Music Reviews

Universal Togetherness Band s/t CD (2014)

rasbabo   2/3/2015   CD, Soul

What started as a house band for Columbia College audio engineering program in Chicago, grew to be a dissertation for seventh year senior and band leader Andre Gibson. The tapes went missing for over twenty years, and then surfaced to give life to this album.
Good energy soul and R&B with a tiny dash of disco thrown in to make you shake your booty, but not enough to make you run away. (It was the 70’s by the way)
Good raw energy and smooth musicianship, not overblown or overproduced. All tracks are solid.
Dig it.
Ras Babo

Karl Hector and The Malcouns – “Unstraight Ahead” – [Now Again Records]

Thurston Hunger   9/4/2014   CD, Soul

KFJC Soul Patrollers jonesing for something made this millenium
feast your ears upon this. There are many onion layers to the
imaginary Mr. Hector, like a good spy movie, it sends you
overseas to the Woima Collective, then a newspaper left on a bench
by the Poets of Rhythm and ultimately JJ Whitefield aka Jan
Weissenfeldt turns up as the mastermind. This has trace elements of
Ethiopique sleaky chic no doubt, “Who’s Fooling Who” with
that throaty sax and snake-doing-jumping-jacks definitely lays
in wait for you. But what about that Otha Turner-style fife funk
on “Transition T” that somewhere along picks up a video game
virus. So much great percussion throughout, “Sharpesville
Massacre” being a, well, *killer* example. My favorite right
now is “Spirit of Gine” with a racing violin scraping the
sky and a little clean guitar pushing the clouds away. Tracks
2,4,12,14 have vocals, “Push Na Ya” with some possible voodoun
Ogun action, while “Ombele” ignites your feet with an Afro
Beat treat. Styles are tried on like fantastic Halloween
costumes, enjoy this excellent release Now and (often) Again!
I bet these songs expand and blow folks away live, they often
feel like a recipe that best cooks when it’s got an audience
interacting and dance-devouring a couple hours.

Scott-Heron, Gil & Jackson, Brian – “Bridges” – [Arista Records, Inc.]

Naysayer   6/18/2014   12-inch, Soul

There’s a certain something about the 1970’s that makes me get all giddy. If it is soul, funk, Black Power and synthesizers, I’m knockin’ you over and pushing to the front of the line. This Gil Scott-Heron and Brian Jackson album, Bridges, from 1977, is what that is all about. Scott-Heron and Jackson are best known for the song “The Bottle” and we know all about it blah, blah, blah. But these guys put out around ten albums in the mighty decade of the ’70’s and this one is not taking a back seat to any bottle.
Jackson is the keyboardist, on this album Rhodes (!!) and T.O.N.T.O.(!!!!!!) but we’ll get to that later, as well as flautist, singer and composer. Scott-Heron is lyricist and singer. Jackson often took the back seat to Scott-Heron’s vocal and lyrical bravado, but it is Jackson’s musicianship that solidifies the projects and keeps them funky and soulful. There’s always the supporting actor who keeps it all together and Jackson is that. It’s 1977 and the Rhodes is in full force, heading into a bit o’ fusion but not snoozey fusion (which I like to call “snoozsion”). With a solid back up band, Jackson leads us on a tour of 1977 soul: slow and dripping sex, funky, street strutting, ballad-like. It’s all there with the bass line moving your hips in the right direction and the drums keeping up your attention, in case you forget.
Can we talk about the T.O.N.T.O. (The Original New Timbral Orchestra)? It’s the largest, multitimbral polyphonic analog synthesizer in the world. It takes up a room. It was used in “Phantom of the Paradise”. Jackson uses it and it blasts. Squeaks, and bloinks and weirdo shots of electronic spaceyness. Yum.
Scott-Heron actually sings more than speaks on this album and that’s a good thing. His mellow, mid octave range voice takes the listener where he wants you to go but not forcefully. His tales of travel, urban dilemma and social consciousness are not bats beating you over the head, usually. The listener makes a connection.
Now a few heads ups: 1.”Vildgolia” has Bela Lugosi/vampire vocals and references. 2.”Racetrack in France” sounds like how Jamiroquai got his sound. 3. The beginning of “We Almost Lost Detroit” sounds like one of those deep soul cuts you play when you invite your lady over for the evening. The lights are low, the incense is lit. You’ve got the bottle of Courvoisier open and ready to pour and then BAM, Scott-Heron starts signing about the 1966 nuclear meltdown at the Fermi Atomic Power Plant near Monroe MI. He even mentions Karen Silkwood. Talk about a buzz kill. You ain’t getting any tonight with that kind of talk.
All three of these get the Naysayer nod of approval.
You will be satisfied with this when you listen.

Knight, Sonny and His Fabulous Lakers – “I’m Still Here” – [Secret Stash]

Naysayer   6/18/2014   CD, Soul

SOLID! What else can I say? Well you know I’m going to go on, but just remember….. SOLID.
So Sonny Knight made a recording about 50 years ago which became a sought after soul cult hit. And that was that, musically speaking. He was in the army for a few years, travelled across the country, became a truck driver. He did have a stint in the mid 70’s funk band Haze, but that was it musically. A few years ago, things changed when Secret Stash records released their “Twin Cities Funk and Soul” compilation and Sonny was asked to join in on the promotion concerts. From that sprung Sonny Knight and the Fabulous Lakers, the house band for Secret Stash label, whose focus is primarily soul and afrobeat rereleases. They played around in different joints and then spent time listening to music and coming up with ideas. A half a year or so later and out comes this stunning piece of soul.
This thing is so good…. you close your eyes and think you are in the 1970’s…. this soul and funk is so good. And it’s not retro. This is serious. Filled with the joys of soul- sex and sultriness and teasing and suggestiveness and just enough of oh oh to make you smile and get your temperature up a bit. There is the soul ballad which hits it right on. And the talking tale of how Sonny’s life was tough, right outta Lou Rawls and Isaac Hayes, knocks your socks off on “I’m Still Here (Pt. 1).
Knight’s voice is a bit gravelly with these smooth patches that go straight to the heart. He hits those high notes like all of the masters. The Fabulous Lakers, a seven piece, kick out the soulful jam, hitting it with the snare, digging in with a serious bass line, horn section blurting out just the right amount of brass to accentuate the point but not to overpower it.
This is the real deal. And there is no sadness of “what if he had been recording all those years”? No way. Knight has come at the right time and he is taking it in the palm of his hand. Get ready. Soul lives.

Brown, James – “Singles Volume 9: 1973 – 1975, The” – [Polydor]

Naysayer   4/26/2014   CD, Soul

Yep, it’s James Brown. What else can be said about the Godfather of Soul? We all know it. Yet there always seems to be another piece of the puzzle found somewhere. This singles series, of which this is volume 9, really probes deep into the Brown archives, focusing on the singles from 1973 to 1975. By this time, Brown had already established himself as a force in music. He had hits. He had the 1962 and 1968 “Live at the Apollo” albums which established himself as a superstar. But then the ’70’s hit, psychedelic instrumentation had pushed into soul, funk was becoming the lead style on the r&b soul charts, disco was around the corner, women’s liberation and the sexual revolution hit hard: Brown had to keep up with the times even though he was getting older. He had clout at Polydor Records and could do just about anything with them, so one of the things was to release singles he had recorded and had been sitting on the shelf as well as pulling the select single from recording sessions. He released 5 albums between 1973 and 1975, therefore there was a wealth of material, including remakes of previous hits. The booklet that comes with this collection is full of in depth information that follows this period.
Musically, this is classic funky James Brown, holding on to all the old tricks while attempting to change with the times, often with success. Many songs have the wonderful banter between Brown and his team. There are the introductions of Brown. The funk is kicked up. A number of songs are the parts 1 and 2 of the singles. Hear them without even flipping them over, though this makes me wish we could hear them without the pause and just listen straight through to get the full effect. I must say, the few numbers without Brown singing are the most interesting to me. It gives us a chance to hear the superb musicians and back up singers that made up Brown’s musical family, that were the backbone of his style.
Listen, enjoy, learn, dance.

Rufus – “Rufus” – [Abc Records]

Naysayer   3/15/2014   12-inch, Soul

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!

George Clinton’s Family Series Vol. 2 “P” Is The Funk [coll] – [AEM Record Group, The]

Naysayer   1/14/2014   CD, Soul

What can I say but….. HELL YEAH!!!!!!!!!!!! George Clinton’s Family Series says it all. Released in 1993, this is the third in Clinton’s Family Series and it is killer. It has the familiar faces of Parliament and Funkadelic as well as Bootsy. That means bass heavy funk reaching down deep into your inner Funkateer funkstressness. There are some surprises like Jessica Cleaves doing Paul McCartney’s “My Love”, with Minnie Ripperton vocal stylings and oh soooooo good cheese electric piano 1990’s style. “Think Right” by Parlet and the Brides gets the jam going nonstop. Infectious beyond a doubt. Jimmy G does “Shove On” which may be my current favorite thing to say: and it is Clinton’s younger brother. Shove on!!!!! The Brides of Funkenstein add there first recording. BUT really I wanna ask, can you say TRAYLEWD? Traylewd’s song “Personal Problems” is THE song. Just listen and try to think otherwise. Track 13 is an interview with Clinton and family who are reviewing the whole album, telling tidbits about each song. Track 14 is Bootsy and Clinton doing commercials. Essential. And remember “all I wanna do is funk with you baby, all I wanna do is funk.” So, really, where are volumes 1 and 2?

Graham Central Station – “Release Yourself” – [Sire/Warner Bros. Records]

Naysayer   11/19/2013   12-inch, Soul

Larry Graham: original member of Sly and the Family Stone, bassist for Betty Davis, collaborator and converter of Prince to Jehovah’s Witness, originator of the “slap bass” style which revolutionized funk and later, rock. Larry Graham, founder of Graham Central Station, a sort of rotating funk/soul super group. From 1974, “Release Yourself” is GCS’s second release and it works his gospel revival meets funk crossroads style that really, really works. Larry and his top notch bandmates know how to get the funk out, even when praising the Lord. If you were’t aware of the angle GCS was coming from, you’d think from the song titles that this was a classic mid 70’s funk album about, what else?, sex. “Feel the Need”, “Release Yourself”, “Got to Go Through It to Get to It”. Come on. It just screams sexy funk. But this is all about being saved AND DON’T LET THAT TURN YOU AWAY!!!! GCS takes their seven songs and funks themselves out, slapping the bass, hitting it on the one, gospel revivaling and mastering vocal interplay that takes the listener to a new place. The musicianship is the best. You know they mean it when they sing out “come on and feel it, feel it, feel it.” Just let go and let Larry. You know you want to.

Hayes, Isaac – “Isaac Hayes Movement, The” – [Enterprise Records]

Naysayer   10/12/2013   12-inch, Soul

“The Isaac Hayes Movement” is Isaac Hayes’ third LP, out in 1970, and continues his work with long, orchestrated soul pieces. This is a year before “Shaft” came out which would change popular music. This is almost two years before Hayes would twist the heads off of Americans when he performed “Shaft” at the Academy Awards wearing no shirt and a gold floor length chain vest, singing with a group of dancers in soul hippie garb and the most outrageous afros seen on prime time. “The Isaac Hayes Movement” is a much more subdued, yet rich album. Hayes already had a full career coming out of the Memphis sound and working with Stax Records as a musician, composer and arranger, so his knowledge was solid. This album took his skills in arrangement and orchestration as well as his interest in reinterpreting other composers songs and twisted them to make them most definitely his own. While Barry White’s deep voice and pulsing rhythms are the music you want to have sex to, Hayes’ sonorous vocals with his lush instrumentation make him the guy you want to have sex with, while listening to his music. Listen to the first five minute monologue he gives to his best friend’s fianc??, telling her how much he loves her, before he breaks into the lyrics of Jerry Butler’s “I Stand Accused”, and try and tell me you don’t want to let Isaac take you away. In four songs, two sides, Hayes turns George Harrison’s “Something”, Burt Bacharach and Hal David’s “I Don’t Know What To Do With Myself” and Chalmers and Rhodes “One Big Unhappy Family” into a new kind of soul, one rich and varied, taking time to explore with full on orchestrations that sweep and dip through and around Hayes’ vocals that melt the heart. So smooth and rich. A pure joy. And the man knows how to wear a zebra print coat, pants and matching hat. Natch.

ron – “batch ten: art” – [Self Released]

humana   10/6/2013   CD, Soul

First I thought this was rap. Then funk. Then jazz. Then I looked at the label and saw that it’s soul, which makes sense. But really, what it is, is cool rhythms and fun beats and dancey fare guaranteed to make you move. I really liked this.

Brown, James – “Next Step, The” – [FOME Records]

Naysayer   9/25/2013   CD, Soul

There is a scene in Italian director Pier Paolo Pasolini’s notorious film “Salo” where the fascist guards force the naked teen innocents to eat from a boiling pot of human feces. Listening to “The Next Step” is the auditory equivalent of watching that scene. And like trying to watch the movie, I had the experience, when listening to this, of cringing in shock but still wanting to hear it all the way through to it’s phenomenally excessive conclusion. Could it really get more superbly excruciating? Yes and I love it for that. I like James Brown, or maybe I like the idea of James Brown 40 or more years ago. The problem with “The Next Step” is that he is still trying to use the old signature style and mix it with contemporary 2002 sounds. Even though the album sounds more like 1985.
For ten songs, Brown is up to his old tricks, groaning and hollering and screaming his way through. But like the reminiscing uncle who everyone stays away from at the family party, Brown just can’t stop going back…. and forcing us to listen.
But hold on….don’t think I can’t stand this album. No way. On the contrary, I LOVE IT!! Sincerely! And I will be playing the hell out of it. From the Bell Biv DeVoe sounding opening track of “Automatic” to the testimony to youth of “Killing is Out, School is In” (pull that gun out of your pants), Brown goes whole hog. And if things ever get a little slow throughout he’ll be sure to throw in a “Get Funky”. There are so many stand out moments. Every track has something to offer. On “Why Did This Happen To Me” he laments as to why his woman left him, because well, he’s the best thing she is every going to have and go ahead and leave because he doesn’t need her anyway and she is going to be sorry but why couldn’t she see this. On “Good and Natural” he talks about many different kinds of food, possibly with innuendo, but also because he really likes the food. Listening to “Baby, You’ve Got What It Takes”, I seriously did a double take when the uncredited female vocalist says out loud and clear “Don’t hit me.” What? No, you didn’t. He’d already been arrested several times for abuse and battery and a few more would follow, but really? That is bold.
The uncredited “musicians” and drum machine programmer go uncredited as does the female vocalist who sings on several tracks and solo on track 7. No Jimmy. This was supposedly his last album. What a way to go.

Penguin Feet & The Teardrop Kid – “S/t” – [HDM Records]

mann   6/12/2013   CD, Soul

This is the re-issue of the classic late-70s novelty record and Dr. Demento fave: Larry Move Your Hand, about a backseat girl’s (or rather a male impersonation of a brazen female) struggle with her date Larry’s wandering extremities. The funniest part to me is when she guzzles the white lightning straight out the bottle, good long gurgle, ha! The classic is accompanied by its instrumental and 5 other burning and sexually insinuative 70s funk jams recorded by raw, funk-drenched session players during leftover studio time after real sessions went down. You Got The Makings Of A Real Freak (which also has an alternate remix version) could make any down-and-out disco dean into an all night groove-machine. Save your funniest moves for Penguin Feet & The Teardrop Kid, a lot of PG-13 Blowfly/Bobby Jimmy & the Critters going on here. Mann the General.

Bootsy’s Rubber Band – “Bootsy? Player of The Year” – [Warner Bros.]

honeybear   5/29/2013   12-inch, Soul

IT’S TIME TO GET FUNKED UP! And Bootsy Collins is gonna bring it to you on the low end, for those who know funk know Bootsy. Even if you don’t know the man’s name you know his bass lines. The pioneer funk bassist presents his third album with his group The Rubber Band on this overlooked funk album from ’78. Think bright horns mixed with funked out bass, tinny guitar and backbone drums. Everyone should know who the player of the year is after getting funked up by this jem.

Wells, Mary – “One Who Really Loves You/Two Lovers, The” – [Ace Records]

Naysayer   5/22/2013   CD, Soul

Mary Wells, Motown’s first big superstar, continued her rise to fame with these two albums, her second and third. It’s Motown, so listeners know what to expect, especially with the classic hits. The strong backup singers, the strolling wap wap rhythm that ties the pieces together, the lyrics about lost and mixed up love: it’s all here. But Mary’s voice, just a bit lower than the typical Motown singer, a bit raspy, sounding like she sometimes may not hit the note, add a different angle to the songs. Her inflection, her tone give these stories a maturity and an edge that one would not expect from a twenty something, which was how old she was when she recorded them. She has insight into the pain of being the one not picked, of wondering why she was left alone, of suffering the lack of interest of the one that is loved. Maybe that I am older these songs hit a different cord. These are beautiful, painful treasures, filled with much more sorrow than one might expect.

New Birth, The – “Ain’t No Big Thing/Comin’ Together” – [SuperBird]

humana   4/27/2013   CD, Soul

The liner notes explain how The New Birth formed as an ensemble with enough team spirit to release the two albums included on this CD, yet was comprised of individuals who pursued separate musical projects at the same time. CD1 has covers galore (check out the soul version of “Fire & Rain”), and was recorded in 1971. CD2 (recorded in 1972) features the addition of vocalists Peace, Love, and Happiness, who add a distinct flavor to the music. Soul enthusiasts will enjoy this blast from the past. Fine Motown sound on here.

CSC Funk Band – “Funkincense” – [Electric Cowbell]

Thurston Hunger   4/13/2013   CD, Soul

Tight, clean all-instro funk on the latest flight from
Colin Langenus and the CSC Funk Band. Keys and horns
spark it up, the guitar weaves in and out with the
wacka-wacka and the drums keep it all locked down.
A funk‘s secret weapon : the flute darts in and out
on a few tracks. On some tracks, the percussion and
horn/synth combo join up to bang out a secret handshake
on the break. As this is on Electric Cowbell, nice to
hear a regular cowbell twonking away on the title cut.
That also features a magic carpet solo that could connect
to Omar Souleyman. The closer, “Versace Nachos” has a
wind-whipping synth woosh and the most emphatic bassline
on the album. “Choom Gang” starts with a Fox News/Obama
potline shout-out then teases with the possiblity of a
beatboxing before unraveling more New York stately funk.
Definitely a melting melange of flavors, and true-to-your
Angel Flight jeans of yesteryear. If anything, I could
use a little more nasty in the mix. Maybe if the sax
had a drinking problem, of the flute player slept with
the drummer’s partner? “You Say” delivers a bit of a
karate chop, that hurt good. “Klip Winger” has a nice
hesitation drop, and the flute and sax get right on it.
“Make Your Mind Up” echoes reggae with the horn charts.
Funk me, just play it and dig it.

-Thurston Hunger

Bradley, Charles – “Victim of Love” – [Daptone Records]

incognito   3/6/2013   CD, Soul

This is actually a promo copy of what I believe will be Bradley’s 2013 release titled “Strictly Reserved For You.” Very 60s/70s influenced soul, very much in tune with the revivalist aesthetic of the Daptone Records label. Chances are, if a track title has the word “love” in the title, it sounds very motown, a predominant style and theme of the album, with lyrics mostly about romantic love and heartbreak. There are a few meaner licks spicing things up, like “Hurricane” and “Confusion.” Really classic sounding soul, fresh for 2013.

The James Hunter Six- Minute by Minute

cadilliac margarita   2/28/2013   A Library, CD, Soul

James Hunter out of the UK has written and provides warm and gritty vocals for all songs on this album out on GO/ Fantasy Records. After touring for 20 years with the likes of Van Morrison (for whom he was a backup singer) Aretha Franklin, Willie Nelson, and the late Etta James, Hunter is back with his 5 piece band (now giving them name credit after many years of touring as his dedicated backup band). Channeling his pain from the 2011 loss of his wife Jacqueline to cancer, he has dedicated this great album of throwback classic R&B to her. For someone who has undergone such a huge loss, this is surprisingly upbeat with guitar, sax, drums, organ, bass, piano, vibraphone, percussion, and was produced by Gabriel Roth, co-founder of Daptone Records. They will be at Bimbos 365 on March 9th.

Just a Little Bit of The Jumpin’ Bean [coll] – [Vampi Soul]

abacus   2/27/2013   CD, Soul

I challenge you to play this and not dance just a little bit… A collection of underrepresented soul and R&B tracks compiled by WFMU DJ Mr Fine Wine meant to get your groove goin and entice a party. All pulled out of the King/Federal archives, with tracks from 1955-1964, we got some familiar faces like Hank Ballard and Freddy King but a lot of lesser known cats as well, like one gem by a certain Tiny Topsy. All utterly scrumptious, from the spicy Latin instrumental opener led by drummer Cozy Cole to the whistle-response sing-along and Doo-Whomp snap-bass boogie of Mel Williams and Eugene Church; gettin dirty at the Swingset with Bill Doggett, then chick-boom-a-clackin with the percussive layering from Little Willie John, and of course some gut-wrenching harmonies and rhythmic roundabouts a la Tiny Topsy. These tracks will make you wanna grab your woman, sway your hips and throw your hands in the air. Twist, shake and boogie!

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