Tag Archives: rhythm & blues

Anatomy of THE Groove: “All We Need” by Patrice Rushen

Patrice Rushen is an artist I’ve been wanting to write about for some time. And one of the key reasons behind starting Andresmusictalk. She is best known for her hits in 1979’s “Haven’t You Heard” and 1982’s “Forget Me Nots”. The LA native is turning 62 today. Earning her music degree from the University Of California. By the age of 20,her debut album Prelusion  had been released-presenting her as an instrumental jazz artist. By the time she signed to Elektra in 1978, Rushen was already a major player in the jazz-funk genre which was deep in its peak period during that time.

A gifted multi instrumentalist,Rushen began singing on her albums after 1975’s Before The Dawn. By the early 80’s,she’d made the transition into a soul/funk singer who still maintained her high quality jazz/funk instrumental backing. Her 1982 album Straight From The Heart  is perhaps her most famous album-containing one of her biggest hits in “Forget Me Nots” and showcasing some of her most creatively satisfying and funky music. Being a lover of the Fender Rhodes piano,which is one of Rushen’s passions,one of my very favorite songs from this album is entitled “All We Need”.

This is a song that just starts right off ready for action. The beat maintains a consistent post disco stomp while the rhythm section maintains its fatness throughout. Paul Jackson’s guitar is snapping throughout this song with a hard punchy sound. And the slap bass line of Freddie Washington is popping just as heavy with the dramatic chordal modulations Rushen’s Rhodes and her vocal duet with Roy Galloway provide. The change in melody on the changes of the song add a glistening high tone on the roads before the basic chorus of the song fades it right out.

One thing that strikes me about this song is that instrumentally,its mostly chorus. And its one of the funkiest choruses of the post disco era-with a phat funky bass/guitar interaction and Rushen’s Fender Rhodes carrying the Stevie Wonder like jazz/funk chord modulations. In that way,its probably the ideal jazz/funk song for the post disco era. The instrumentation is very live sounding,the melody is very singable and the composition is full of Rushen’s signature jazz phrasings. So on those levels,its just the type of song that really epitomizes her approach to jazzy pop/funk.

 

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Filed under 1980's, drums, Fender Rhodes, Freddie Washington, jazz funk, LA, Patrice Rushen, Paul Jackson, post disco, rhythm guitar, Roy Galloway, slap bass

Anatomy of THE Groove: “In Spiritual Love” by Jean-Luc Ponty

Jean-Luc Ponty is an artist who probably most represents my adult focus on jazz fusion/funk. A virtuosic violinist from Avranches,France Ponty was born into a family of classically trained musicians.  While graduating fairly young from the  Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique de Paris with their highest honor,he began listening to Miles Davis and John Coltrane while playing with one of the countries major symphony orchestra’s  Concerts Lamoureux. Ponty became known by the end of the 60’s as being a premier example of “jazz fiddle”.

The jazz community at the time had similar doubts as to the violin’s viability in jazz as they had when Rufus Harley introduced bagpipe into the genre. But with his mixture of be-bop phrasings and European classical movements,Ponty became part of the link between jazz fusion and what would become the new age music genre. He released his first solo album at the age of 22 in 1964’s Jazz Long Playing. He played with key members of the modern jazz movement until Frank Zappa wrote songs for his 1969 album King Kong.  He emigrated with his family to America when asked to join Zappa’s Mothers Of Invention.

Ponty participated in the first two Mahavishnu Orchestra albums in the early 70’s as well,before restarting his solo career in 1975. By the early 80’s,he’d toured the world and recorded more than a handful of premier jazz/rock fusion albums. In 1983 he released his 15th studio album Individual Choice. The title song was given one of the first jazz music videos. He also re-ignited his collaboration with the late George Duke. He and Duke recorded a collaborative album together in 1969. And he was the chief composer of my favorite song on Ponty’s 1983 release entitled “In Spiritual Love”.

The main body of this song entirely surrounds the rhythm. Its a funky R&B shuffle done up on a brittle drum machine-surrounded by multiple synthesizer parts. One is a jangling guitar like one,the other is a bluesy bass line while a low and high orchestral one accent both. The melody begins with Ponty plucking the main melody,than playing the last part out on his violin. The song also contains two separate instrumental solos. The first is a classic Minimoog solo from George Duke. The second one is is a full violin solo from Ponty before the song fades back out on its main theme.

Over the last decade or more,I’ve heard most of Jean-Luc Ponty’s 70’s and 80’s studio albums. And enjoyed them strongly based on their album oriented context and impeccable playing. Yet of all the individual songs he’s done,”In Spiritual Love” is one of a handful that stand out strong on its own. The solos are strongly based on Ponty and Duke’s keen understanding of harmonic virtuosity and an inviting sense of melody. But the rhythmic base of the entire song is,outside its electronic presentation,a very funky rhythm & blues shuffle. So this really puts Ponty’s entire musical focus into excellent perspective.

 

 

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Filed under 1980's, France, George Duke, jazz fusion, jazz violin, Jean-Luc Ponty, Minimoog, rhythm & blues, synth bass, synthesizers

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Victory” by Larry Graham

Larry Graham was described by Bootsy Collins one time on a PBS Rock N Roll documentary I saw as being “definitely” the innovator of funk bass. A lot of times,new instrumental ideas in music are an organic,collaborative process. In this case,Graham brought out a new approach for,what was in the late 1960’s the relatively new bass guitar. A lot of people who help write the musical vocabulary for a key part of a whole musical genre (as Graham did for funk) simply rest on their creative laurels .Graham didn’t. Upon leaving Sly & The Family Stone,he continued to innovate as the bandleader of Graham Central Station.

When I first began seeing Larry Graham solo albums while crate digging in the late 90’s and early aughts during summertime visits to the coast of Maine, the thoughts of both myself and my dad was “these albums must’ve really funked up the early 80’s”. It wasn’t until hearing “One In A Million You” did I realize that Graham’s initial solo focus was as a bass voiced soul balladeer. Then I  discovered  a vinyl copy of Graham’s 1983 album Victory,which I later got on CD. Its rich with rhythmically fat,often horn heavy post disco and boogie funk. What really hooked me in was the closing instrumental title song.

A high pitched synth brass plays a 12 bar blues type horn chart as the intro to this jam. After that,shuffling drums kick in. The main bass line of the song is a synth bass line playing its own 12 bar blues accompaniment to the higher lead line. On the refrains of the song,the melody becomes a bit more complicated and jazzy. The synth bass introduces a rocking electric guitar solo playing a driving,bluesy solo yet again. After another refrain,the song reduces down to bass and percussion-with Graham’s slap bass sololing being assisted by the high pitched synth brass as the song fades out.

This instrumental was written,produced and performed entirely by Larry Graham. Its a powerful song for me because it’s essentially a classic 50’s style rhythm & blues shuffle totally updated for the early/mid 80’s electro/boogie funk era. It uses modern synthesizers and drum machines. But the general feeling of the melody and rhythm is very much of the juke joint and the 60’s proto funk shuffle. Instrumentally,its all very powerful. The synths are played very intensely. And the slap bass is some of Graham’s finest thumping on the outro. Its a wonderful and unsung example of Larry Graham’s early 80’s solo funk.

 

 

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Filed under 1980's, blues funk, Boogie Funk, drum machines, electro funk, Larry Graham, musical innovators, rhythm & blues, rock guitar, slap bass, synth bass, synth brass

Jazz Plus 1: Rhythm & Bayous,Will Downing & The Terry Hanck Band

Rhythm & BayousJazz Plus

New DVD spotlights Louisiana’s music excellence
By Ron Wynn
“Rhythm ‘N’ Bayous” (MVD, 120 minutes)
The Louisiana music experience epitomizes the scope and vitality of this nation’s cultural heritage, and ace filmmaker Robert Mugge’s new DVD “Rhythm ‘N’ Bayous” showcases those qualities in marvelous fashion  What was initially supposed to be a travelogue feature documenting a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame bus trip instead evolved into a comprehensive documentary with a host of informative interviews, reflections and encounters. Mugge dispenses with the bus trip portion via some early foundation footage that establishes the film’s premise. It is a series of visits to key locales across the state, plus interviews with knowledgeable experts, and most importantly, unforgettable performances from numerous Louisiana artists.
The film’s divided into three sections covering Northern Louisiana, New Orleans/Baton Rouge and the Southwestern region. There are stops at clubs, churches, record stores, and other key locations that collectively comprise key aspects of Louisiana’s amazing musical tapestry. The marvelous musical selections include blues, R&B, swamp pop, gospel, Cajun, Zydeco, jazzand rock, all delivered with an urgency and energy that comes only from those making music that live and love it, as opposed to cranking out whatever’s in vogue for strictly commercial purposes.
Kermit Ruffins, Frankie Ford, Rosie Ledet, Dale Hawkins, Henry Gray, Henry Butler, Nathan Williams, Warren Storm, Claude King, Hackberry Ramblers, La Famille Viator, and Rod Bernard are among the distinguished lineup. As with all his musical presentations, Mugge provides a stunning, comprehensive and varied portrait. Ford’s “Roberta” helps jump start things, while those who’ve either grown up in or experienced fervent church worship will be totally engaged by the marvelous Ever Ready Singers.
But it’s just as revealing to see lesser known acts like La Famile Viator, a family group whose young kids are doing traditional Cajun music with the identical flair and detail of grizzled veterans, or see personalities like legendary gospel DJ Sister Pearlee Toliver, doing the kind of programming that was once available on Black radio everywhere, but now can only be heard on a handful of legacy stations.
No matter your preference, there’s something you’ll enjoy hearing at some point on “Rhythm ‘N’ Bayous.” The disc also delves into distinctive areas of regional interest, like the “Easter Rock” celebration that combines a religious observance with a dance/stepping tradition. He also spotlights newer artists such as Lil’ Bryan and Lil’ Alfred extending and tweaking vintage styles, and venerable types like Henry Gray, who’s returned home to Louisiana after spending decades in Chicago backing the greats of modern blues.
Although there’s quite like personally visiting these Louisiana sites, the next best thing is seeing them and hearing the music soar the way it does throughout “Rhythm ‘N’ Bayous.
CD reviews
Will Downing – “Black Pearls” (Shanachie)
Will Downing
Downing’s first release in six years pays homage to women vocalists he’s idolized. Thankfully, he’s also won his battle with the auto immune disease Polymyositis, and is again singing with the robust sound and soulful ardor that characterized his past releases. It’s a treat to hear his approach on tunes previously done by vocalists ranging from Cherelle to Deniece Williams, Phyllis Hyman and others. Personal favorites include his soothing version of the Emotions “Don’t Ask My Neighbors,” a masterful interpretation of Brenda Russell’s “Get Here,” and a dazzling rendition of Williams’ “Black Butterfly.” Even tunes equally notable the first time around for dynamic arrangements (Cherelle’s “Everything I Miss At Home” and The Jones Girls’ “Nights Over Egypt,”) prove just as engaging and effective numbers when done as in Downing’s smoother, less driving fashion. His version of “Street Life” is slicker than Randy Crawford’s, but just as emphatic. Najee and Kirk Whalum add crisp sax assistance on “Street Life,” and atmospheric flute interludes on “Nights Over Egypt.” Downing is at his sensual best on “Meet Me On The Moon,” a suiting tribute to Hyman, and increases his ardor while reworking the Chaka Khan and Rufus number “”Everlasting Love.” “Black Pearls” proves a solid return for Will Downing, and is ample evidence he’s back in form and still an tremendous pure singer.,
The Terry Hanck Band – “From Roadhouse To Your House: Live” (Vizztone/TVR)
Terry Hanck
Saxophonist/vocalist and bandleader Terry Hanck’s Band seamlessly blends rocking blues, roadhouse R&B, soul covers and even a throwback tune or two in a rousing live session cut last year at the California State Fair. Hanck’s tenor sax style blends hot licks and high register effects with expressive melodic interpretations and fiery lines, while he’s an effective, alternately comical and earnest vocalist. The band’s best covers include solid versions of Clarence Carter’s “Slip Away,” Tyrone Davis’ “Can I Change My Mind” and the Louis Jordan war-of-the-sexes piece “Ain’t That Just Like A Woman.” The top originals are the surging opener “Good Good Rockin’ Goin’ On,” a testimonial to Junior Walker (“Junior’s Walk”) and “Peace Of Mind.” Besides Hanck, the tight group’s other stirring soloists include guitarist Johnny “Cat” Soubrand and masterful special guest Jimmy Pugh on an array of keyboards. The rhythm section of bassist Tim Wagar and drummer Butch Cousins keep the grooves tight and fluid, and the Terry Hanck Band offer 13 mostly engaging performances that show why they’re 2016 Blues Award winners.

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Filed under 2016, Blues, CD's, film reviews, Louisiana, Music Reviewing, musical documentary, rhythm & blues, Robert Mugge, Soul, The Terry Hanck Band, Uncategorized, Will Downing

Grooves On Wax: Black Wax In Black Music Month

James Brown Showtime

James Brown’s albums up to the beginning of the mid 60’s seem to be helpful in showcasing what was influential on the future Godfather Of Soul. This 1964 album,his debut for Smash,is an excellent example of this. JB starts out with a spirited cover of the R&B classic “Caledonia”,originally by Louie Jordan & The Timpani Five. As a studio album overdubbed with applause,these songs find JB singing the blues on a number of rhythm & blues shuffles-removed for the most part from his typical live show of the era.

Key Jams: “Evil” and “Ain’t Nobody Here But Us Chickens”

Mirium Makeba

Miriam Makeba is an artist I’ve always interesting in hearing more from. This is an excellent album from 1967 for her. It really does a lot to bring out the sound of African soul-with a lot of elements that would eventually go into the world fusion sound in the future. Especially with the songs not all being sung in English. She even adds a folk song called “A Piece Of Ground”-which runs down the horrid inequity of apartheid in South Africa.

Key Jam: “Pata Pata”

Odyssey Of Iska

Wayne Shorter made this 1971 avant garde jazz album as he was transitioning from Miles Davis’s second quintet of the mid/late 60’s onto fusion pioneers Weather Report. And it really shows as Gene Bertoncini’s guitar-with it’s rhythmic overdrive along with former quintet made Ron Carter’s bass and Alphonse Mouzan’s drumming give this album the kind of Afro-Brazilian jazz/funk process sound Miles himself was already diving headlong into.

Key Jams: “Storm”,“De Pois Do Amor,O Vazio” and “Joy”osibisa-woyaya(16)

Osibisa are a  British,mostly Ghanan Afro pop group who were first described to me as being called “Obsidica”,and sounding like the Isley Brothers. Neither of those things being true of course,this 1971 album is in the Afro-Latin funk/rock/soul collection jamming much in the style of Mandrill and Santana.

Key Jams: “Beautiful Seven” and “Move On.

robertaflack-quietfire-cover

Roberta Flack is someone who today could almost be considered the godmother of neo-soul. Her understated vocal approach and naturally based instrumental style was a precurser of that. Especially on her earlier albums.  On these records though,they caught some heavily funky fire on a song or two. This 1971 release actually has a bit more than others-especially her ultra gospel drenched version of the Bee Gee’s “To Love Somebody”.

Key Jams: “Go Up Moses” and “Sunday And Sister Jones”

Edwin Birdsong

Edwin Birdsong,keyboardist and songwriter for the Roy Ayers Ubiquity who later worked with Stevie Wonder,really put himself out on this ultra funky 1972 debut album. He was a heavy purveyor of sociopolitical “people music” message songs as well. Even the lone ballad “It Ain’t No Fun Being a Welfare Recipient” tells the kind of story you generally don’t hear on too many slow jams. Birdsong’s holds-no-barred approach to humanitarian lyricism really inspires my personal funky emotions.

Key Jams:”The Uncle Tom Game” and “When A Newborn Baby Is Born,The Gets One More Chance” 

Open Sesame

Kool & The Gang totally reinvent the chemistry of their groove on this 1976 album,in their positions as The Scientists Of Sound. The jacket folds in half on the front to find portraits of the band members in the garb of Morrish royalty. From the casting of the “genie of sound” on the title song onward,this album finds their sound in direct transition from the heavy jazz/funk based sound of their earlier music to the disco era soul/funk melodicism of their under appreciated late 70’s pre JT Taylor period.

Key Jams: “Open Sesame”,“All Night Long” and “Super Band”

brick------_goodhigh-_101b

Brick’s sophomore album was where I discovered this heavily jazz based disco funk band. This 1976 debut album for them really helped put together their “disco jazz” type of music very well-with songs that featured more instrumental oriented jamming on many of the songs rather than the more heavily constructed pop type songs they would be known for on their following recordings.

Key Jams: “Dazz” and “Brick City”

Melba Moore

Melba Moore’s Broadway experience really helped her theatrical variety of heavily orchestrated soul balladry and disco/dance records she recorded during the 70’s. This 1978 album from her,produced by the Philly team of McFadden & Whitehead,contains one of my very favorite songs by her in the funkified “You Stepped Into My Life”.

Key Jams: “You Stepped Into My Life” and “It’s Hard Not To Like You”

Ohio Players - Jass-Ay-Lay-Dee -

The Ohio Players final album for Mercury from 1978 has gotten very mixed views from fans of this classic funk band. Yet from the very beginning,they make it more than clear that the then burgeoning disco sound was not yet effecting their heavy funkiness. As a matter of fact,this particular album is home to some of the hardest hitting funk the band ever made.

Key Jams: “Funk-O-Nots”,“Jass-Ay-Lay-Dee” and “Dance (If You Wanta)”

Pleasure

Pleasure’s jazz-funk sound out of Portland,Oregon is one that I am just beginning to explore. This 1980 album of theirs has become something of a big deal in recent years. With their sophistifunk production and jazzy instrumental solos,the band seem to have made their mark in the annals of funk as it transitioned from the 70’s onto the 80’s.

Key Jams: “Now You Choose Me” and “Yearnin’ Burnin'”

brass-construction-attitudes-20120328040716

Brass Construction’s title song for this 1982 album was one I thought came from Cameo due to a mislabeled MP3 sometime ago. It led me to the vinyl album,which is now recognizable as the bands transition to the stripped down,electro/naked/boogie funk sound of the early 80’s. It’s almost completely uptempo funk based saved for the jazzy mid tempo ballad “ETC”.

Key Jams: “Can You See The Light”,“Forever Love” and “Attitude”

slave-bad-enuff-1089025-1437603644

Slave were the last and youngest of the classic Dayton,Ohio funk bands,and were some of the architects of the boogie funk sound. That’s very prominent on this 1983 album,their first album of the 80’s without Steve Arrington. Actually,it’s a strong transition from their original live band approach to their more electro funk oriented sound that was about to come.

Key Jams: “Steppin’ Out” , “Turn You Out (In & Out)” and “Show Down”

isley-jasper-isley-broadways-closer-to-sunset-blvd-bonus-track-version-5954759-1448546073

Ernie and Marvin Isley along with Chris Jasper struck out as their own trio in 1984. This debut album from the same year is actually one of the strongest boogie funk albums of its era. That’s because the brittle drum machines are accented by the same powerful percussion the 3+3 Isley Brothers were known for.  That rhythmic approach mixed with layers of synthesizers,bass and guitar make this an superb extension  of the Isley sound as heard on the Between The Sheets from a year earlier.

Key Jams: “Serve You Right” and “Break This Chain

 

 

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Filed under 1960's, 1970's, 1980's, Afro Funk, avant-garde, Blues, Brass Construction, Brick, Edwin Birdsong, electro funk, Funk, funk albums, Isley-Jasper-Isley, James Brown, Kool & The Gang, Melba Moore, Miriam Makeba, Ohio Players, Osibisa, Pleasure, rhythm & blues, Roberta Flack, Slave, Uncategorized, Vinyl, Wayne Shorter

Andre’s Amazon Archive: ‘Tour The U.S.A’ by James Brown & His Famous Flames

Tour The USA

During the first six or seven years of his career James Brown was essentially known for his energetically performed soul ballads and stage shows. That is generally what soul was at the time. When the music was uptempo, it was generally considered to be rhythm & blues. And soul was generally the romantic ballad end of that still new spectrum of music. Only in revision to many people realize that even from the get go, James Brown was always changing the rules.

He vocally performed his soul balladry with the theatrics and passion of the salvation gospel tent show. As the 1960’s began to come in, James began to embrace rhythm & blues to a greater degree. He was also listening to another type of music called boogaloo coming out of New York-with it’s African pop influence and use of musical breaks. With this new outlook on uptempo music in his arena, James’ music was beginning to change.

“Mashed Potatoes USA” is a very compelling song-a dancable yet fairly slow tempo rhythm & blues piece with a very raw rhythm attitude-filled with drum and horn breaks. Its quite possibly his first foray into the funk process,if not the full on funk itself. “Choo-Choo (Loco Motion)”,”Three Hearts In A Triangle” along with the instrumentals “Doin’ The Limbo”,”Joggin Along” and “Sticky” are all heavily rocking and organ/horn based R&B with a consistent and chunky rhythmic flavor that on the other hand is decidedly unbroken.

“I’ve Got Money” returns for a bit to the possibility of the funk process again. “I Don’t Care”,interestingly one of the few examples of his original soul ballad style, actually begins the lyrical process for his funk innovation “Cold Sweat” with him stating “I DON’T CARE about your past”. “Like A Baby”,”Every Beat Of My Heart” and “In The Wee Small Hours” are examples or James’ earlier instrumental organ blues throwdowns to round this out.

Often mistaken for a live album because of its title, this 1962 studio recording by James Brown and his Famous Flames is a neglected but very important album for James’ catalog. Its his first album to put a significant amount of attention on heavy rhythm and uptempo tunes. You begin to hear him and his band beginning to find their signature instrumental style that they were still ironing out, by trying out different styles from soul to R&B to blues on their earlier recordings.

Being from the era that it is, this album is of course likely a collection of James Brown “sides”,recorded originally in intention for release on 45 A and B and cobbled together on this long player to bring them together into a loose theme to resell them. Of course less cynically this also is influenced by Ray Charles’ intentionally conceptualized ABC-Paramount era albums as well. So this also finds James discovering the possibility that he could develop as an album artist perhaps. Despite its lack of popularity in James vast and vital recorded catalog, this album is an important dry run for his future.

Originally posted on July 14th,2013

*LINK TO ORIGINAL REVIEW HERE!

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Filed under 1960's, Amazon.com, concept albums, Famous Flames, Funk, funk process, instrumental, James Brown, Music Reviewing, organ, rhythm & blues, Soul, Uncategorized

Anatomy of THE Groove: I Wish He Didn’t Trust Me So Much” by Bobby Womack (1985)

Bobby Womack passed away two years ago this year. Cancer and the beginning of Alzheimer’s disease had begun to erode away his body and mind. In light of artists whose creative output might’ve faded from their own minds such as this one,it seems all the more vital that their admirers keep their art close to their own hearts,minds and souls. Hearing Womack’s faltering voice and the somewhat dour music of his final album The Bravest Man In The World wasn’t the easiest thing for me to hear. Even on that, the man hadn’t skipped a beat as a songwriter and guitar player. And that alone reminded me of what kept him going as a soul survivor over the years.

In order to hear the man still in full command of his musical presentation,all I had to do was go back to the mid 1980’s. And my own family playing 45’s around the household. During the mid/late part of the 80’s decade,many soul/funk icons of the 60’s and 70’s were making hugely successful comebacks. Aretha Franklin,James Brown and Earth Wind & Fire being among them. Womack was somewhat unique in that he never went away during the 80’s. In fact his 1981 album The Poet was a huge critical and commercial success during the post disco radio freeze out. His 1985 release So Many Roads produced one such 45 RPM record played by my family called “I Wish He Didn’t Trust Me So Much”.

A phased pedal drum roll literally fades into the song. Rhythmically it’s a 72 BPM mid tempo number that starts out with a pulsing snare-along with a high pitched lead synth and a Japanese Koto-like one underneath. Womack’s bluesy,soulful guitar wails in the back round as that musical stranger in the dark. Once the actual beat kicks in, a throbbing synth bass comes in as accompaniment-as Womack’s distant guitar plays a more rhythmic role. The difference between the refrain the chorus and refrain comes from the use of notes. And later on with the additions of more orchestral synthesizers. The song continues with this basic musical throb until it fades out.

The addition of mid 80’s synths and urban contemporary production values actually give way to the fact that this is still a classic Bobby Womack soul slow jam underneath any instrumental sweeteners on top. In that case it’s rather like Patti LaBelle and Michael McDonald’s “On The Own”,if actually quite a bit rootsier with people such as Merry Clayton as the gospel/soul backup choruses.  The probing musical vibe Womack sets here goes well with the concept. He’s weighing the pros and cons of being attracted to his best friends wife on this song. And the stripped down,adult contemporary variation of soulful rhythm & blues really makes this stand out for me as a somewhat latter day Womack classic.

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Filed under 1980's, 45 records, Bobby Womack, drums, guitar, rhythm & blues, synth bass, synthesizers, Uncategorized

Anatomy of THE groove 5/30/14 Andre’a Pick : “Sweet Thing” by Ashford & Simpson featuring Maya Angelou

One of the most surprising musical moments of my life was when I was browsing through Bull Moose Records in Bangor and found a copy of an EP by Ashford And Simpson from 1996 featuring…Maya Angelou? I was so puzzled by the seemingly odd creative fit that I avoided the album time and time again. Yesterday I was met with the unfortunate news that Miss Angelou had passed away at the age of 1986. She was one of those individuals who had an amazing life-a black Silent generation woman who achieved an enormous level of literary respect on her own. And someone whose prose,verse,dignity and grace of person not only earned her much acclaim but was an enormous influence on the careers of many diverse figures-from Oprah Winfrey to Barack Obama. Realizing Motown being founded by a group of eager Silent generation artists looking to present music with grace and dignity? I suddenly realized just how appropriate Maya’s collaboration with Nick & Val was. Especially upon hearing their song together entitled “Sweet Thing”.

The song opens musically with an echoing, Clavinet like synthesizer that rings out a tinkling blues riff before the drums kick in and this foot stomping rhythm & blues shuffle kicks in,full of hard gospel/soul style horns and a thumping bass-all with a slickly contemporary production twist of course. Nick and Valerie start in by alternately harmonizing on what begin as passionately romantic lyrics that have that great storytelling quality that most classic Motown songs possessed. After their their harmonized chorus,Maya chimes in offering her own spoken word impressions of a similar impulse. She utilizes her imagistic metaphors,which would not be out of place had they actually come from the pen of a Smokey Robinson. A favorite lyrical aspect of Maya’s part of the song for me is when she says “when the world asks me what’s my favorite film,I say St.Louis Blues and he plays it a little” . She goes on to say “If someone asks me how to call your name,your a riff by Bird and solo by John Coltrane,your the whole Misssissippi river the the whole coast of Maine”

The lyrical imagery that Maya Angelou bought to this song enhances the fact that this is actually extremely hard driving,high quality funky music-especially for its era. During the mid 1990’s,many Silent generation veteran musicians were rather concerned with sounding “new” rather than being true to themselves. A trend that continues to this day to  a degree. While musical styles of past decades accomodated many generations? The post hip-hop world was a bit more fickle in that regard. What Maya Angelous and Ashford & Simpson did on this song was not only modernize classic shuffling rhythm & blues music,by that time largely a brand name whose true meaning seemed lost,and looked to remind a younger and often more profane youth culture that the concerns of the three generations of black people living at the time were not as divergent as they seemed to be . While Maya herself could politely ask her friend Richard Pryor to leave her home due to his profane language? She also realized that romance and hope were something that would far outlast one rather cynical age. And both musically and lyrically,this song with Ashford & Simpson bought that to the table when it was perhaps most needed. Both the late Nick Ashford and Maya Angelou will be missed,yet their legacy together as artists will remain in works such as this

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Filed under 1990s, Ashford & Simpson, Funk, Funk Bass, Generations, Maya Angelou, Motown, Poetry, rhythm & blues