Rufus – “Rufus” – [Abc Records]
C’mon. It’s Rufus. What else can one say? Well just a bit, okay. This is Rufus, Chicago based funk outfit which launched the career of party girl vocalist supreme Chaka Khan. Their bio is familiar. It is the classic story of a group already working hard to establish themselves. Along comes an unknown replacement vocalist who has the chops, captures the industry’s attention, helps to land the group a contract with a big record company, and… BOOM…hello gold and platinum records and hello Grammy. Bitterness, tension, folks leave, solo career is started with increasing success, jealousy, contractual recording obligations, bombed recordings without the star. Oh, and don’t forget the drugs. That nasty white powder. Classic HBO mini-series. This album, “Rufus”, by Rufus is at the beginning of this oft told story.
This is quintessential 1973 sound. Steeped in Chicago soulfulness and rhythm and blues, hard southern gospel, and the ever tight sound of nightclub funk, “Rufus” introduces us to what is to come while showing us where it started. I like good beginnings and this beginning is an explosion of amazingness. From the first choral opening notes of “Slip N’ Slide”, the listener knows they are in for some fun. That evangelical gospel beat used for the song about going down to a roadhouse lets us know what are the roots of this group. For the next nine tracks Rufus gives a sort of musical tour of all that is happening soulfully in 1973: upbeat love songs, down and quiet love songs, funky love songs, soulful love songs (with electric piano and flute —- it doesn’t get anymore ’73 than that), songs about brotherhood and sisterhood
At track three, with Stevie Wonder’s “Maybe Your Baby”, we get what is the greatness of Rufus. While not all songs on this album are sung by Chaka, this one is, and WOW can you hear why she gets so much attention. This is what Rufus does best: down and dirty funk. Not as dirty as Betty Davis, but still. The opening drum beat, then wah wah organ with funky bass and rhythm guitar set the beat. In comes Chaka and in 30 seconds she hits ALL the vocal stylings: low guttural growls, extended notes, drawn out consonants (the “ow” in “down” goes through an “owww” and “uhhh” in 1 second), the high pitched wail, long drawn out notes held, the pinched nasal sing recitation style that you know when you hear it, the over ennunciation of vowels. She and they TEAR IT UP!
Just enjoy the whole thing. Get it. Get it. Get it on!