Tag Archives: R&B

Anatomy Of THE Groove For The Brothers And Sisters Who Aren’t Here: “It’s About The Dollar Bill” by Johnny Guitar Watson

Johnny Guitar Watson was one of those artists whose back catalog is very like a very funky box of chocolates for me. If one enjoys chocolate,it’s very difficult to say you just enjoy one. Consequently it took a little time to determine which of the mans songs to chose to discuss on this blog. Watson was almost as enormous figure in the development of funk as James Brown in one important sense. He helped take the 12 bar blues soloing approach and applied it to a soulful rhythmic attitude from the 1950’s onward. His style of aggressively playing guitar without a plectrum was part of what made him one of R&B’s most theatrical performers in the day as a result.

The question of which song of Watson’s to talk abut today came from a talk with my dad about a memory. Almost two decades ago now, my maternal aunt used to visit my family once or twice a year. Since my father always had music going,a compilation of Johnny Guitar Watson was playing on one such visit. One song in particular got my aunts attention. It was called “It’s About The Dollar Bill”. On it’s own,the song came from Watson’s 1977 album entitled Funk Beyond The Call Of Duty. There are reason’s both musical and thematic for choosing this particular song today. So to get things started,best place to start is to get right into the center of the groove’s musicality itself.

A little light guitar ring introduces the opening and descending horn chart-with Watson chanting right along the chord changes in bassy vocalese. The song has a slow,shuffling swing of a rhythm with a bouncy Clavinet on the choruses. Horns continue to play the chords throughout both the refrains and all of the remaining choruses of the song. On the second refrain,Watson’s vocals are replaced by one of his trademark 12 bar blues guitar solos. The shuffling chorus/refrain pattern continues until the song reaches a conclusion of fanfaring horns,percussion and Watson’s multi tracked vocal harmonies-with all of their grunts,coos and groans to the songs’ fade out.

The more I listen to Johnny Guitar Watson’s music,what strikes me is how much jazzy his arrangements were during his 70’s funk period. Many of his rhythms,including this one have as prominent a swinging shuffling from big band and jump blues as they will have the classic funk breaks and rests. The horns follow the same pattern as well. Lyrically the song is very important to today’s bloated American economy based on consumerism. And coming from the idea of a black musician being in a good position to talk about capital due to having ancestrally been capital during slavery. So this funk’s advice to not let ones eyes be bigger than their pockets has the power to change up many a groove in life.

 

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Filed under 1970's, Blues, clavinet, drums, Funk, guitar, horns, Jazz-Funk, Johnny Guitar Watson, Late 70's Funk, message songs, rhythm & blues, Uncategorized

Andre’s Amazon Archive for 3/07/2015: ‘Between The Sheets’ by The Isley Brothers

Between The Sheets

Sentimental as this may seem the recent passing (as of this review) of Marvin Isley set me to bring out this CD that I bought twelve years ago and have listened to maybe twice since that time. Having been used to the some of the Isley’s 70’s music and having not heard their transitional material up to this point,this albums sound was a little shocking at the time. And it was actually something of a new sound for them. Any of those familiar with their often forgotten previous album The Real Deal had actually dabbled in some new production elements while staying true to their 70’s 3+3 sound the same as their first few 80’s recordings had. Chris Jasper had a very strong play in this album in general and the result,being a keyboardist all too familiar with the world of electronics he basically just bumps that element in the music a great deal. In fact if it weren’t for the strong presence of Ernie Isley’s guitar solos this album would’ve actually sound mostly like the work of a multi-instrumentalist even though it wasn’t. Overall this album has a pretty contemporary flavor for it’s era but there are some elements and even distinct songs that still maintain their distinctive 3+3 sound.

Basically Chris Jasper and the two elder Isley’s Kelly and Rudy weren’t exactly getting along as it seemed their presence in the recording process was somewhat relegated to back round vocals as Ron took the main leads. Well this album didn’t change that but all the same the vocal back rounds are important to this album,as is the fact Chris Jasper and Ron share a good number of the leads as well. The album starts out with two ballads in “Choosy Lover” and “Touch Me”. Not bad slow jams but the REAL meat comes with the title track,”I Need Your Body” and “Let’s Make Love Tonight”,three seductive electronic soul/funk in the vein of Sexual Healing with the mild Calypso flavored rhythm of the song as well. Even still Jasper’s distinct touch on synthesizer on these tunes,which kind of flow together like a mini funk suite make them very distinctly Isley Brothers. After that the album,on what would’ve been Side B on the original vinyl or cassette tape really takes on a more diverse tone. “Ballad For The Fallen Solider” is one of the most powerful tunes on the album,a well produced rock n soul tune that tells the tale of a man recounting how his father went missing in action whilst fighting in Vietnam and even calling his congressman gets him nowhere.

“Slow Down Children” is the one tune on this album with a decidedly Isley 70’s flavor,with that big bubbly synthesizer of Jasper,the slow crawling funk rhythm and the Isley’s throaty harmonies dominating the production. The last three cuts in contrast are the most modern. “Way Out Love” and the near instrumental,Vocoder heavy “Rock You Good” both strongly showcase the early hip-hop/electro funk sound and although I am not sure I’d bet along with the title track these songs are probably very heavily sampled by hip-hop/scratch/electronic samplers. If they aren’t they probably should be because their sound was influential on much of that. “Gettin Over” is more of a new wave styled electro/dance tune which showcases the Isley’s moving forward into the 80’s with rock and not just R&B because,considering their place in the music’s history they just saw how rock,R&B,soul,blues,funk and hip-hop all kind of bled together after a point. Even if this album marked the end of the Isley’s acclaimed 3+3 lineup this found them on something of a commercial upswing. Not only that but they did so by continuing their long tradition of adapting their own sound to the new musical generation without losing their identity.

Originally posted on June 7th,2010

Link to original review here*

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Filed under 3+3, Between The Sheets, Chris Jasper, electro funk, Ernie Isley, funk/rock, Isley Brothers, R&B, Sexual Heading

Andre’s Amazon Archive Special Presentation: ‘The Diary Of Alicia Keys’

Diary of Alicia Keys

Alicia Keys created quite a stir the entire summer before her debut album Songs in a Minor hit the record racks with one of the most intense promotional campaigns to have come around since Bruce Springsteen in the early 70’s. That album,which looked to blend Alicia’s mixture of European classical music and American jazz-funk with hip-hop beats wound up being a bit hyped and it’s hit “Fallin” became a bit overplayed and it would’ve been almost easy for Keys to wind up less hip and more hype,if readers here will forgive that lousy slogan. A couple years later Alicia came back with her second album which would make her or break her as the serious musician/singer/songwriter that she always was. This time the promotion was more genuine and she wasn’t as caught up in the “I’m going to save R&B music” kind of manifesto that accompanied her first album. She was therefore more free to be herself and the result is an album that in basic terms cut back on some of the heavier hip-hop beats and concentrating on her ability to craft music like a fine knit sweater.

The tapestry she comes up with here is built a lot more around her piano based chord progressions and her flexible vocal styling’s. Overall it’s a very musicianly album that doesn’t have the immediate commercial appeal you might expect but even on one of it’s most powerful and popular songs “You Don’t Know My Name”,her second big hit actually the music has a finely arranged retro soul flavor with some some beautiful,avant garde jazz styled high piano chordings that give the song it’s hook. I liked the fact she reached outside the pop idiom for the hook on this song-it also matches her high pitched,passionate coos on the refrains. The same flavor crosses over into the spirited medley of “If I Were Your Woman/Walk On By”,”If I Ain’t Got You” and the title song.

The final song “Nobody Not Really” has one of the most intricately chorded piano part since Stevie Wonder’s “I Gotta Have A Song” so basically this consists of immaculately produced and arranged,mid-tempo jazzy soul/funk tunes with some expressive vocal changes and personalized lyrical themes. On the songs that do feature something more of a hip-hop flavor such as “Karma” you have a great song with a very stiff rhythm and that kind of keeps it from being a complete masterpiece. But overall it’s actually one of the closest places Alicia has come to a consistently fully realized album and expresses her artistry for what it was rather than as something that has too much of a deliberate intention behind it.

Originally Posted On August 16th,2010

Link to original review here*

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Filed under Alicia Keys, Hip-Hop, Jazz-Funk, Neo Soul, Soul, Stevie Wonder

Andre’s Amazon Archive for 11/29/2014-‘We’ll Never Turn Back’ by Mavis Staples

Mavis Staples We'll Never Turn Back

I first purchased this album the day it came out and,upon listening to it on the way home decided to toss it aside and let it collect dust. It was not because I didn’t like it but it seemed like there was so much gloomy,dark sounding music coming my way during this time and because there was so much hype in the press about the “relevence” of this album it was only natural I’d be a little let down anyway-that commonly happpens. So four years later I decided to give it a listen and see how it impacted me now. First off it’s important to note that this album is firmly the domain of a fully mature Mavis Staples and not the youthful soul shouter of her classic days with the Staple Singers.

She sounds like herself vocally but her interpretations have a heavy,craggy world weariness about them that’s quite appropriate for the kind of album this is.Produced by Ry Cooder this album is mainly composed of moodily chorded,heavy reverbed hard modern blues/soul/rock style versions of civil rights era protest/spiritual songs such as “This Little Light Of Mine”,”Eyes On The Prize”,”In The Mississippi River” and “Jesus Is On The Main Line”. The fact the little to nothing is known of those who made up these traditional songs Mavis and Ry almost make it sound as if they wrote the songs together as originals. The songs are played as if they’ve been written by the musician and Mavis,as always has exactly her way with them vocally.

Most of the album follows on this slow,heavy handed level as Mavis has obviously come to the conclusion we must not be lax in our outlook on civil rights because,in particular in the era this was recorded in it seemed as if things in that regard were taking a turn back. Seeing how poorly many people behaved during the 2008 presidential election she may have in fact been onto something. Only “99 And 1/2” and “My Own Eyes” have anything close to a dance tempo here. This is not exactly a happy album but it’s not pessimistic either. It’s rather resigned and that might be why upon first listen I had little to no reaction to it. It’s an album you will have to take time to really get into if your interested. But if you take the time the rewards are very worth it,especially for your soul!

Originally Review Written On May 14th,2014

Link to original review here!*

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Filed under 2007, Amazon.com, Blues, Mavis Staples, Music Reviewing, rhythm & blues, Ry Cooder, Soul, Southern Soul, Women

Antomy of THE Groove 10/17/14 Rique’s Pick : “Lovely People” by Earth, Wind & Fire

There are certain songwriting and producing jobs in music that just stand out above all others if you’re a fan of music. One of them, that will.i.am was able to achieve for my side of todays “Anatomy of THE Groove” figure, was writing and producing a song for Earth, Wind & Fire’s 2005 album “Illumination, called “Lovely People.” It was not the first comeback I’d witnessed from EWF, a group who’s peak was right before I was born yet who’s music was an essential part of my upbringing. 1987 and ’88 were one of my favorite times ever in my young life for music. EWF had a great album called “Touch The World” at that time with a fantastic electro funk single called “System of Survival”, one of my favorite songs ever. But while “System of Survival” employed a treacherous electro funk beat put together by a writer/producer named Skylark, that contained a dope and classic EWF lyrical story, the beat was a whole other edge of the 21st Century thing. on “Lovely People” will.i.am takes the classic EWF joyful funk Afro-Diasporic dance sound and edits it for modern sensibilities. The results are a reinvigorated EWF, soudning as if they continued as a group with Maurice White from the end of their run to the present day. Mainly, it’s a song with that true Earth, Wind & Fire message of joy, love and blessings.

Right off the bat, the Kalimba sounds along with harmonizing let us know it’s EWF. The track begins with snippets of Kalimba, electronically processed and running in reverse, backed by what sounds like vocals from the song running in reverse. The sound of the Kalimba and the obscured vocals immediately put one in that EWF “Pyramid” frame of mind, like some of their mystical concert entrances and exits. The next thing in the arrangement is another band signifier, the horn section playing a magisterial ascending riff. And just like that, we’re back in the zone of the elements of Earth, Wind & Fire!

A thunderous groove kicks off, a real rollicking, rolling Native American sounding groove, remeniscent of the types of drum beats Maurice White’s fellow Memphis native Al Jackson Jr would play behind Al Green, and that Syliva Robinson copped on her classic, “Pillow Talk.” The guitar plays very short, clipped chords, and Verdine White slides down his bass. The feeling is that of a tremendous groove motor beginning to rev up, as will.i.am plays the party M.C.

After that intro, the horn phrase announces the beginning of the chorus section. The verse drops right there at the top of the song, “To all of my Lovely People/step to the floor and disco.” The phrase “Lovely People” is one that caught my attention when the song first dropped. What struck me is that it was such an EWF, Maurice White phrase, full of optimisim and love for humanity. It impressed me that an outside writer such as will.i.am could come up with that with the group in mind! The vocals are backed by a lively Afro-Carribean dance funk groove. In addition to EWF’s obvious and classic Brazillian stylings, they were also a master of integrating other grooves from the African diaspora. They had the greasy grooves of Memphis and the transplanted blues, soul and gospel of Chicago deep in their musical DNA. The cool of California lent a shiny sheen to their recordings. But also in the mix, was the sound of the festivals of the Carribean, found on such EWF classics as “As Love Goes On”, which was itself recorded in the Carribean.

The Afro-Carib groove features lively rhythmic guitar strumming with the classic high EWF guitar tone, innovated and promulgated by Al McKay, Johnny Graham and Roland Bautista. will.i.am’s vocals in the mix with the bands helps provide the Carribean element as well.The verse groove is definitely influenced by the more spare modern hip hop/R&B approach, with the guitar playing a busy rhythm, horn stabs in and out, and Verdine White’s bass only providing occasional funky accents. All in all its a model of economy of groove. As the “Lovely People” verse ends, the next section features classic worldess EWF harmonizing around the solfeggate of “La”, with “Lovely People” being sung by Phillip Bailey. Verdine White is also allowed more room to stretch out on bass on that section.

Around 1:45 in, the band hits a nice EWF musical interlude, with will playing MC over the lively beat and harmonizing. After that he comes in with a rap, not too much, just lyrics with the intention of moving the party on. That is followed by a lively horn riff that supports some vocalinzing from will. The song has a long groove fade out with another EWF signifier, an actual Kalimba solo!

Songs like this always fascinate me. I was always interested in how to bring the classic funk sound into the here and now. Not by sampling it, but by a more subtle process of incorporating elements, including some and exvluding others. “Lovely People” features the Kalimba, an Afro Carribean rhythm, harmonizing, the horn section, and many other elements of EWF’s classic sound. It also has a lyric, that while not dealing with any heavy topic of inspiration, still manages to inspire through its positivity matched with an uplifting groove. will.i.am accomplished what any modern musician would want to, updating his influences sound to what it would sound like TODAY. It’s almost like a father figure or uncle wanting you to help them pick out some modern clothes, and you show them pictures of themsevles when they were younger and then go into their closets and pick out some things they already have. Then you might add a touch or two from your closet to top it off. The results here were a fresh look that still said “Earth, Wind & Fire”, rather than the band simply trying to look fresh.

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Filed under Brazil, Contemporary R&B, Earth Wind & Fire

Anatomy of THE Groove 8-1-2014: “The Little Things Of Love” by Jackie Lomax

One thing to be said about the late Jackie Lomax is how interconnected he is to the career trajectory of the Beatles. His band The Undertakers followed them through Hamburg and he was the first artist signed to their Apple Records. One other important element of Jackie Lomax was,as with the Fab Four came at his element of the Merseybeat sound from more of a soul standpoint than an out and out pop or blues one. During the 70’s,this quality was an important part of his solo work as well. After over 35 years without releasing any new music? Lomax’s final and posthumous album Against All Odds was released,including a song entitled “The Little Things Of Love”.

This is one of those songs that starts out complete-with an ascending organ swirl opening into (and remaining steadily part of) a slow,lightly galloping drum with a high pitched,dancing bassline and a subtle lead rhythm guitar. Up against this easy going instrumental backup Lomax’s gravelly,Frankie Beverley-like soulful croon sings a set of lyrics that draw on the age old soul/funk/R&B theme that,as the song title suggests,romantic effection can show its true flower in the subtleties. When Lomax’s lyrics become a bit more emphatic,a brightly melodic horn section joins him on the refrains-with a yearning,forward looking instrumental sax solo on the bridge.

One of the first things that came to mind when I heard this song was the sound of Al Green’s Hi Records era music of the early/mid 70s-when he was produced by Willie Mitchell. And there’s something else I can appreciate about Lomax and the wonderful band he has playing with him on this song. They seem to understand something that only a select view musicians working in the rock ‘n roll genre seem to: that musical energy can be reflected sometimes even more so when your keeping the sound of your playing clean,rather than looking to “dirty up” the rhythm elements. This production and arrangement is slick,clean,spare and soulful all at the same time. Its a pity Jackie Lomax is no longer with us to provide more of this wonderful music. But if this is what he left to be remembered for? Its a worthy closing musical statement.

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Filed under Al Green, Jackie Lomax, Neo Soul, rhythm & blues, The Beatles

Andre’s Amazon Archive for June 14th,2014: ‘The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill’

lauryn_hill-the_miseducation_of_lauryn_hill

During the time this was released,as another review pointed out,this kind of music was being thrown in everyone’s face whether they wanted to hear it or not.I must admit in the late 90’s I was far more energized by the music of Prince,Stevie Wonder,P-Funk and they like and not the various hip-hop music’s they were inspiring at the time. I wanted the “real thing”. To my way of thinking the whole hip-hop/R&B genre in general seemed to be exploiting R&B’s past just to promote cut-and-paste music based on samples and such. It was hard to not that in the midst of all that original new hybrids like this were being created.Yes it was heavily hyped,yes it was deemed a classic before by the time it was a year old or so. But all the saturation aside I wanted to listen to this after it’d had some time to influence people. Well it turned out,as I said to be just over a decade. And after listening to this project as a whole at this point I get it.This is THE album that inspired the thoughtful,conscious solo female neo soul genre out of which has come Macy Gray,Angie Stone,India.Arie,Alicia Keys and more recently Solange Knowles.But it all started here.

The music on this album still has close links to hip-hop.Songs such as “Lost Ones”,”Forgive Them Father” and even the hugely popular “Doo Wop (That Thing)” have Lauryn rapping quite a bit along with singing.It’s to her credit she has such broad talent in both.Lauryn’s rapping style has always been assertive,direct and too the point and her deep,gritty and rangy voice-with it’s strong pathos and emotion is quite the spectacle to behold. The emotional and spiritual breadth of songs such as “To Zion” and “Forgive Them Father” is unbelievable. Through her spiritual quests Lauryn revolves her own issues with femaninity and the male players in her life in a surprisingly broad scope.”Superstar” actually finds Lauryn illustrating a pointed sense of humor to address what she saw as a serious issues;the hype many mediocre or plain “wack” rappers were receiving at that time,and in every way the message behind the tune resonates all the more today.

The first five songs actually containing interwoven interludes (tastefully done and integrated into the actual songs unlike usual) that illustrate how the album title is part of a certain concept;a group of women,one voiced by Mary J Blige in a classroom discussing different,mature points of view on love from songs,actual relationships,etc.In the midst of all this is “Ex-Factor”,possibly one of the greatest songs Lauryn ever did-very much in the Aretha/Etta James spirit with it’s scarred outlook on love and strong gospel overtones,from organ swirls to the horn blasts. The tone of that song is repeated on the title song which extends on the same theme of rediscovering self truths at reaching physical and emotional maturity. Along the way there is even time for warm nostalgic reflection on “Every Ghetto,Every City”,a wah-wah drenched 70’s style funk fest which is right up my alley and the lyrics are right on time too.

There are two tracks,which are listed here but not on the album jacket.One is a beautifully soulful rendition of Frankie Valli’s “Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You” that utterly transforms the song from teen romance into intense passion.A live version of the song “Tell Me” is also included.Taken together this quirky artist with her uniquely self reliant outlook and terrific lyrical ability only seems to have released one full length studio album so far.And if this is her first and only release it would sure be a good thing to stand on because,given a full decade to gestate it really has had an influence on an entire sub genre that has grown to mammoth proportions ever since.And all the while this done now indeed stand alone as a modern classic.

Originally Written On March 5th,2009

*Link To My Original Amazon Review:

http://www.amazon.com/review/R36P7MAW2I5UGW/ref=cm_cr_rdp_perm?ie=UTF8&ASIN=B00000ADG2

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Filed under Aretha Franklin, Lauryn Hill, Prince, Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings, Solange', Stevie Wonder, Street Musicians

Anatomy of THE groove 5/16/14 Rique’s Pick : “Good Kisser” by Usher

 

2013 was a great year for funky singles in the mainstream music world. Records like “Blurred Lines” by Robin Thicke, “Get Lucky” by Daft Punk ft Nile Rodgers and Pharrell Williams, and of course, the international smash “Happy” by Pharrell, carved out a strong place both on the dance floors, on peoples cell phones, and laptops and tablets, and at all sorts of social outings. They were ubiquitous enough to terrorize millenials weaned on auto tune and more rigid, computerized beats. I’d wondered for some time when one Usher Raymond would come on in and join this funky party. Ushers spent the better part of the past few albums chasing down European EDM dance while his blue eyed soul conterparts splashed torso deep into funk. Despite Ushers impressive career resume, outstanding charisma, and great dancing and vocal talent, I thought he’d forever be chained to the tastes of the teeny bopper side of the “urban” crowd, the one that votes your video to the top of BET’s 106th & Park.  I got a firm backhand from Mr. Raymond earlier this month when he released today’s fonky pick, “Good Kisser.”

“Good Kisser” is a dramatic, funky song of sensual romantic praise. It has a mean groove and is centered in its funky rhythms as Usher also puts on a clinic in various tonalities of soulful male vocals. The topic is pure sensual satisfaction, placing it in the line of many great soul songs of the past, including Ben E King’s “Supernatural Thing”, but that topic of sensual satisfaction, of a man giving praise instead of shaming for the sensual gratification he gets, is one that was once prevelant in R&B but has been far less so since Hip Hop’s locker room slut shaming came to predominate.

One of the first things I notice about the song musically is how heavy it is on the ONE, the first beat of the measure that provides a musical grounding point that James Brown told us was the most important beat and George Clinton expanded into a way of life. The song is built on this “ONE” centered drum and bass part. The drum simply plays kicks on the first beat and the third beats of the four four measure. There is no snare drum on the back beat, the “2” and “4”, in fact, for the whole song, there is no snare, saving the snare drum pick ups on the upbeat that lead our ears and bodies back to the “ONE.” The snare drum pick up, occuring on the upbeat of beat three, is matched by a low register, serious three note bass line. That bass line lands on the “ONE” of the next beat, sounding like a firm period at the ending of the sentence, or a word that contains the message of the beat. This upbeat drum pickup landing on the one sort of gives the song a funky West Indian or Carribean flavor. The bassline is the major motif of the song, as Usher builds vocal lines off the notes and the rhythm of this bassline later in the song. The drum beat and bass line continue the same way for the entirety of the song, as Usher adds different vocal textures, various chord progressions come in, and the basic drum beat is augmented with percussion, but the basic bass and drum motif remains unchanged, rigid, and marching on with an almost martial, military feel.

The scene is set by the four bar intro of the bass and drums, which gives you an expectant, almost cinematic military feel. This feel is rather enhanced in the music video as the music video takes place in a cold grey enviroment. Usher whispers romantic encouragements and flirtatious phrases during the intro. Following the intro, Usher sings in what is a new vocal tone for him to my ears, a funky, spoken/sung baritone. It takes both from classic funksters like Larry Blackmon (without the extra “ow”) and funky ’90s hip hop oriented singers like Portrait or BBD or Blackstreet. Usher uses this funky baritone to tell his lady (and by extension us) ” I Done been around the world/I Done kissed a lot of girls”. Right away he positions himself lyrically as a romantic lover of great experience, a grown man. That’s one of the things I like about this track, while so many in pop culture strain for youth today, Usher embraces a youthful but experienced lyrical perspective.

After 8 bars of that funky baritone, Usher gives us 8 bars of falsetto. The falsetto is right there on the sensual edge, like Marvin Gaye or Al Green, the sound of a man at HIS sensual edge. Then Usher comes with another vocal tone for the pre chorus, another baritone sound, but smoother than the rhythmic baritone of the verse. And I’m crazy about the way he begins it :

“The Devil is a Lie/ Them other girls/can’t compete with mine”

I dig the lyric so much because “The Devil is a lie” is a phrase you’ll hear all day among black evangelical thinking communities. I love Ushers usage of it in a “profane” sexual context though, which is a great part of the tradition of black music, the conversation between the spiritual and the sensual, as Ray Charles did way back on “I Got a Woman.” Usher uses it here to place his woman above any and all competition. The other thing I like is the vocals on this pre chorus are based around the rhythm and notes of the bass line. This pre chorus as well as the chorus also introduce harmony into the song, brightening it up with a jazzy chord progression, while the militant rhythm remains unabated. For the chorus itself, after so much rhythmic wordiness, Usher relaxes, one might say climaxing, simply singing “She’s such a good kisser” both in lead and harmony. Usher comes back after that with a powerful full voice vocal, building up to the gospel melismatic style. I like that. Oft times in R&B the last 20 years or so, singers have overdosed on runs before the song even starts. Here Usher builds up to the climax we all seek, and I think the song is much better for it.

I love the rhythmic orientation of the song as well as Usher’s vocal performance. He gives us baritone, falsetto, and his natural high tenor stretched out to the max, while also going between choppy rhythms and looser, more flowing parts. The song also revitalizes the classic R&B hallmark of double entendre, as he actually says in the song “Cant nobody kiss IT like you.” However, for those with virginous ears, they can simply choose to hear the rather benign “You’re such a good kisser.” But one day they will wonder why a grown man was singing about a woman being a good kisser with such passion and excitement!

One of the things that shows me Usher really has something with the song is the mixed responses to it on the net. There are some folks who totally get it, in the vein of “thats REAL music.” And there are other young people who simply dismiss it as, “It’s garbage” or “he could have done much better.” I think for the young, many of them don’t understand AT ALL the soul/funk/jazzy music practices Usher and crew are laying down here, nor the tradition of being right on the lines of nastiness in lyrical forthwrightness. I hope they get on board though, because Usher’s “Good Kisser” has the potential to be a game changer in a funky R&B sense. I also have to give props to my man for posing in the video playing the drum fill, which kinds of gives people a visual of how the music would LOOK being played. It’s early, but I might have found the song to give me my funky summer swagger.

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Filed under "Sexual Healing", Funk, Funk Bass, Marvin Gaye, Music Reviewing, Neo Soul, Radio, Rhythm, Soul

The Anatomy of ‘Happy’- Rique’s outlook: An Anatomy of THE Groove Special Presentation Part Duex

 

 

 

Pharrell Williams recent triumph with an infectious ditty about human joy and the movements of the human spirit is one that fills me with tremendous joy and that I  identify with very personally. I see it as the culmination of a career spent highlighting the spirit enhancing aspects of Black music at a time when darkness was accepted as the norm.

Back in my high school days, my main friends who I referred to as my brothers,  Jesse, Osceola, and Frank use to spend our time before, after, and sometimes during school hours at OC’s house, eating gumbo, cooking, playing bass and discussing and debating how we were to make it in the world.  Often times we looked at the current culture around us, in the days of bling rap and very ignorant music as inadequate to the views we had of ourselves and how we wished our lives to be, not to mention the attitudes we’d inherited from our well meaning parents. The late 1990s seemed to be an extremely long ways away from the vitality we associated with other days of black culture in particular.

Outkast was the closest of any group at the time to who we felt we were. There were many other groups we liked bits and pieces of, but no one captured it as well as them. Then, at some point in 1999 we started to hear another groove. It was electronic, sparse, and FUNKY. It was heard on records like Mase’s “Lookin at Me”, ODB’s “Got Your Money” and “Recognize” and especially Kelis’ “Caught Out There.” Then one day out of nowhere, we heard that same beat but we got some vocals, on a track called “Oh No” by Nore, we saw a handsome, carmel skinned brother with throwback aviator shades on, giving an old school hip hop chorus in a falsetto voice. Osceola, ever the sharp eyed visionary, said simply, “I like that dude.”

As the milenium turned, the hits rolled in, like Mystikals James Brown influenced “Shake Ya Ass”, Nelly’s “Bustin Loose” influenced “Hot in Herre”, and several records that referenced The Vanity 6’s eternal Purple Funk classic “Nasty Girls” (“Milkshake”, “Slave”, etc). Pharrell and Chad Hugo, the Neptunes, could give you aural images of Run DMC’s “Sucker M.C’s” on a track like the Clipse’s “Grindin'”, and recall both Cameo and Slave on Snoop Dogg’s “Lets Get Blown.” And Pharrell’s own “Frontin”, may be one of the few R&B love songs that came out in the last decade that I truly identified with, not just as music, but as experience.

The Neptunes music took the black historical sound of funk, and edited it, filtered it through hip hop, and presented it as the hottest party sound of the new milenium. Pharrell’s falsetto, used in the beginning simpy to guide singers on demo’s, recalled Eddie Kendricks, Curtis Mayfield, Al Green, Smokey Robinson, and many other legends, who I’ve heard him all reference in interviews. I was always amazed at Chad and Pharrells skill at interpolation, building new funk off old funk and making an ahistorical young urban audience accept it as THE THING.

This past year has been one of special triumph, with Daft Punk’s directly late ’70s influenced “Get Lucky”, Robin Thicke’s “Got to Give It Up” tribute “Blurred Lines”, and now, the ’60s get back in the alley groove of “Happy.”

In the black church, the moment of the utmost jubilation, when people speak in tounges and do the holy dance, and the organ and drums begin to vamp, is called “Getting Happy.” Pharrell mentioned on his interview with Oprah that after 9 tries at nailing down a song to represent the joy of the villian on the film “Despicable Me 2”, he finally hit on this groove. He said the chords were gospel, because that’s the aim of gospel music, to get people “happy”, on a profound spiritual level that gives a glimpse of the eternal joy that all religions promise, with the goal of getting people through an often rough existence on this here earth.

Pharrell accomplishes this in the most spiritual, profound way on this song. He has always aimed to make people happy, his litany of dance hits is proof of that, but this  one hits on another level. The ’60s back beat, straight out of the book of Benny Benjamin and Uriel Jones, is matched with a low down electric piano and bluesy tone. The blues scale is an actual rarity in “R&B” music these days, it seems black musicians RUN from that historic tone. But the triumph of blues music borne of the black experience is the ability to acknowledge sadness while promoting joy. That is why it is universal, because all of humanity seeks that, the combination of reality and hope. Pharrell embraces a bluesy, funky sound with an uplifiting beat that will make your backbone slip into the jerk, the mashed potatoes, and the monkey if you let it!

The R&B singer Tank, when asked about the struggles of R&B in recent years, made some very illuminating comments. He basically said R&B’s obssessive focus on sex and love have limited it. He mentioned “Happy” in particular as a type of song that “used to be R&B.” And it makes me proud that an artist primarily associated with hip hop laid this on the world. The reason is, for all the bad rap (pun intended) hip hop often takes (and gives), I do feel hip hop is the repository of black musical history and musical history in general that no other music is. Songs like “Hey Ya” by Andre 3000, “My Umi Says” by Mos Def, “Sexual Eruption” by Snoop Dogg, even Ol Dirty Basterd’s rendition of “Coldblooded”, reference the past and the fun spirits of past musics in a way few contemporary R&B artists ever attempt.

But the true genius of Pharrell is in his vision and his uniqueness. Pharrell and a handful of other artists, have always made me feel it was okay to be myself and pursue my own path. They brough the spirit I admired in Miles Davis, James Brown, George Clinton, Stevie, Sly, Marvin, etc, into the present day, when most of my peers would tell me, “That was back THEN.” And it is an amazing act for a black male artist at this time to stand up and make the whole world dance singing a song that says “I’m Happy.”

From the beginning, Pharrell understood this song was the people’s song.  I was amazed when he created the worlds first 24 hour music video, with people uploading their own videos dancing to the song, a truly democratic and positive use of current technology! And his song has become so big that the U.N used it as their theme for their “International Day of Happiness.” The video I posted is from Liberia, my mothers home country and a country both of my parents love dearly. Liberia’s main image currently is one of 19 years of one of the most brutal civil wars seen in recent memory.  But this was a country founded as a country of hope for individuals who were not allowed much in their home land. But Pharrell’s song and the “Happy” video show that the human spirit lives on, as it always has. My mother, who usually does not dig the message of many current musics, actually asked me to bring home Pharrell’s album for HER the other day. I often bemoan the fact that todays black music, in contrast to a song such as “Respect” by Aretha Franklin, is not often something kids and grown ups can share together. How can a consciounable parent bring their kids out to dance at 2 am to “All I want for my birthday is a big booty hoe?” But “Happy” is most definitely a song that makes both me and my mother dance. I heard another young lady say that she plays that for her kids in the morning when she’s taking them to school. At that, I’ll say Pharrell has made quite a contribution in his time to the never ending, always elusive human quest, and for 3 mintues and 53 seconds at a time, he plants his flag on that tall and distant summit of joy.

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Filed under Motown, Music, Music Reviewing, Pharrell Williams

Anatomy of THE Groove 04/04/14 Rique’s Pick: “Phoenix Rise” by Maxwell

 

Maxwell ended an 8 year hiatus on the music scene with his 2009 album “BLACKsummers’night”, which was supposed to be part one of a three part series. We’re still waiting for parts 2 and 3, but Maxwell can be seen across the country on the touring circuit this summer. Maxwell is one of those artists in the ’90s who led the move back towards a more organic, musical and poetic style of R&B influenced by the classic years of the genre, which itself became a sub genre called Neo-Soul. Maxwell of course always had a strong funk connection as well, with his debut album, “Maxwell’s Urban Hang Suite” being produced by ’70s vetrans Leon Ware and Melvin “Wah Wah” Ragin.  “Phoenix Rise” is the last song on the album, a funky instrumental that provided an instrumental vision of rebirth and redemption, which is a cool way to start this blog for April. Instrumentals, whether from James Brown, Booker T & the M.G’s, The Meters, Young, Holt & Unlimited, and many other bands, were one of the key musical forms that began the funk revolution in the 1960s.

“Phoenix Rise” is like a 2:41 wake up call. If  my local R&B/Jazz station KBLX was still independent, this track would be an excellent one to play on the morning drive time, to simultaneously mellow people out and invigorate them. The song begins with a modern digital keyboard tone, playing a sweeping pad sound that sounds like waves washing up against the sand. The groove is introduced in stages, percussion making way for drummer Chris Dave’s big fat drum beat. Dave’s drums are well recorded, up front, definitely informed by the type of funk drumming that was heavily sampled in hip hop’s golden age, at the very least in how loud and upfront it’s recorded.

After eight bars of the drummers beat, sliding guitar lines are introduced, followed by Derrick Hodge’s bass, which plays some funky thumps and pops, the pops loosely form a bassline, but what they sound like more than anything are a muscle car revving it’s engines up, accenting the other instruments groove. Soon the bass and guitar settle into the main phrase, a vaguely Afro-Carribean accented phrase, doubled by a guitar playing in the low register, a common technique used to strengthen the sound of the bassline in the early days of recording. This phrase reoccurs every four bars, it’s a very funky phrase that also manages to be uplifting through it’s Afro-Carribean rhythmic accents. Single note guitar lines burstling with rhythmic activity liven up the groove as the main phrase takes root.

The horns of Keyon Harrold and Kemet Whalum III come into play right after a rock guitar is added. At the 2:00 mark the song breaks down, hitting the slowed down half time type feel that has been popular in hip hop since the 1990s and comes from the south, which has been very popular in roots funk musics like New Orleans brass music and D.C go-go. The half time section gives the horns a chance to play a soulful phrase as the bass moves a long in a reggae tinged lope, a la The Police’s intro to “Roxanne.” As soon as the “Phoenix” of the song rises, it disintigrates, as the horns hit some riffs and the whole song just fades out.

This song came out in 2009, which happened to be the year I lost my father. The idea of a funky instrumental, named after a mythological Egyptian bird was very appealing to me at the time, and remains so today. It’s a slice of mature, well polished funk with an Afro-Diasporic tinge that gets one energized. From footage I have found on YouTube it seems Maxwell and his band use it to open up their concerts, and it’s a great choice to do so! So enjoy the rebirth and reinvigoration of the “Phoenix Rise” this weekend and hereafter!

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Filed under Blogging, Funk