the early 70’s. And his solo albums were popping up on a lot of these crate digging exercises. The cover art depicting Airto in the middle of a ritualistic chant drew me to thinking this album would have a tribal musical content. And it actually did.

During a period where I was still actually making a lot of mix tapes, there was one song from this particular album that got my attention. Its title was hard to translate. But it apparently refers to anyone who came from another state to participate in the development of the city of Brasilia, the federal capital of Brazil. So when it comes to increased knowledge of this songs place in Airto’s musical history, its good history on this song that ends the second side of the vinyl edition of Promises Of The Sun. The name of this particular song is “Candango”.

Airto starts off the song with swinging march-one that evolves into a percussion laden Brazilian swing with Airto chanting-likely in Portuguese. On the first part of the song it showcases Rhodes player Hugo Fattorusa,guitarist Toninho Horta and bassist Novelli playing to Airto’s melodically spirited scat singing. This breaks for a moment with Rhodes-before the second part of this verse goes into a much bluesier, psychedelic part of the song. Here Horta’s guitar plays a rockier solo with Airto’s chants and scatting blending together in this cavalcade of sound before the first verse closes the song out.

“Candango” is a song that,even after all these years, has an idiosyncratic air about it that still delights me to this day. Its a sandwiched type of song really. The middle is this psychedelic jazz/rock/blues explosion of Fender Rhodes,guitar and bass. But they are bookended with this swinging Brazilian jazz style melody that still retains Airto’s unique creative air throughout. Its a strong reminder of how much Airto and another fellow collaborator in the late George Duke had in common: both loving to compose music with abrupt changes in sound. For me at least, “Candango” is one of Airto’s top compositions.

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Anatomy of THE Groove: “Are You Ready” by The Isley Brothers & Santana

Erinie Isley said in a recent interview with Rolling Stone magazine  that he first crossed paths with the Carlos Santana at Columbia Records convention in the 70’s. He recalled Santana’s band “took all the oxygen out of the room” playing their hits such as “Black Magic Woman” from their Abraxas album. Both Santana and the Isleys. Both were innovating in the late 60’s-a time where Latin rhythms, psychedelic bass/guitar and soulful vocals were all coming together for a music that was both highly funkified and rocked out. It would not be until 2016 that a pairing of the two began to take shape.

My friend/blogging consultant was the one who informed me of the collaborative album Power Of Peace. Ron Isley’s sister in law Kimberley-Johnson Breaux, a member of Rod Stewart’s band when she made the introduction between the two,which resulted in a two song collaboration on the Santana IV album in 2015. For their newest project, they are covering a collection of 60’s era topical and spiritual “people music” songs originally from the likes of Willie Dixon, Marvin Gaye, Leon Thomas, Curtis Mayfield and Burt Bacharach. The first song is a version of the Chambers Brother’s “Are You Ready”.

Santana’s classic Afro-Latin percussion starts the song before the jazzy funk bass comes in-playing in a deeply melodic manner around all the polyrhythms. The drums soon come in play a classic two-on-three funk beat. After that Ron Isley’s lead vocals play call and response to a combination of Carlos’s clean guitar tone and Ernie’s heavily filtered psychedelic style. Both play off of each other in beautiful unison throughout the song over melodic backup singing. After a drum/percussion break with on the beat vocal grunts, the drums and guitars close out on a duel psychedelic rock guitar extravaganza.

“Are You Ready” showcases precisely what one might expect from an Isley Brothers and Santana collaboration-even half a century after their salad days. Carlos Santana and Ernie Isley are playing with each other at the top of their form-as if the two guitar icons have been playing together consistently for decades. The groove itself literally has everything message oriented “people funk” would ideally have: that percussive Afro Latin rhythm,the psychedelic solos along with the funky drum and bass line. And its a reminder of the musical daring that generations of musicians need to always remember.

 

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Anatomy of THE Groove For The Brothers & Sisters Who Aren’t Here: “Holy Thursday” by David Axelrod

David Axelrod was yet another example of an artist I’d likely never have grown up knowing about had it not been for my father and his reading. Tended to think of him as somewhere as the middle ground between Quincy Jones and Henry Mancini. Growing up in South Central LA,a predominantly black and Latin community,Axelrod loved big orchestral arrangements yet strong contemporary soul,jazz and funk rhythms.  Having grown up in a family who embraced left wing ideas,the themes of his music often explored the sociopolitical and spiritual changes of the 60’s and 70’s-during which he was recording.

Axelrod also associated himself with artists from a number of different genres in the role of producer/arranger. This included Cannonball Adderley,Lou Rawls and Letta Mbulu just to name a few. His legacy has been celebrated during the early aughts through magazines such as Wax Poetics. Especially when it came to how many hip-hop artists actually kept his sometimes forgotten songs alive through samples in their own music. Awkward as this sounds,even to this day I haven’t given David Axelrod’s music the attention it probably deserved. So today,I will be over-viewing one of his most famous songs “Holy Thursday”.

A two chord piano up scale along with a 2-3 note electric bass accent opens the song, before the piano turns into a vibraphone. Shortly thereafter, the thick funky drum shuffle kicks in along with the string and horn arrangements playing the piano part. Every other verse,with the same basic instrumental setup as the intro,the drumming turns over to a cymbal heavy jazz swing. On the bridge of the song,there’s a full on vibraphone solo before a heavy swinging drum solo for a few bars. A soulful piano and psychedelic rock guitar bring the song an outro similar to how it all began.

“Holy Tuesday” is one of those songs that,like the very best of Quincy Jones’ work, encapsulates not only the many of the musical but cultural flavors of its time frame. Released on his now iconic 1968 debut album Songs Of Innocence, the song represents a height of cinematic soulful jazz grooves. It has the rhythmic foundation of James Brown, the big jazz orchestral sound and piano/vibe solos-along and elements of what would become psychedelic soul with its rocked out guitar. Its therefore more than worthy of being a song successfully revived through the best of hip-hop’s preservationist legacy.

 

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Anatomy of THE Groove: “Am I Black Enough For You” by Billy Paul

Billy Paul is another of far,far too many music icons of the 20th century who passed away during 2016. The Philly native grew up listening to jazz based singers such as Nina Simone,Carmen McCrae and Billie Holiday. After a stint in the army,where he was was stationed in post WWII Germany in the late 50’s along with Elvis Presley. Using this as an opportunity to further his love of music,he launched a jazz trio while in Germany. After getting out of the army,he became part of the burgeoning Philadelphia International Records,eventually releasing his debut album in 1970.

As with most people in America,my primary knowledge of this artist was via the ballad “Me & Mrs. Jones”. My father purchased a compilation of Billy Paul’s music. And after that,it became clear that this man did some amazingly cinematic uptempo tunes. Many of them with a very strong pro black sociopolitical bent lyrically. It was about a year ago when watching a documentary about Oakland’s Black Panthers that I heard a very funkified song with a very familiar voice. Turns out that voice belonged to the late Billy Paul. And the song (from 1972) was called “Am I Black Enough For You”.

A bluesy Clavinet riff dovetails into the percussive accented funky march of the drums. That Clavinet maintains itself throughout the song. At first,this is assisted by a bluesy rhythm guitar. The song has a rather elaborate,jazzy bass line holding the rhythm section together. The horns are both melodic and climactic-scaling upward on each of the songs choruses. Towards the end of the song,a fuzzed out guitar plays an eerie sustain in the back round as the percussion and a bluesy organ and guitar take over on the bridge. Then the songs main chorus takes over until it all fades out

“Am I Black Enough For You” is a psychedelic,bluesy funk number musically. One featuring a dense,thick instrumental sound. The melody is very overtly blues based too. Lyrically,the song speaks as much to the present day as it did for 1972. In both cases,an unpopular and widely disliked politician had become president. And anti black attitudes were a causal factor in both cases. This song lyrically suggests that strength in numbers will help black Americans to have power and dignity of person. And with Billy Paul no longer with us,that’s as fine a musical concept for him to heave us with as any.

 

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Filed under 1970's, Billy Paul, blues funk, civil rights, clavinet, drums, Funk Bass, fuzz guitar, horns, message songs, organ, percussion, Philadelphia, Philadelphia International Records, Philly Soul, pro black, psychedelic soul, rhythm guitar

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Special” by Shuggie Otis

Shuggie Otis represents what I refer to as a “new old artist” who defined my musical interests just after the turn of the millennium. His only knowledge to me before that was a passing reference as the composer (and original recorder of) the Brothers Johnson hit “Strawberry Letter#23”.  It was through a Luaka Pop label reissue of his under sung 1974 album Inspiration Information that got my attention,through my father of course. My first thoughts hearing it was “this was a Prince/Stevie Wonder type musician who never was”.

Otis’s father Johnny was a very famous musical impresario,known in the lingo of his day as the “white negro” singer/musician/arranger/talent scout/DJ out of the Bay Area of California. Shuggie began playing with his dad in the end of the 60’s. But his own career never truly took off. In fact,he spent over 33 years tinkering with his follow up to Inspiration Information. The album was finally released in 2013 and was entitled Wings Of Love. Recorded over several decades,the first full song on the album (recorded around 1980) really caught my own ear. It was called “Special”.

A wooshing sound drives in the fuzz/ringing rhythm guitar combo of the intro as Otis responds to his own echoplex vocally. Than the main rhythm of the song kicks in-driving both the refrain and chorus whose changes are carried largely by Otis’s vocal changes. The drums have a heavy Brazilian march approach. The bass line loops around several guitar parts. One a phat wah wah,the other a light chicken scratch and another playing a quavering,high pitched ringing melody. On the refrain parts,Otis singing’s in a higher and calmer voice. And on the refrains,with a heavier shout along with the ringing guitar part.

Again,this was a song that seemed to be recorded in the early 80’s. Yet its origins seems to come out of the psychedelic/cinematic funk sound of the late 60’s/early 70’s. The production is very trippy-full of echo and fuzz filter on nearly every sound. Yet the groove is strong and funky all the way. In the intro especially,it reminds me a bit of Curtis Mayfield’s “(If There’s A Hell Below) We’re All Gonna Go”. Needless to say,this is generally punchier and more stripped down than that song was. Still,its one of the finest grooves I’ve heard Shuggie Otis throw down since the mid 70’s.

 

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Filed under 2013, chicken scratch guitar, cinematic funk, drums, Funk Bass, funk rock, fuzz guitar, guitar, lead guitar, psychedelic soul, rhythm guitar, Shuggie Otis, Uncategorized, wah wah guitar

Isaac Hayes & The Red Summer Camp: First Impressions Of Black Moses

Isaac Hayes Article

Isaac Hayes’s music first entered my life in the mid 1990’s. It was not through crate digging or hip-hop samples. It was through my own father,my very first musical inspiration. This is going to be the story about how I first learned of Isaac Hayes. Its also the story of a little summer camp house,built in the late 1950’s,on a rural Maine lake known as Pushaw. Its not so much a memory based in sentiment. Its a memory that has shaped the way I’ve listened to music,and what I’ve looked for in it for the 21-22 years since this all began.

The summers of 1993-1995 were my final years at this camp. It was where my father (and later my mother and I) would go. It wasn’t actually ours,it was my grandparents. It had no shower,no heating,mosquito’s often invaded us out of our sleep early in the season. But it was beautifully comfy and rustic somehow. It was a pretty fun place for me to be. And it was a source of great meditative solace for my nature loving father. He and my mom both had records they generally kept only at the camp. These have been mentioned in other articles on here. Its where I first heard Heatwave,for example.

I had a neighbor friend named Joseph (whose family summered at the blue camp seen partly in the above photo). He was deeply into the Jacksons/Michael Jackson then The Rolling Stones as well. And we loved listening to them together. Talking about them too. As for my father,new music appeared all the time. It was always changing from year to year,when CD’s and tapes just came out before there was a designated new music release day. Almost all of this music was easily digestible to me from the first listen. One summer,possibly in 1994,there was one major exception to this.

This camp was located generally at a 30-40 minute car drive from our home. We generally listened to music on the car cassette deck. One day,on a rather hot hazy afternoon travelling back in from town after doing errands,my father played a new tape in the car. First thing I heard was a slow rhythm,dragging organ and hazy horns. Then a deep,echoed bluesy guitar. It sounded very Southern to me. And the rural fields,houses and trailers that probably looked about the same as they had in the late 60’s sped by as we drove,and listened. I asked my father what I was hearing. It was “Walk On By” by Isaac Hayes.

The album itself was Hot Buttered Soul. Today,I realize what a classic it is. Something about the visuals surrounding me the first time I heard it though provided a total aural experience. That unspoiled rural landscape,with a human presence ranging from regal to raggedy,reminded me very much of how I felt many areas of the South were like. Hayes’s cover of this Burt Bacharach classic had that same vibe. Rural yet urbane,sweet yet psychedelic, slow and powerful. He played the entire album that day on the car ride. But that first song just stayed with me. And even today,its often playing out somewhere in my mind.

Isaac Hayes would have turned 74 this Sunday if he hadn’t passed away in 2008. Upon reflecting on Hayes’ music,this is the experience that came most to mind. It actually wasn’t even the first time I’d heard his music. Already heard “Theme From Shaft” some years earlier,perhaps even in the late 80’s but oldies radio being what it was,the names of the artists weren’t announced too often. This was one of those few occasions in my life where there was an ideal first understanding of a musical genre. That’s because my first experience with Isaac Hayes’s cinematic soul was indeed cinematic.

*”Walk On By” as performed by Isaac Hayes

 

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Filed under cinematic soul, Hot Buttered Soul, Isaac Hayes, Maine, Memphis Soul, psychedelic soul, Pushaw Lake, rural south, summer, Walk On By

Prince Summer: “Pop Life” by Prince & The Revolution (1985)

Prince was recording a lot of music during 1983 and early 1984 in preparation for his feature film debut that was Purple Rain. This included his own recordings with his band the Revolution. But it also included songs intended for the debuts of Sheila E and a second Vanity 6 album that grew into sessions for what became the Apollonia 6. Not to mention a huge cluster of B-sides. There were also many additional songs recorded during this period,some of which are still unreleased to this very day. And which add to the mythos about Prince’s legendary vault of unreleased music.

One of the first things I learned about Prince when really getting into his music was about his lifelong fascination with the career of Joni Mitchell. Having achieved fame in the early 70’s as a singer/songwriter,she left that behind to pursue a jazzier style of music. Prince was aware that his highly electronic new wave funk/rock based Minneapolis Sound was really catching on. But he himself wanted to diversify his own approach. One such song for his 1985 album Around The World In A Day was recorded during the Purple Rain sessions in early 1984. It was called “Pop Life”.

Layers of tape loop like pitch bent synthesizers begin the song,just before a thick slap bass brings in the rest. The song has three different counter melodies-all very vocal in nature over a steady funky drum. One is a thick, funk slap bass line mixed up high. The other are big block piano chords Prince is hammering out. The  final one are two counterbalanced synthesizers-playing a high melody and the other a lower one. These elements all make up the refrains and choruses of the song-both of which are rather similar. There’s a bridge of audience sound before the song fades back in for a final chorus before fading back out.

A little history on the audience sounds during the bridge of this song: they are from a 1981 concert where Prince opened for the Rolling Stones. A restless and unsatisfied crowd had among them someone yelling “THROW THE BUM OUT”. Prince exited the stage with his band,only to return to a more reasonable crowd-though there was still some booing. This songs lyrics do stand with the same share of ambiguity as a lot of Prince’s songs did. Yet at the same time,this sampling of the Rolling Stones tour incident might well  be pointing to a lot of the points this song makes about Prince’s  mindset at the time he recorded it.

In a lot of ways,this is one of my very favorite Prince songs of the 80’s. It has that Larry Graham slap bass in your face funkiness-mixed with a cinematic jazzy soul flavor that’s very pop friendly and hummable. It showcases how Prince’s more musically ambitious ideas could still be funky and pop friendly too. Lyrically it could be taken two ways. I recently heard it was written about his departed girlfriend Vanity. As I personally read it,its Prince dealing with how super-stardom can have the effect of making artists take themselves for granted. So on all levels,it was an important hit song for him to have.

 

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Filed under 1985, drums, Funk, Funk Bass, Jazz-Funk, piano, Prince, Prince & The Revolution, psychedelic soul, synthesizers, Uncategorized

Prince Day 2016: Prince In The 1990’s

Prince In The 90's

Prince’s musical output during the 1990’s represented a complex period for him. Personally,these albums were his newest statements when myself and other members of the late 70’s/early 80’s born age group were really beginning to explore Prince as teenagers. Heard many of his songs on the radio and in videos over the years. But it was during the middle of the 90’s that I began going back and listening to his albums all the way from the beginning to his newest releases of the era. As with most things that came from the 1990’s,it was a soul searching period where Prince was reinventing his identity.

When Prince changed his name to O(+> in 1993,he was the butt of jokes and accusations of going over the edge. Even I did my share of giggling more or less over how it was portrayed by the media. Of course today as a grown adult dealing with the difficulties creative must face myself, it has become clear that what Prince was doing in the mid 90’s was no joke. As he explained to Tavis Smiley in 1998, he had come to see more of the word “con” in contract. That they allowed for a musician essentially  to be a type of slave to a middle man who peddled their musical wares like watches from a trench coat.

Not that Prince ever mentioned anything specifically about watches or trench coats. But he did write “Slave” across his face during this time. His reason for changing his name had to do with his real name Prince being “owned” by Warner Bros. And since they weren’t allowing him to release his massive volume of music as he wished,he needed an outlet to do that. He began putting together a new label imprint in NPG Records-eventually recording artists like Chaka Khan and Larry Graham without the use of any recording contracts. This actually put him on the cutting edge of truly indie music.

Prince released nine official studio albums during the 90’s decade. The deal he had with Warner’s at the time specified that albums credited to the name Prince could only consist of music from his vault of unreleased music. In all honesty,I don’t feel the albums credited to the O(+> were as consistently strong as what he’d done in the 80’s. In terms of full length albums,it’s interesting his 90’s output that I prefer were the ones under his own name. So here is a look back at my four favorite Prince albums that came out during his second full decade as a recording artist.

Graffiti Bridge/1990

This soundtrack to his third and final motion picture is somewhat of a revue of some of the artists signed to Paisley Park and/or working with Prince at the time. Of them the young singer Tevin Campbell got a big hit from the song “Round And Round”. A couple of my favorite numbers on here come from The Time in the frenetic funky drumming of “Release It” and the brittle rock ‘n soul of “Shake”. As for Prince,it has his epic pop rocker “Thieves In The Temple”,the electronic blues of “The Question Of U” and the slamming funk of “New Power Generation”

The Love Symbol Album/1992

Personally I feel this album really put the funk/house/hip-hop hybrid of Diamonds And Pearls into fuller focus. It has the Hi NRG hip-hop opener of “My Name Is Prince”-as well as the James Brown funk jam “Sexy MF”.  “7” really mixes his mid 80’s psychedelic touches into a trance like modern funk/rock sound. “The Sacrifice Of Victor” mixes early 90’s funk with a potent post Rodney King racial consciousness and he even brings in some reggae for “Blue Light”. The flow of the entire album makes it likely the most consistent of his early albums with the New Power Generation.

Come/1994

When I first read about this album,it was actually Prince’s newest at the time. And it was described as a record he did solely to fulfill a contract. Listening to it recently,it’s actually one of his most adventurous albums for the time. The title track and “Letitgo” explore his raw sexuality through some horn heavy jazz hip-hop/funk. “Loose” throws down some intense industrial dance rock while the psychedelic soul/funk of “Papa” frankly discusses the ineffectiveness of child abuse. In a way,it almost sounds and looks like an album where Prince is seeking to shed every element of himself in favor of his new persona.

The Vault: Old Friends 4 Sale/1999

According to the liner notes,these songs were written between 1985 and 1994. And that Prince and the NPG recorded them on the latter end of that period “4 personal use only”. On a personal level,this comes across as Prince’s most consistently strong album from the 90’s. It has a very strong live band flavor not dissimilar to his latest release Hitnrun Phase II-with club friendly jazz/funk jams like “It’s About The Walk”,”Extraordinary”,the title song and of course “She Spoke 2 Me” really showcasing Prince more as a bandleader and less as a puppet master.

One of the overriding themes I’ve been discussing with my friend Henrique Hopkins lately is how significant Prince was to keeping the funk alive in the 1980’s. To turn a phrase, Prince did spend much of the 1990’s looking to catch up with newer artists such as D’Angelo who’s greatest achievement at the time would likely be to catch up with Prince. A lot of this had to do with Prince’s rhythms. During his 80’s heyday,he could take the Linn drum and throw down jazz and Afro Latin rhythms on songs like Vanity 6’s “Nasty Girl” and The Time’s “777-9311”.

While the 1990’s soul/funk/R&B scene became influenced by the drum programming Prince pioneered,it wasn’t quite the same. A lot of producers of the early/mid 90’s simply didn’t bring the excitement or drama out of the drum machine as Prince once had-opting for a more formulaic shuffle.  When Prince followed that formula on the drum machine,his rhythms also began to sag. However Prince did use some of the newer ideas that derived from his sound to re-invent himself. And allow for him to remain prolific and maintain his creative longevity for what would turn out to be his final two decades.

 

 

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Filed under 1990s, drum machines, Funk, hip-hop jazz, jazz funk, New Powe Generation, NPG Records, Prince, psychedelic soul, The Artist Formerly Known As Prince, The Time, Warner Bros.

Andre’s Amazon Archive: ‘Parade (Music From Under The Motion Picture Cherry Moon)’ by Prince & The Revolution (1986)

Parade

During the years following the big commercial success of “Purple Rain” Prince never elected to just rest on his laurels and become a face for the jet set life or press fodder. He spent a good deal of the time almost obsessively recording in the studio and one of the projects he was working on was this soundtrack album to his second motion picture Under the Cherry Moon. This album couldn’t be any more different from his first soundtrack project which was for the most part very pop focused.

This album still finds Prince in an accessible frame of mind but still very musically daring and willing to integrate as many musical ideas into his generally funk oriented sound as he could. The fantastic thing about this album is how well the music bleeds together in terms of arrangement and not only does it feel more like a formal soundtrack with it’s heavy cinematic touches but is one of the albums of the mid 1980’s that has really aged very well for something so contemporary for it’s time in a lot of ways.

The album has a lot of artsy touches to the music such as the pretense of steel drums, accordions and other cross continental flavors that enhance the mood it was trying to achieve. Also as with any Prince album of the 80’s his use of drum machines are among some of the most adept and creative one could imagine from such an often maligned instrument. “Christopher Tracy’s Parade”,”New Position”,”I Wonder You” and the title ballad all kind of form an introductory suite of songs to introduce the album.

It starts with a fanfare of horns,strings and rhythms and working around some slippery,keyboard loop driven types of what I’d describe as neo psychedelic funk. It’s alternately dreamy,poetic and sexy and accomplishes it’s cinematic flavor well. “Life Can Be So Nice” is a very carnivalesque slice of dance-funk with a very busy top and a very tight bottom rhythmically. This album also features some of the tightest funk Prince ever recorded such as “Girls & Boys”,”Anotherloverholenyohead”.

And of course the big hit “Kiss”,all strong indications of the rhythmic influences Prince was bringing to the surface from his long standing love of James Brown during this era. This album is also home to one of those great lost Prince classic eclectic pop songs in “Mountains”;neither pop or rock,funk or psychedelia it’s one of my favorite Prince songs here and in his entire catalog. The album also contains two very French pop-jazz sounding ballads in the instrumental “Venus De Milo” and “Do U Lie”.

The album concludes with the darkly chorded jazz-folk ballad “Sometimes It Snows In April” which,driven by acoustic guitar and the somewhat bittersweet lyrical focus is at least one music nod to another of Prince’s musical influences: Joni Mitchell. This album and movie were not as well received commercially as his previous soundtrack but,than again that’s exactly what Prince was going for-to be known as a respected musician as opposed to some flavor-of-the-month hit maker. In a lot of ways he got to have both on this album because there were some successful singles here as well. But all in all this speaks a lot to Prince’s rhythmic and general creative progress.

Originally posted on May 29th,2010

LINK TO ORIGINAL REVIEW HERE*

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Filed under 1986, Amazon.com, drum machines, Funk, funk pop, horns, jazz funk, Minneapolis, Minneapolis Sound, Music Reviewing, Prince, Prince & The Revolution, Psychedelia, psychedelic soul, steel drums, strings, synthesizers, Under The Cherry Moon

Andre’s Amazon Archive Special Presentation: ‘Lovesexy’ by Prince (1988)

Prince_-_Lovesexy

It was during the era of Sign O the Times that Prince was by far at his most musically exploratory and vital. He had one of his greatest bands during this period-the “Revolution Part 2” as I personally tend to call them in drummer/percussionist Sheila E.,longtime keyboardist Matt “Doctor” Fink,the late vocalist/organ player Bonnie Boyer,bassist Leaver Seacer Jr. and on sax and trumpet Eric Leeds and Matt “Atlanta Bliss” Bliston along with vocalist/dancer Cat. They not only provided an exciting stage presence for Prince during this era,but also expanded his musical sound.

 On the other hand? Prince was inwardly troubled. He recorded an album following the tour for his previous album. It had no title or name attached to it. And when it finally came out eight years later? It had been widely known (and bootlegged) as The Black Album. Prince apparently dream’t one night of a field with a shadow spelling out the word ‘god” written on it. Somehow this motivated him to shelve the rather profanely lyric’ed funk of that for an entirely different musical concept.

By posing on the album cover tactfully naked in front of three Georgia O’Keefe styled lilies-in the manner of Botticelli’s The Birth Of Venus? Prince not early earned a degree of censor from record stores. But also the perception his notorious narcissism had transgressed to full fledged megalomania. As with most things involving Prince? The entire conceptual tract of this album was nothing remotely that simplistic.

“Eye No” starts out by declaring “rain is wet/sugar is sweet/clap your hands/and stomp your feet”. After Prince himself declares over a psychedelic chorus that his voice sounds so clear because “there’s no smack in his brain” this intensely percussive funk groove-built around a dancing high bass line and Atlanta Bliss’s joyous muted trumpet solos. After this,with an echoed “OWW!” Prince goes into “Alphabet Street”,one of my personal favorite songs of his and this albums main hit.

Starting with some of the greatest funky drum/rhythm guitar I ever heard,a bluesy bass line introduces one of the many breaks which define the song. On the third break? There’s a brief wall of rock guitar before returning to the funk until fade out. “Glam Slam” starts out with a lightly percussive Arabic type melody with a Latin rock style guitar solo before going into a more new wave rock style melody that isn’t at all far removed from Little Red Corvette. “Anna Stesia” is a pensive,piano based jazz/pop type number with some unexpected major/minor chord transitions.

“Dance On” has a wild,high octane funk drumming and again a wall of rock guitar and bass seeming to bubble from below,but never to the front of the song with it’s gospel/soul organ led vocal chorus. The title track itself is an instrumentally thick contemporary synth funk number-again like an updated 1999 while the tender “When 2 R In Love”,the only holdover from the unreleased (at the time) Black Album is really the only stripped down number here. “I Wish You Heaven” is a somewhat ethereal arena rocker type with a powerful chorus while the closer “Positivity” is a jazzy,cinematic psychedelic soul/funk number with a gospel-type chorus at the end.

Throughout this album? Prince is completely playing the preacher. “Lovesexy” would seem on the surface to be some sort of “sexuality being next to godliness” type philosophy. He never defines it here. Lyrically there are constant references such as “I know there is a heaven and I know there is a hell” and “Love Is God/God Is Love/Girls and boys love god above” that reflect Prince’s embrace of the soul singers conflict between the secular and the spiritual. So its nothing unique in that respect. However on a more personal level it does seem that Prince was unsure what to make of his own revelation.

Prince seems to imply lyrically,throughout this album,a complete embrace of cynical paranoia where he is frightened of too much money,frightened of loosing it and frightened of the forces of evil. And those forces he combines into a character he describes in the end of the album as being called Spooky Electric. Musically speaking? Prince plays out his spiritual crisis to music that is far more loose than anything he’s done so far. His typically tight arrangements are replaced by a thick band oriented sound that can change in rhythm and melody almost on a whim.
In a way? That type of instrumentation is ideal in expressing the lyrical confusion this album seems to have. For reasons of which there are many interpretations,Prince also presented all nine songs on this CD onto one track. So the listener cannot jump between the totally different songs. Its one of his very best albums musically and is filled with memorable,highly funkified and even pop friendly songs. On the other hand,the lyrical confusion and aforementioned song presentation make this one of his less approachable albums.
Originally posted on June 8th,2014

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Filed under 1980's, Atlanta Bliss, Bonnie Boyer, drums, Eric Leeds, Funk, horns, Lovesexy, Matt Fink, Minneapolis, Minneapolis Sound, percussion, Prince, psychedelic soul, Sheila E., spirituality, Uncategorized