Tag Archives: Rock

Talking Heads: More Songs About Buildings & Food As It Approaches 40

Physically speaking, More Songs About Buildings And Food was made by the same band that had thrown down Talking Heads: 77. Yet in terms of the music the flavor, style and attitude bare only the slightest resemblance. Of course, this is the beginning of the bands highly fruitful partnership with Brain Eno, a person even David Byrne (unique as he was) could never fully comprehend mentally. Along with Eno’s love of…well the best word would be painting abstract sound art the band themselves were fully indulging themselves in an all out rhythmic assault here.

The entire album is not percussive, but the whole concept is different; whereas the debut found a mildly quirky band really more or less exploring it’s “pop legs” this one is the birth of the Talking Heads classic sound in full form-top heavy, polyrhythmic,funky and as a result very spare underneath the clutter. The first six tunes on the album pretty much don’t let up-you have classics building a melody within the rhythm attack on “Thank You For Sending Me An Angel”, “Warning Sign” and my favorite “Found A Job”.

There are plenty of just out and out jamming on the one happening on “The Girls Want To Be With The Girls”,”With Our Love” and “The Good Thing”. Rick James may not have coined the phrase “punk-funk” yet but the world of…well funky rhythm rock would never be the same after this stuff! Once you get into tunes such as “Artists Only”,”I’m Not In Love” and “Stay Hungry” your in for music finding the Heads trying to make sense,if they truly ever can of all the rhythms around them to come up with some jerky new-wavish tunes-like the rest of it they’re not structured  “pop” per se but are  very singable.

Technically speaking, “Take Me To The River” is the slower tune here..it creeps up on you like a soulful monster but never attacks,just keeps creeping away until the end and it’s a nice little change.”The Big Country”….well if I read it right I can sort of relate; when I moved where we live now I found myself thinking some of the things Byrne speaks about in the lyrics. And even now I often think “you couldn’t pay me to live here”. I LOVE the blunt, freaky humor without any of the cynicism.

In terms of writing and melodicism, More Songs About Buildings And Food isn’t quite as strong as the debut. And that really isn’t the point. The songs here are built from the rhythms & beats Eno and the Heads create here. And they add up to a lot when all’s said and done. But again the remaster/re-recording really brings this music a whole new life! This will not be everyone’s favorite Heads album but considering how well they started, the masterpieces to come and the historical place this holds in their career, this is just what the doctor ordered.

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Funk Revelations Of 1987: ‘Freedom’ by Santana

Considering the revivalist creative spirit of the 80’s, it was still surprising that a musician as innovative and distinctive as Carlos Santana was not only still around but had never went away. Signed to Columbia,his music kept reaching the people. And thereby producing an audience-especially when one of his fusions of the contemporary sounds of the given time period impacted strongly on them. All the same, the Mexican American spirituality and Carlos’s 60’s type idealism hadn’t left him either.

During 1987, with social movements such as the ones to end Apartheid in Africa and even the AIDS activism of Act Up were showcasing that positive social protest was alas not dead during the last years of Reaganomics. On this album Santana expanded the hybrid band he was going for to include both Genesis’s Chester Thompson and Graham Lear (himself a Gino Vannelli alumbi) as drummers,along with bringing back keyboardist Tom Coster and bassist Alphonso Johnson into the mix.

In addition to guesting blues icons Buddy Guy and Junior Wells, this album also marked the return of another Santana alumni in Buddy Miles-lead vocalist for this potent album.  “Veracruz” opens this album on the note much of it maintains: heavy duty uptempo danceable funk with Minneapolis style synthesizer riffs and some mean bass lines. With the harmonica solo of Junior Welles here its clear that,outside the instrumentation this song is also squarely in the 12 bar electric blues tradition.  Never a surprise in any funk but it really sticks out strong on this one.

“Once It’s Gotcha” is right in the same heavy funk vein. “Songs Of Freedom”, “Deeper,Dig Deeper”and “Praise” are all right there too. And on them Santana has re-introduced something that the best of funk is always wise to embrace: a strong humanitarian consciousness in the lyrics. “She Can’t Let Go” is a slower tune with a chill styled aura about the moaning electronics and the dynamically intense melody of the chorus. “Love Is You” is a very pretty instrumental-with a strong contemporary jazz/pop flavor with Coster’s glassy synthesizer playing the dreamy melody with Santana’s spirited soloing.

“Before We Go” has a deep gospel/soul flavor about it while “Mandella” is a deeply fluid African inspired instrumental jam that gets everyone on board instrumentally. The album rounds out with the break rhythm oriented and brooding dance/rock of “Victim Of Circumstance”. Two things characterize this album from start to finish. For one, every song on the album are strongly based in soul/funk and are very danceable. This doesn’t have the typical bed of percussion that you’ll find on most Santana albums. Its more integrated into the steady rhythms,which always stay firmly on the one.

Yet Freedom still holds onto the funk era ethnic identification that Santana always held. The production is just as contemporary as it had been on Santana’s previous album Beyond Appearances. Difference is a more live instrumental flavor is strongly showcased here. Another important element of this album is that it truly lives up to its title both lyrically and conceptually. The focus is squarely on both romantic love and the love that humanity has (and should have) for one another as well.  Santana are respected both by musicians musicians and as “classic rock” survivors.

That well rounded respect of Santana’s musical ethic is why I’d highly recommend this album. Both in lyrical and instrumental terms. And to anyone who thought the entirety of the 1980’s represented musical soullessness. Its an album of the band that I personally discovered long after it came it. But it still felt extremely familiar. True, Santana didn’t have the capability of ever being soulless as far as I’m concerned. And in a way, that is a big reason as to why this album can effectively serve as such a high example of what it is.

 

 

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‘Prince’@37: A Sophomore Album That Wasn’t Treated So Bad

Prince 1979

Prince really did create a technical and musical marvel with his debut album For You. Still out of Prince’s two albums of the late 1970’s,its his second self titled effort that proved to be his commercial breakthrough. That is in the sense he had a tremendous hit with it. That hit was “I Wanna Be Your Lover”. This was late 70’s sophistifunk at its sauciest-with a sleek groove that’s both sweetly melodic,but has a full on chunky bass/guitar groove about it. It started off this album. And its also the song that many mainstream pop music listeners pre 1980 might cite as the very first Prince they’d remember hearing.

I first became aware of this record through a handful of its songs making the cute of Prince’s first anthology set The Hits/B-Sides. So its probably best to discuss those songs first. “Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad” is a very mainstream rock tune with some glistening,melodic power chords from Prince on this song written by Andre’ Cymone. The other is a classic Prince one man band version of “I Feel For You”. This is the first version I heard. And due to that reason,much as I love Chaka Khan’s far more famous cover,that’s pretty much its own thing next to this version.

Whats so interesting about this album for me is 3/4 of it is slow ballad oriented. When I first picked up the CD pre-owned,all there was to listen to CD’s were undependable bar code scanners some stores had. So it was a surprised that some songs such as “When We’re Dancing Close And Slow” and “Still Waiting” were rather country western/pop flavored ballads. “With You” has a 1950’s doo wop flavor to its slow ballad flavor. Of the slow songs on the album,my personal favorite is “It’s Gonna Be Lonely”-which has a then contemporary progressive soft rock flavor about it with its processed guitar reverb.

My favorite song on this album of course is “Sexy Dancer”. This is almost an instrumental. Prince’s panting becomes a percussive element to this lean,mean bass/guitar extravaganza that points to Prince’s signature early 80’s funk sound. Not to mention the jazzy Yamaha electric piano solo he takes on the bridge. “Bambi” is the other rocker here. This is a crunching hard rock number too. The focus of the song is on Prince having a crush on a woman who turns out to be a lesbian-spending the chorus trying to convince her “its better with a man”-seemingly for his own physical benefit only.

In the end,I have to agree with Prince on this album. It served its function very well in getting more people interested in his music.  And as he implied,it did what it he intended it to do by featuring some strands of late 70’s pop music. On the other hand,Prince’s frank take on the sexual revolution of disco era and the albums general emphasis on funk made it clear the type of musician Prince would be. He would make melodies,rock out but never totally give up on the funk. In as much as it laid the blueprint for his commercial approach of the early 80’s,this album is a very significant one for Prince.

 

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Filed under 1979, ballads, classic albums, Funk, Minneapolis, Minneapolis Sound, Music Reviewing, Prince, rock and soul, rock guitar

Andre’s Amazon Archive Special Presentation for Record Store Monday: ‘Black Messiah’ by D’Angelo

Black Messiah

For the last 16 years? D’Angelo has been missing in action as far as studio albums are concerned. While an enormous live revue in 2000 featuring his band the Soultronics-including people such as ?uestlove among the other members were hailed as some of the most promising new bands of it’s time. Of course so much as gone down in the music world since D’Angelo’s most recent and lengthy absences from recording. The call he and the Soultronics made about musicians taking the musical creative process back for themselves as really started to show itself during the latest recession-particularly within the last year or so. And with the reality of the need to free ourselves from racial hatred and privilege has all come together to create just the right atmosphere for D’Angelo and his new band the Vanguard-including former Time member in guitarist Jesse Johnson along with ?uestlove still on skins. And musically the man has a whole lot to say.

The album starts out with a deep,steely,thumping rock/funk number-both the guitar and bass lines possessed of massive funky bottoms and D’Angelo himself delivering his broad ranging,multi tracked Southern soul drawl of a voice. “1000 Deaths” samples a preacher talking about the idea of a nappy headed Jesus as the “new black messiah” over heavy funky drumming and slap bass thrusts with “D’Angelo’s heavily processed vocals accompanied closely by a staticky,revved up keyboard. “Sugar Daddy” gives a sitar led forwards/backwards looped drum oriented psychedelic soul rocker with a very probing melody. “Sugah Daddy” has this clapping,tickling percussion and this bluesy jazz/juke joint style piano commonly heard on many mid/late 70’s P-Funk records with some very scatting vocals-both solo and multi tracked. “Really Love” is a mixture of a hip-hop beat with a beautifully sensual Brazilian jazz melody.

“Back To The Future” is a two part number here-both of which take a strong countrified jazz-funk bounce with a melody that comes right from “The Charleston”,the iconic stride pianist James P.Johnson’s famous song that originated the famous dance. The second part coming near the closing of the album adds more of a bouncing Southern danceable funk rhythm to the outro. “Till It’s Done (Tutu)” is full of heavy bluesy guitar reverb and a very melodic slap bass line sharing the musical space with D’Angelo’s elaborate vocal turns. “Prayer” is a slow,dragging wah wah powered groove with a spacy synthesizer melody floating over the top. “Betray My Heart” is a swinging dyno’d up electric piano powered jazz-funk number with tons of liquid groove from top to bottom. “The Door” is a whistling powered instrumental slice of sweetly melodic sunshine pop/soul. “Another Life” closes the album with a beautiful orchestrated,thick soul ballad with D’Angelo’s high falsetto vocal calls and the ascending melody the perfect accent to the piano/sitar/drum/string swirls of the song.

One thing to say about this album is that it’s simply an amazing total musical experience! Yes that in a sentence does some it up! In fact I had to listen to much of it twice before this review to absorb just what comes out of it. If D’Angelo never recorded another album the rest of his life? This could easily be his defining swan song. Why is that? Well it just channels all the threads of D’Angelo’s musical influences. It has Stevie Wonder’s love of creating instrumentally new melodic sounds. Duke Ellington’s sense of swing and rhythmic dissonance. Al Green,Sly Stone and OutKast’s Andre 3000’s drawling vocal hiccups and stutters. Prince’s psychedelic mixtures of funk,rock and soul. Ron Isley’s high vocal cries and wails. And it doesn’t leave out the jazz age with it’s love of modern time and stride piano. And in the end? It’s all D’Angelo and all funky! Not to mention awe inspiring melodies with the power to connect to the people. And even if some of the lyrics are difficult to make out? The music says all it needs to say: differences should always be different,and lay comfortably side by side-not far apart. A grand comeback for D’Angelo linking the sociological and musical chains that made contemporary black America so special TO America!

Link To Amazon Review Here*

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Filed under 2014, Afro-Futurism, Afro-Latin jazz, Al Green, alternative rock, Amazon.com, Blues, Brazil, D'Angelo, drums, Funk, Funk Bass, George Clinton, Hip-Hop, Jazz-Funk, Jesse Johnson, Marvin Gaye, Memphis Soul, Minneapolis, Music Reviewing, Neo Soul, Nu Funk, P-Funk, Prince, rhythm & blues, rock 'n' roll, Sly Stone, Southern Soul, Stevie Wonder

Anatomy of THE Groove 10/10/14 Rique’s Pick : ” What Goes Around Comes Around” by Lenny Kravitz

Today’s Friday Funk “Anatomy of THE Groove” feature returns back to the 1990s and one of that decades great artists, Lenny Kravitz. I was discussing Kravitz with my good friend Calvin last week, and I came to somewhat of a realization about him and his career. I’ve heard lots of criticism of him, even from people one would think would make up his core constituency. The main complaint always seems to be that his Gemini versatility and gift for emulation prevent him from having his own style and somehow lack authenticity. When one considers Lenny’s upbringing however, one finds a resume that is quite unusual for an artist smack dap in Generation X as he (b.1964). Kravitz, growing up the son of star actress Roxie Roker of “The Jeffersons” fame, saw most of the major stars of the great ’60s and ’70s boom of soul, rock, and funk. Kravitz saw artists such as Miles Davis, James Brown, Sly & The Family Stone, P Funk, and The Jackson 5 LIVE. He also talks of going to see the great jazz drummer Buddy Rich play live. At the same time he was playing and learning instruments himself. The great R&B star Teena Marie personally took him in and encouraged his music. By the time he began recording and found his trademark eclectic groove and image, what the world had was a young musician, younger than M.C’s such as Chuck D, Ice T and Kool Moe Dee, who had the music of the ’60s & 70’s music explosion deep within him. Where the rap acts did as well, their non instrumental direction took them to making new tracks over the old sounds. Kravitz paid homage in the way he knew how, making songs such as “What Goes Around Comes Around” in the style of his great hero and fellow Gemini master, Curtis Mayfield.

Kravitz had just produced a song for Mayfield with Ice T providing a guest rap, called “Superfly 1990” for a little seen (and rightfully so) sequel to that blaxploitation classic. That song amazed me with its perfect update of the Curtis Mayfield classic funk vibe. Kravitz doubled down on the Curtis Mayfield sound with this song from his breakthrough 1991 album “Mama Said.”

A drum kick paves the way for the Curtis Mayfield inspired funk. Kravitz himself is on drums, and he plays the classic Curtis Mayfield funk drum beat, a Motown drum beat, which features the snare drum playing a consistent pattern on all four beats. Instead of the loud snare and rim shots you’d get from a great Motown drummer like Benny Benjamin, Curtis’ drummers like Quentin Joseph would play that snare drum on the cross sticks, which gives the groove a mellower, cooler, Afro Latin derived feel. With the snare holding steady, the kick drum is used to dance.

One of the interesting things I found out about this track recently is that Kravitz used Curtis Mayfields great bass player, “Lucky” Scott on this track. And he lays down exactly the type of bass line he would behind Curtis, a melodic bass line with a lot of space that creates a feel of walking, or more accurately, strutting down the avenue. On top of that Kravitz lays some very sensitive clean guitar chording.

The vocals are sung in falsetto, just as Curtis would, and the moral of the lyrical text is also Curtis influenced. Kravitz basically sings a song about Karma, using a blues type story in the first verse where the character is not living right and suffering because of it. The next verse tells the story of a persons who’s “cup over runneth/with fullness and grace.” Kravitz total devotion to the classic sound on this song is evident when the horns come in, and he used Earth, Wind & Fire’s renowned Phenix Horns to play the horn chart, which is a snappy accompanying riff. Kravitz also includes an interesting string part that he sings along with in falsetto. The third verse is about how we can’t afford to destroy the planet, and hte last verse takes on another Curtis like topic, encouraging the children of the future. And he speaks directly of Gen X and the Milenials, with a Mayfield like twist of phrase and rhyme : “Your forefathers said/but they did not do/the things that would show/that they cared for you.”

Lenny truly goes for the soul-funk crown on this one, adjusting his guitar comping in several sections and adding a Phenix Horn (probalby Don Myrick) sax solo. I really dig the solo, especially the way the horn player starts off in a totally conventional matter and moves way out into free jazz Coltrane/Dolphy/Sanders abstraction. It reminds me of the sax solo on EWF”s live rendition of “Sun Goddess.” Kravitz plays some very responsive guitar underneath the solo, actually adjusting what he’s playing to support and provide interest behind the soloist. By the end of the song Lenny is singing “I’m gonna take you higher.”

When Lenny Kravitz recorded and released this song, the late great Curtis Mayfield was in a wheel chair, paralyzed from an accident at a New York concert. Curtis himself was no longer able to play his guitar, on which he was a great innovator and stylist. It was very special then, that Lenny did this song, and brought Curtis’ voice, wisdom, and healing through music to those times. And he did it in a way that was stylistically true to one of the most unique styles in funk music history. “Mama’s Said” was a diverse album that featured all sorts of variations of rock and funk, including the great Philly Soul love letter to Lisa Bonet, “It aint over till it’s over.” I would love to play this song now for an old funk fan who ignored Kravitz because of his percieved weirdness. I’d bet they’d marvel at how well one up and coming master captured the unique artistry of another. And by “marvel”, I do mean GROOVE!

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The Anatomy of THE Groove 08/15/14 Rique’s Pick : “Sex” by Lenny Kravitz

Lenny Kravitz has had a unique place in popular music over the past 25 years, particularly in black music. When he got his contract, the idea of a black musician was almost abstract, particularly playing the types of solid classic rock, retro funk and soul sounds he’s become famous for. Kravitz has been needed over the years because ears and booties need a break from the drum machine every now and then, but the man has faced criticisms himself for being stuck in the same groove from time to time. Todays song selection, “Sex” from his upcoming album “Strut” finds him in a new bag, a monstorous funk/rock/disco tune in the tradition of The Stones “Miss You”, David Bowie’s “Golden Years”, and many other rock meets funk junctions. Kravitz adds his one of a kind vocal phrasing that mixes gospel type joy with rock and roll exuberance and the results are something much funkier than your average headbang!

The song wastes no time establishing the groove. A drum roll announces the song, leading into a washed out, high in the mix, reverberating drum track. The guitar plays a funky  riff, heavily phased and eq’ed in a dominating rock and roll manner. The bass line is a real beauty of simplicity, taking in part from classic funk bass lines like Chic’s “Good Times”, “Ape is High” by Mandrill, and “Hollywood Swinging” by Kool & the Gang, announcing itself by playing the same note three times, right on top of the beat. The bass is a four bar pattern, and its both funky and rock solid. The track gives the effect of an extremely funky power rock trio playing, in which the instruments have lots of room to make an impact and the sound is filled up by adding effects to make the music sound monstorous.

Lenny sings a song of sexual gratification, and even though the song title is blatant, his lyrics are in the best tradition of soul and R&B suggestion.  He tells his woman: “Breathe me, tease me/Cant control how I feel when you’re near me/I cant do nothing about it/got that feeling coming over me.”  Lenny sings the verse in a basic rock shouting manner, but switches on the refrain to a gospel joy vibe much more akin to Al Green on “Take me to the River.”

Around 2:05 in to it, Lenny plays a very funky vamp, with a galloping type of disco beat and a middle eastren melody, leading back to him vamping on the refrain and the chorus. The song only has two verses, and ends, as we’ve seen a few funk songs going back to lately, with an extended instrumental playout.

“Sex” is a good song, a reminder to a time many often forget when funk, disco, and rock all converged. If one listens to it and the other song so far released from “Strut”, “The Chamber”, it sounds as if Kravitz is exploring funky disco rock, New Wave, and Dance Rock/Dance Punk styles. If that’s the direction he’s going in this album I’m happy for it, as the intersection of funk and rock has always been his natural area, and he might very well find an inspirational new sound by bringing his musical excavations up to the late ’70s on through the ’80s. But until the album does drop, my morning runs are going to be accompanied by the sounds of “Sex.”

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Filed under "Sexual Healing", 1970's, 1980's, Blogging, Disco, Funk, Music Reviewing