Tag Archives: Sheila E.

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Funky National Anthem: Message 2 America” by Sheila E.

 

Sheila Escovedo was written about very well last summer by my former blogging partner Zach Hoskins. She came up in Oakland,California. And of a Creole,black and Mexican heritage. Not to even mention a childhood taking place during the summer of love in Frisco. And the ascendance of the Black Panther Party in her own hometown. She was only 19 when she made her musical debut as percussionist on jazz-funk bassist Alphonso Johnson’s sophomore LP Yesterday’s Dreams. It was a dry run from there to her work with the George Duke man,her time as a session ace and her hit making time with Prince.

On the first of September, Sheila is releasing a new album entitled Iconic Message 4 America. This album appears similar in concept to the Isley Brothers and Santana collaborative album Power Of Peace. Mainly in that it consists of covers of progressive message songs of the late 1960’s. Sheila however is collaborating with artists such from as Ringo Starr,George Clinton and Sly’s brother Freddy-just to name a few. A few days ago, Sheila uploaded a video she did of one for one of the new songs on the album to YouTube. Upon seeing it, the musical and visual concept was mind blowing. The song is called”Funky National Anthem: Message 2 America”.

The song starts out with a straight ahead version of the Star Spangled Banner. After this, the music suddenly goes into a re-recorded version of The JB’s “Doin It To Death”. It starts out maintaining the shuffling boogie and rhythm guitar of the song. And on the choruses, a heavy gospel organ comes in-all to Sheila and a number of other singers singing the Star Spangled Banner in its original tune. The next part of the song features a version of Maceo Parker’s sax solo,the organ plus samples of speeches from Martin Luther King, John Kennedy, Franklin Roosevelt and Barack Obama.

Sheila’s musical concept for this song is personally exciting. It takes America’s national anthem, ironically composed by staunch slavery advocate Francis Scott Key, and mixes it with the famous JB’s funk anthem from 1973. Both songs maintain their melody-with the JB’s soloing kept intact. Visually, the concept is a woman being interrogated seemingly for just having hope in a better future. The samples from MLK, FDR and Obama speeches feature multi racial American children lip syncing to their inspiring words. In an era when American must again confront hardcore racism, this song is right on time.

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‘Sign O The Times’ At 30: Prince Bares The Cross Of His Time To Settle Down

Sign O The Times

Sign O The Times is the tale of three different Prince album projects. Because Prince was cutting edge in terms of the presentation of music as well as the sound of it,he recorded enough music during 1986 for three albums. Two of which were multi album sets. Those were The Dream Factory,Crystal Ball and an album credited to a pseudonym Camille. Due to Warner Bros. displeasure with so much Prince music coming out during a years time,all of this content was whittled down into a double album set. And it was all finally released thirty years ago today as Sign O The Times.

My own personal history with the album came with seeing a very choppy take of the music video for I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man”,one of the albums rockier hits,on a VHS tape of music videos my father recorded for me at work from MTV. That was early in 1988. I first heard the hits for the album years later on the collection The Hits/The B-Sides. It was shortly after the albums tenth anniversary that I first picked it up on CD. I’d only read about it through Allmusic Guide before. And unlike with many written reviews,after hearing Sign O The Times so often I still totally agree with the guide’s positive assessment of the album.

Sign On The Times is generally considered to be either his best or most significant album of the 80’s. The obvious reason for this album being considered is best is probably because,even with Prince’s trademark eclecticism,all of the musical ideas and combinations on this album work perfectly for what they are. Its detractors sometimes point out how disjointed the album is. To the point of being highly uneven. In a way, that’s also why this album is so important. As my friend Henrique pointed out to me, its perhaps Prince’s best early use of his vault material. None of this music was meant to heard together,but it sounded as if it were.

Any album that managed to put such disparate music, all intended for different projects,into a context that had some semblance of conceptual unity is the sign of a highly creative mindset. In many ways,the internal maturity Prince seems to showcase throughout this album comes out in his approach to its presentation. Its not him so much trying to fuse different genres into a whole anymore. But rather showcasing his ability at playing funk,soul,dance and rock ‘n roll with equal vitality and identity. Writing my review on Amazon.com of this album was a bit daunting. But it did manage to convey more specifically what the album was musically.


I’m not sure what I can say that hasn’t already been said about what is very justly regarded as a classic album. Well maybe the best thing to do is discuss a little about why it might be so revered. In the three years or so since his commercial breakthrough with Purple Rain,Prince had been carefully balance creativity with his need to communicate with his audience. It was a restless struggle that’s basically defined his career and,to an extent his personal character up to this point. Somehow here he managed to make it all work.

Basically this is a double album pieced together from from three aborted 1986 album sessions and reworked into what ended up being one of his 80’s classics. As with any Prince album the sound is eclectic yet somehow consistent. On this album though the range of subject matter lyrically is much broader in scope and in a lot of ways more mature. During this time Prince was also interjecting strong live band and solo elements of jazz into his sound. It’s not only in the instrumentation but in the arrangements too and,not only that his production elements-especially his noted,inventive use of the LINN LM-1 drum machine is on full display here.

The title song here is a completely stripped down,pulsing musing on outwardly focused social ills of the day and very surprisingly became a big hit as well. There are also a good deal of genuinely sunny weather sounding pop/rock tunes such as the bouncy “Play In The Sunshine”. At the same time these songs,being that it’s Prince are not mere “fun” tunes and give you the full spectrum of weather as each song concludes with these minor chorded jazz-funk/blues instrumental bridges that express the human race’s duel consciousness very well.

There’s also a couple of dense,moody funky rockers in the explosive “It”,the tough grooving,hip-hop beat inflected “Hot Thing” and the stomping “Strange Relationship”. This album also offers up enormous doses of funk. Both the classic “Housequake” and “It’s Gonna Be A Beautiful Night”,with their precise horn charts and chunky rhythm guitars not only showcase the obvious James Brown influence but give a possible wink to out JB might’ve sounded had his career not been stalled after the mid 70’s and had he just continued on innovating.

So Prince is actually kind of picking up here where one of his musical heroes left off. There are also a series of songs here that just pull everything he does best together. One is the slinky,electronically polyrhythmic jazz-funk of “The Ballad Of Dorothy Parker”-one of my favorite Prince songs and one containing an intentionally misleading come on in the lyric. “If I Was Your Girlfriend” has a similar musical idea married to a lyric that plays on the idea about how opposite sexes may not relate to each other as well as they think.

“Forever In My Life” is a very poignant bluesy funk number that is about Prince maturing when it comes to matters of love. “U Got The Look” is one song here that does sound a little bit like his 1984 era material well,by degrees anyway although Sheila E’s percussion effects and the slicker production make it very distinctly it’s own beast. On an early nod toward what would later become known as praise rock “The Cross” has a very anthemic guitar god styled flavor and is one of Prince most rock oriented songs ever.

On the horn packed soul ballads “Slow Love” and “Adore” Prince is at his most sweet and romantic since the lyrics on his debut album For You. So across the sixteen songs on this album you get a Prince musically and personally in transition,augmenting his musical sound into yet another new territory while still keeping a foot in his original style. Also the lyrics illustrate Prince’s psyche in a similar place and in a way this stands as something of a peak of the stylistic progression he’d been working on since the 80’s decade got started.


Sign O The Times stands as a significant example,be it by accident or partial design, of Prince’s understanding of what his classic soul and funk progenitors had done. Artists such as Ray Charles were expert at playing many different kinds of music-from the soul style he innovated ,jazz and country music. And Prince was able to bring his own artistic personality to multiple styles here as well. It also showcased him in a new musical period too. It was one where he was no longer an on the loose partier. His outlook on nuclear war and other social issues here is not that of resignation anymore. Its one of concern for the future and a better life.

It was author Jason Draper who, in his coffee table book Prince: Life & Times in 2008, described the overall atmosphere of the album best. To paraphrase his words,the album jacket features an out of focus Prince in the foreground. He is walking away from what appears to be the set of a local production of Guys & Dolls. There is a glowing plasma ball in the center of it all. Draper speculated,and perhaps correctly so,that it was not only representative of Prince focusing more on music and less on the rock lifestyle. But also on Warner Bros passing on his planned releases as well.

Prince also delivered an album here that seemed to have provided a better viewpoint for music writers. My father described one such instance where Downbeat magazine (which is generally highly critical of even jazz releases) gave Sign O The Times a 5 star review-essentially describing it as Prince’s magnum opus. This was either in the late 80’s or early 90’s.  Now I can only relate my fathers story about this since I cannot find any confirmation in online archives for it. But it does speaks volumes about how the musical and personal maturation dealt with on the album has had positive results on even professional music journalism.

On its 30th anniversary,this album is also a shinning example to artists and producers who,today, inspired by Prince’s instrumental condensation of funky dance grooves. The Minneapolis sound has become the mainstream production approach now. But what is important for modern producers inspired by Prince is to take a listen to how even on these songs,most done by Prince himself,are possessed of strong chord changes and thick grooves. In fact, Sign O The Times should be experienced fully by any DIY producer/musician today before their next production because it remains that strong an album for that ethic.

My Favorite Songs From The Album For You To Hear:

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Anatomy of THE Groove: “A Love Bizarre” by Sheila E

Sheila E has been written about so well by blogger on here Zach Hoskins,in his segment about Prince’s female protege’s. Her back story is so well known,and that pulled it all together. It was my mom who gleefully encouraged me to pick up Sheila’s debut The Glamorous Life on CD on a 1997 visit to Rochester,New York. She has never been someone too emphatic about recommending music. But on this one,she was very insistent. Hearing the song had me interesting in hearing as much Sheila E as existed at the time. And luckily within the next 6-7 years,I had all her output up to that point.

In the immediate post Purple Rain period,Prince began pursuing a far jazzier style of music. He began augmenting the Revolution with horns-starting with sax player Eric Leeds. And the music he was producing for (and with) his proteges was really starting to reflect this. The songs continued to stretch out in length too. One such song was one Prince had recorded in August 1985. And it was actually done in very close collaboration with Sheila as well. It was the final track on the first side to her 1985 LP Romance 1600. It was called “A Love Bizarre”.

Prince’s classin LINN LM-1 with the flanger filter effect starts out as the main rhythm for the entire song. Than his round,popping synth bass comes in just before Sheila’s percussion. Eric Leeds’ presence on the song takes two forms. First there’s him playing the main vocal chorus of the song pretty much by rote. Than he continues with a jazzy improvisation throughout the rest of the song. Matt Bliston joins him of a very Sly & The Family Stone pitch dip on some of the rhythmic accents of the song. Prince provides a West Montgomery like guitar solo as the song finally fades out.

The central rhythm to “A Love Bizarre” is very basically funky. But its the many instrumental touches that add the bite to this driving groove. There are musical ideas from all across the spectrum of classic funk in the 60’s and 70’s. There’s the jazzy soloing on the final half of the 12+ minute opus. Also Prince’s guitar solo starts playing the melody for “Frere Jacques” on the bridge of the song. That rounds out to this being a strong collaborative effort between Sheila E.,Prince and his growing band. At the same time,its got that Minneapolis funk touch that just never quits.

 

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Filed under 1985, Eric Leeds, horns, jazz funk, jazz guitar, Linn Drum, Minneapolis Sound, Prince, Saxophone, synth bass

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

Prince_-_Lovesexy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Dance On” by Prince

Prince was facing some important musical milestones in 1988. It would be the decade anniversary of recording career at Warner Bros. And consequently this year would see the release of his tenth studio album entitled Lovesexy. The album would be most famous for it’s cover art. Intended to express the albums concept of spiritual conflicts between good and evil,it would up prompting many record stores of the day to censor the album. Since Prince saw it’s nine songs as a full length statement,most CD copies of it were created with all the selections on one 45 minute track-rather than separated as with most CD’s.

It was only with the advent of computer CD burning technology that  people were able to hear these as individual songs outside their original context. Taken in that way,this record has that far reaching funk/pop/jazz/rock fusion that defined Prince mid/late 80’s music. And many of it’s songs are very dense and full sounding instrumentally. There is one song on this that really stands out for me personally. And it has to do with the fact that it takes his live instrumental sound of the time with his earlier production approach. The name of this song is called “Dance On”.

Sheila E begins the song-shaking the percussion like a rattle snake after which Prince calls out “OW!! PICK IT UP!!!” before Cat calls back “there’s a bass guitar in this” as Sheila throws down one of her powerful Brazilian style jazz/funk drum/timbale beats that provides the rhythm for the entire song. The refrains of the song showcase rhythmic scratch samples and Prince thundering the bass like a runaway freight train. On the chorus of the song, Prince sings with Bonnie Boyer in his falsetto voice while she provides some gospel hued accents on her Hammond organ.

Musically this song comes at you with a tremendously powerful groove. It’s stripped down instrumentally. But Sheila E’s drums are mixed up super high. And the bass line brings out how much Prince’s style on the instrument is based on his guitar playing-with it’s thundering,hard rocking power. Prince brings the guitar in on the later refrains of the song-using the metallic,electric thump of it almost like a police siren. While the refrains express a frightened,foreboding chase scene the choruses express straight up gospel joy. And therefore captures the classic spirit of the soul/funk genre.

The rhythmic instrumental approach of the song is ideal for the lyrical content. Thematically,this song balances the socially conscious vibe of “Sign O The Times” with the determination for joy in a time of crisis to be found on “1999”.  What makes this song for me is that Prince integrates a strong musical observation. Throughout the song,he evokes how the gang violence and loss of hope he sings about was draining away an interest in musical creativity during the 1980’s-even declaring “a bass guitar in spider webs looking for the funk”. So musically and lyrically,this is a bold declaration for funk in it’s time.

 

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Filed under 1980's, Afro-Cuban rhythm, Bonnie Boyer, drums, Funk Bass, funk rock, message songs, Minneapolis, Minneapolis Sound, organ, Prince, rock guitar, scratching, Sheila E., Uncategorized

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Erotic City” by Prince

Prince’s musical legacy has a lot to do with his prolific level of recording. He was a very private man who didn’t make a lot of public appearances. And was known to have spent a good deal of his time recording new music. The end result of this is a now legendary vault of songs on his Paisley Park estate,containing thousands of unreleased songs. Of course there were many times when some of these songs not intended for albums were so strong,Prince just had to get them out there. The result was him being an artist known for some extremely high quality B-sides.

In the days of 45 RPM vinyl,I  was one of those people who used to love turning the record over to see what song was on the other side. Some B-sides,for Prince included,were actually album tracks that had never been hits. Prince for his part seemed to delight in putting these new grooves that inspired him onto the B-sides of his hits. During the extensive recording sessions for Purple Rain,Prince recorded one such song that ended up as such a flip side to his big single from that album called “Let’s Go Crazy”. The name of this song was “Erotic City”.

Prince starts the track by pulling an electric guitar string high up on the neck-producing a quavering theremin-like tone before the Linn drum machine kicks into gear with it’s hollow,open snare accents. The main rhythm of the song is built around this,along with a high pitched,bleeping synthesizer playing a 5 note blues riff call and response with a chunky chicken scratch rhythm guitar.  The round bass line pays the melodic changes as the chorus add a fairly low,minor chorded synthesizer orchestration while Prince trades off vocal leads with Sheila E.

The bridge of the song comes in with a lot of attitude. The bleeping synthesizer becomes more hollow and plays more of a two note pattern. Meanwhile Prince really gets going with the wah wah rhythm guitar. On the next choral parts,Prince accompanies he and Sheila’s vocals with that sped down/sped up “chipmunk” vocal that he’d later bring out further with his Camille persona. On the final part of the song,Prince really lets go again on that chicken scratch rhythm guitar-eventually pulling that string high up on the neck until the instrumentation simply falls apart as it fades.

Prince said at Parliament-Funkadelic into the Rock N Roll Hall Of Fame that he recorded “Erotic city” after seeing a P-Funk show at LA’s Beverley Theater. And it really does show on this song. In addition to holding down the stripped down Minneapolis sound,this song also integrates the quirky vocal styling’s and unexpected instrumental tones that defined George Clinton’s P-Funk crew. It’s one of Prince’s finest B-sides,and surely among his funkiness. In addition to Prince’s musical proteges,this is dedicated to Henrique Hopkins-with whom I share a mutual admiration for this strong 1984 naked funk classic.

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Filed under 1980's, chicken scratch guitar, Funk Bass, Linn Drum, Minneapolis, Minneapolis Sound, P-Funk, Prince, rhythm guitar, Sheila E., synthesizer, wah wah guitar

Purple Funk: The Wonderful World Of Prince’s Spin-Off Acts

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Prince had a very strong influence and popular acclaim in advancing the Minneapolis sound before the 1980’s even came in. At the same time,it was actually a very collaborative effort from the get go. From mid 70’s bands such as Flyte Tyme,Champagne and Pepe Willie’s 94 East onward,there were plenty of musicians in the twin cities hungry to lay down a new kind of funky groove. When Prince began lining up his roaster of acts first under the Starr Company then on his custom label Paisley Park,this ethic took on a whole other dimension.

There were many spin off acts from the Minneapolis music scene of the early/mid 1980’s. They stemmed from the Revolution,The Time and other people who had been involved with the concert scene at the major twin city hot spot First Avenue. Now there are a number of these spin offs I don’t yet have access to. So this may be a multi part concept. For now however,here’s a list of some of the key acts outside of Prince’s own recorded repertoire who played an important part in advancing the “purple funk” sound of Minneapolis as it was at it’s most active point.

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Prince’s first recordings in the mid 70’s with his cousin’s ex husband Pepe Willie. While this was a full band effort with only a small level of participation by Prince,it was remixed and released in 1985 on vinyl (and CD two years later) to fit in more with the synth brass heavy Minneapolis sound these rough jams grew into. Highlights are the live band grooves of “If You Feel Like Dancin”,the ultra funky breakdown of “Games” and the catchy “Just Another Sucker”. It really showcased an artist not yet ready to emerge on his own as a major musical power,but rather acting as a band member of some note.

Vanity 6

Prince turned the classic girl group image on it’s head with the Vanity 6. Featuring three vampish ladies in ex musician Brenda Bennett,his girlfriend Susan Moonsie and the provocative Vanity herself, this album showcased a stripped down,new wave based sound. The musical highlights are the Afro-Latin electro rhythms of “Nasty Girl”,key to the production style of Pharrell Williams today as well as the ultra funky “If A Girl Answers (Don’t Hang Up)”.

What Time Is It

The Time’s sophomore album showcased how much the band lead by Prince’s old school chum (and one time drummer) Morris Day had the strong potential to step right up front alongside Prince as Minneapolis funk royalty. Actually one of the most powerful new funk albums of it’s era,”777-9311″ showcased just how strongly percussive the Linn Drum could be in Prince’s hand while “Wild and Loose” and “The Walk” showcased the “original 7’s” groove power actually is in terms of driving the one right home!apollonia-6-album-cover

Vanity  6 were rechristened Apollonia 6 when Patricia “Apollonia” Kotero ended up replacing Vanity as Prince’s leading lady in the film Purple Rain. The album basically copies the formula of it’s predecessor. And Apollonia sounds like a literal Vanity stand in on most of her vocal leads-including the major hit in the hyper-kinetic single “Sex Shooter”. My personal two favorite number are sung by Brenda in the pounding “Blue Limousine” and the ultra groove bluesy funk thump of “Some Kind Of Lover”.

Sheila Escovedo had gone from George Duke’s late 70’s band to playing with Narada Michael Walden just before this Bay Area percussion veteran bought her heavily timbale based sound to the Minneapolis sound in 1984 on her Prince collaboration on the amazing Latin-funk of “The Glamorous Life”. Highlights of her debut solo album in addition to that are the funky instrumental “Strawberry Shortcake” and the slinky “Oliver’s House”. Her followup Romance 1600 was a jazzier big band flavor with swinging numbers like “Yellow”. The major funk highlight of that album is the phat Prince penned groove of “A Love Bizarre”.

The Family

The Family were a short lived spin off of The Time. Featuring Jerome Benton and introducing sax player Eric Leads,the lead singers were The Time’s Paul Peterson and Wendy Melvoin’s twin sister (and then Prince’s girlfriend” Susannah.  The album introduces the jazzier and more cinematic sound Prince was going for during the mid 80’s. It contained two huge funk monsters in the thick “High Fashion” and “Mutiny”. Not to mention the cinematic soul masterpiece of “The Screams Of Passion”.

Mazarati

Produced by the Revolution’s Brown Mark,Mazarati were the band who also got Prince’s massive hit “Kiss” until he realized it’s potential and decided to take it back. He did gift Mazarati the ultra funky “100 MPH”. Considering this album threw down thick jams such as “Players Ball”,”Stroke”and “Suzy”, this 1986 debut for the band is one that should’ve catapulted this talented,funky band a lot higher than it did.

These very obscure 1987 releases showcase Prince leading a jazz-funk fusion group featuring Eric Leeds and Sheila E’s band of the time. The titles of the two albums songs are sequential. The first of the albums is the jazzier of the two,while the second is built around gurgling instrumental funk including Prince’s early use of sampling-with parts from the first two Godfather films added to the mix.

Gold Nigga

Perhaps anticipating the demise of Paisley Park later in 1993,Prince did for his band the New Power Generation what he didn’t manage to accomplish with the Revolution: record an entire album on them with himself as producer. And on their own self named record label no less.  Due to his infamous battle with Warner Bros. during this time,the lyrics follow a concept of the NPG making mock phone calls to the label about regarding more creative freedom. And with hardcore JB’s style funk jams such as “Deuce A Quarter”,”Johnny” and “Call The Law”,this reflects a new type of “people music” as it were that stands with Prince’s railing against creative oppression.

Hey Man Smell My Finger

This second George Clinton release for the Paisley Park label from October of 1993 featured a production update that showcased how much of an impact P-Funk’s “video game” synthesizer style was having on the G-Funk end of hip-hop at the time. Prince himself contributed the house style dance number “The Big Pump” to the album. Even though it was released just before Paisley Park folded,it showcased Prince’s deep respect for the music icons that inspired what he had been doing.

An artists impact is usually felt most fully by their influence upon others. Even during the period where Prince’s peak years were starting to wane,new distribution projects such as the 1-800-NEW-FUNK number and his early websites allowed for more spin off’s from Paisley Park to be made available for the people. Due to the come and go nature of some of these mediums,a lot of these side projects are very rare now. But they were worth seeking out in order to understand just how broad reaching Prince and his protege’s musical vision actually was.

 

 

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Filed under 1980's, 94 East, Apollonia, Brenda Bennett, cinematic soul, electro funk, Eric Leeds, George Clinton, jazz funk, Jerome Benton, Linn Drum, Madhouse, Mazarati, Minneapolis, Minneapolis Sound, Morris Day, New Powe Generation, NPG Records, P-Funk, Pepe Willie, Prince, Prince & The Revolution, Sheila E., Susannah Melvoin, The Time, Vanity

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Shake It Off” by Narada Michael Walden

Narada Michael Walden,who got his current first name from guru Sri Chimnoy in the early 70s,was probably one of the busiest musician/producers of the 1980’s. The Kalamzoo,Michegan born drummer/vocalist started out as the successor to Billy Cobham in the Mahavishnu Orchestra-working with Cobham later on his solo dates as well as playing with the late guitar hero Tommy Bolin. In the mid 70’s he began making solo records. While his 1976 debut Garden Of Love Light followed in the jazz-rock fusion mode he’d been in,his solo works veered towards funky soul by the late 70’s. These albums had a big Quincy Jones type arrangement style,often with a pronounced rock edge.

His theatrical style of melodic funk transitioned from the disco era to the electro/boogie one with ease as his solo career continued into the 1980’s.  During that time,he began a career as a producer of largely female talent in a similar vein to Luther Vandross. This went from working with Sister Sledge in 1981 to his stellar work introducing Whitney Houston to the world in the mid/late 80’s. His work with Stacy Lattisaw and Johnny Gill got him hooked up with Aretha Franklin for her big comeback. In 1983 he recorded his third solo album of the decade called Looking At You,Looking At Me. One song it really achieves full funkiness in “Shake It Off”.

Walden and Sheila E open up the brittle, polyrhythmic drums/percussion of this song on the intro. Walden asks a musician named RJ to “play it right” before a thick slap bass line comes churning in scaling down and around the melodic chord changes. “RJ” turns out to be bassist,arranger and more recently American Idol talent scout Randy “The King” Jackson. This combination of drums,percussion and phat slap bass holds in the funk heavy by the time two densely arranged horn charts  from Jerry Hey come in. That along with glossy synthesizer washes of Frank Martin and some churning chicken scratch guitar of Carrado Rustci. There’s also a vocal bridge where Walden provides a full jazz scat.

The adenoidal talk singing approach of Walden plays call and response with the rhythm for most of the song. On the chorus and it’s refrains,he’s in direct contact on that same level with the darting horns. On the bridge,the horns subside for Jackson to thump out his thick slap bass solo over the rhythm before the choruses re-emerges to close things out. All of these qualities make this song perhaps one of the most unsung examples of how the boogie funk era blended together both the live band flavors of the 70’s with newer synthesized/electronic touches. The instrumentation is brittle while still keeping deep in the Afro-Latin rhythmic clave. For me,it’s one of  Walden’s finest funk numbers ever!

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Filed under 1980's, Afro-Cuban rhythm, Boogie Funk, Carrado Rustci, clave, drums, elecro funk, Frank Martin, horns, jazz funk, Jerry Hey, Narada Michael Walden, percussion, Randy "The King" Jackson, rhythm guitar, Sheila E., slap bass, synthesizer, Uncategorized

Andre’s Amazon Archive for June 7th,2014: Prince’s ‘Musicology’ and ‘3121’

          In celebration of Prince’s 56th birthday today,the artist in on the threshold of a huge comeback on Warner Bros. At the same time,this is not the first time he has been in such a position since the turn of the 21st century. Since Prince is now securely in the position of being the type of legacy artist in his field that he once musically admired? I am going to be presenting two reviews of the albums that symbolized Prince’s last major comeback about a decade ago. Enjoy!

Musicology

First off THE best thing on this CD is the title track-an as pure-as-funk-can-be distillation of all of Prince’s musical influences-a trip back to funk 101.When I first heard the CD a couple years back I was slightly disappointed,expecting an album of songs just as funky.For one critical moment I forgot what Prince was all about-musical eclecticism.This album is free of is the heavy rap/hip-hip type funk of some of his symbol era recordings.Luckily a new wave of pop artists have taken Prince’s classic sound as a base for their own and ‘Musicology’ finds him taking back that sound,representing Prince getting back to home plate in terms of his music-that means his freewheeling mixture of funk,soul and rock styles and everything in between.

“Illusion,Coma,Pimp & Circumstance” and “Life Of The Party” are both catchy,upbeat dance songs with a lot of programming and synthesizers,but they are used in a fairly organic fashion. Both.Both are about what is new and progressive in funk rather then the old school retro style of the title cut.The main styles used on this album are a series of sexy ballads based in classic 60’s soul,”Call My Name”,On The Couch” and “Dear Mr.Man” all put a great Princely spin on an old style.One of the most impressive songs here is the eerie “What Do U Want Me 2 Do”-another great example of a well crafted song with no musical boundaries that Prince does so well,with a very complicated rhythm pattern.Most of the rest of the album explores Prince’s patented pop-rock sound on such hard edged tunes as “A Million Days” and “If Eye Was The Man In Ur Life”,both showcasing Prince’s multifarious ability on the electric guitar and his great rock n roll shouting.And he delivers one of the very best pop records of his career with the peppy “Cinnamon Girl”,on my top ten list of favorite Prince songs actually and sounds very timeless.

The final cut “Reflection” is just beautiful-a pleasant,radio friendly pop/soul/folk ballad that’s very gentle and attention grabbing.Having been released twenty years after his “Purple Rain” album this shows the music world that Prince has actually taught the mainstream audience of his generation some important musical lessons-that despite radio categorizing and such the barriers between funk,soul,rock,folk and jazz are not as big as they seem to be-even though each tend to have their own audience and are usually referred to apart Prince has found a way to bring them all together into one style AND get people to enjoy them over the years.And despite whatever angry,political rock-hip hop/funk that TAFKAP tended to specialize in Prince was always there bubbling under the surface.’Musicology’ is a new beginning for Prince,a journey he started at the beginning of the millennium by taking his name back and (finally) his music.

Originally Written On May 26th,2006

3121

 

To me as a Prince fan of twenty years I was glad to see in Rolling Stone that ‘3121’ got to Number 1-it’s been awhile.But Prince’s latest CD’s since his post TAFKAP days have been a bit of a mixed bag.So I got this for my birthday and just slapped and on and BOY I must say I am impressed.But you have to put this CD on good stereo headphones-it burns.My opinion?Prince still has the nack for genre bending.And yes-‘3121’ has certain elements of his 80’s sound,namely the synthisized hooks and the heavy pop hooks.But Prince has changed his mind about the musical styles he uses for the now patened ‘Prince’ sound (he really just deserves a genre of his now)-classic funk is still the base but the rock blends in more and the jazz and new Brazillian elements are actually put into play,and (thankfully) the hip hop stuff is dead.As always variety continues to be the spice of Prince.

The title song is very deep, bassy and mysterious but “Lolita” burns with a harder,sexier funk and has a great tune attached to it.”Te Amo Corazon” is lovely,gentle latin pop jazz and very sudtle.”Black Sweat” is the big hit-it’s a fairly contemporary variation of the 1986 era Prince sound that produced “Kiss” and “Girls And Boys” but is much darkly sexier in tone.”Incence and Candles” as well as the more uptempo “Love” and “The Word” take a more contemporary taste on funk but it’s no in Prince’s orbit it’s barely noticable.”Satisfied” is terrific-one of Prince most passionate forays into classic 60’s soul with some great belting and Hammond Organ and very cleverly written.”Fury” is the one tune that harkens all the way back to 80’s Prince music with it’s funk-rock pop mixture.The final three songs here are actually some of the best here-“Beautiful,Loved And Blessed” is very bouncy and hummable-Tamar takes lead and raps (a little) and does a good job.

“The Dance” has a latin feel too but tries at a type of music Prince hasn’t really done before-the kind of Brazilian funk-jazz fusion Sheila E,George Duke.Airto and Flora Purim were doing in the 70’s.”Get On The Boat” is a terrific way to cap off-Maceo rips a solo through a cut totally worthy of James Brown-Prince himself even takes some grace notes from The Godfather himself.After all these years of hits and misses Prince is still THE MAN when it comes to his craft and at the very least ‘3121’ finds him at the top of his game.I do not know if it is marriage or his new religion that have inspired him and besides these could all be songs that existed in his vaults since the 80’s.But not likely-Prince is someone who seems to revel in letting the public here his latest material rather then relaying on his legendary vaults,which he only did briefly in the late 90’s during his post Warner Brothers slump.’3121′ merges the old with the new-it reaches out to young listeners with it’s bassy sonics,dancibility and use of technology as well as reaching out to more (shall I say) adult contemporary listeners looking to hear music from someone they grew up with-hard to believe Prince is lumped in with that age group now.And for those who just want to get funky?This like ANY Prince album is just the ticket.But it more then lives up to the hype and if he keeps moving on from this direction this could be the beginning of a new commercial comeback for his music.

Original Review From May 25th,2006

*Here are links to the original reviews.

For ‘Musicology’- http://www.amazon.com/review/R1N3RE80DZWGUA/ref=cm_cr_pr_perm?ie=UTF8&ASIN=B0001XTRCI

For ‘3121’- http://www.amazon.com/review/R1HDH29CYRI5VJ/ref=cm_cr_pr_perm?ie=UTF8&ASIN=B000E97HIA

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Filed under 1980's, Amazon.com, Blues, Electronica, Funk, Funk Bass, James Brown, Jazz, Minneapolis, Music, Music Reviewing, Prince, Radio, rhythm & blues, Soul