Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Parliament Returns From a 38-Year Hiatus With Some Brand-New Funk: “I’m Gon Make U Sick O’Me”

Parliament has Funkateers back in full party mode with their funky new track “I’m Gon Make U Sick O’Me," which dropped on Jan. 15. The accompanying music video was unveiled on May 8. It’s the influential funk band’s first single in 38 years.

The deep funk groove is anchored by a phat, nasty Moog bass line served up by the late, great groove master Junie Morrison; the track boasts a powerful beat, smokin’ horns, creative synth vamps and sultry female background vocals from singer Nakid87 and music duo Kandy Apple Redd. George Clinton delivers a raw, gritty vocal performance, and he's “got that funk for your ass.”

The funk legend has said in interviews that the song is about drug companies and, in his view, their culpability in people becoming addicted to hard prescription drugs. The song’s character “Dr. Feel Good” symbolizes these companies: “I'm gon make you sick/I’m gon make you sick o’me/Then I’m gonna give you the antidote / Something to make you feel better.”

The track features guest appearances from veteran P-Funk vocalist Gary “Mudbone” Cooper and Scarface from famed rap group the Geto Boys. “I’m Gon Make U Sick O’Me” is the lead single from Parliament’s new album, Medicaid Fraud Dog, which was released today.

Throughout most of the 1970s, Parliament-Funkadelic were the baddest, funkiest and most innovative funk outfit in the game. The legendary groove collective was at the vanguard of the funk scene, setting trends and out-funking all comers. Parliament was the more straight-forward funk and R&B side of P-Funk, whereas Funkadelic mixed rock with its funk, continuing what funk-rock pioneers Sly & the Family Stone and  Jimi Hendrix’s Band of Gypsys had set off a couple of years earlier.

Parliament’s last single "Agony of DeFeet,” was released in 1980 and was a track from their album Trombipulation. The band then went on a long hiatus following legal woes arising from Polygram’s acquisition of Parliament’s label Casablanca, which forced the band to abandon its name; nonetheless, P-Funk continued to makes its presence felt in the ensuing years through several different avenues, including George Clinton’s solo work; the P-Funk Allstars; four Funkadelic albums; and myriad other P-Funk-related projects.

 It’s cool to finally have Parliament back in the mix after a near 40-year absence. And Funkateers worldwide are no doubt celebrating their return. It’s once again truly One Nation Under a Groove.

"I’m Gon Make U Sick O’Me” at Amazon

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

"It’s Too Funky in Here" by James Brown

James Brown dropped this nuclear funk blast at the tail end of the disco era in 1979.  He returned to reclaim his rightful funk throne and to remind everyone that there would be no disco—and most popular dance music for that matter—if not for him blessing the world with The Funk more than a decade earlier. The Godfather delivers a dynamic vocal performance over the smoldering groove, which boasts tight horn salvos and nasty guitar licks. And renowned session player David Hood unleashes some monstrous funk with a savage bass line.

The legendary funk pioneer sounds really energized here, like he’s genuinely enjoying himself. He had already been in the music game for nearly three decades at this point but could still get really pumped up when the right groove hit him.

“It’s Too Funky in Here” was written by Brad Shapiro, George Jackson, Walter Shaw and Robert Miller. It was a single from James’ 1979 album, The Original Disco Man, which was produced by Shapiro. The song charted at #15 on the U.S. R&B singles chart.

In addition to Hood, the other players on the track included Roger Hawkins (drums); Larry Byrum and Jimmy Johnson (lead guitar and rhythm guitar, respectively); Harrison Calloway (trumpet); Charles Rose (trombone); Harvey Thompson  (saxophone); Ronnie Eades (baritone saxophone); and Barry Beckett and Randy McCormick on keyboards. And the background vocals were provided by Cynthia Douglas, Donna Davis and Pam Vincent.

After dropping “It's Too Funky in Here,” James still wasn’t done funkin’ yet. He had more funk hits to come in the ‘80s with “Living in America,” “I’m Real” and “Gravity.” He also continued to kill it on onstage in that decade, maintaining his rep as one of the baddest performers to ever hit the stage.

 "It's Too Funky in Here" at Amazon

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Guitar Sensation Jackie Venson Lights Up The Austin Music Scene

Photo by Daniel Cevazos
Soul-pop guitarist Jackie Venson is an exciting new voice on the Austin music scene. The accomplished musician/singer/songwriter has been making her presence felt through her incredible guitar playing, soulful vocals and electrifying live performances. She’s one of the most talented young musicians in Austin’s thriving music community.

Jackie has been garnering heaps of awards and accolades for her prodigious musical abilities. She was nominated for the “Musician of the Year” honors at the 2018 Austin Music Awards, which took place on February 28. And she was among the six winners of the 2014 Southern Musician Showcase, handpicked from more than 2,000 entrees to earn a cash prize and a spot on the Belk Summer Tour.

She toured with acclaimed blues rock guitarist Gary Clark Jr. last year and even had the opportunity to jam onstage with legendary bluesman Buddy Guy.  She has also toured with music luminaries James Taylor, Tim McGraw and Jason Aldean. And in 2016, she sat in for five nights with Jon Batiste and Stay Human, the house band for The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.

Jackie was born in Austin, Texas. She is the youngest of nine children and grew up in a musical household. Her father, Andrew Venson, is a talented and well-known bassist in the Austin area. She began playing the piano at the age of eight and studied classical piano at Berklee College of Music in Boston, Mass. During her final semester of college in 2011, she developed an interest in blues guitar and began teaching herself how to play. She had found her true musical calling. After working hard to hone her guitar skills, she began gigging around Austin and eventually formed her own band in 2013. Jackie thrilled audiences with her powerful playing and expressive vocals. It wasn’t long before she had built a dedicated fan base.

The musician also began recording her own original songs and so far has released two full-length albums and three EPs. She released her third EP, Transcends, on September 29, 2017. The stellar five-song collection showcases Jackie’s strong songwriting skills and impeccable musicianship. And she masterfully explores different moods and musical styles on the EP. It was produced by Michael Ramos (John Mellencamp, Los Lonely Boys, Paul Simon) and mixed by Boo Mitchell (John Mayer, Mark Ronson, Mississippi All Stars).

Although Jackie is often tagged as a blues artist, her sonic palette encompasses several different hues, including rock, soul, blues, pop, country, funk, reggae and even a bit of hip-hop. Last week, she dropped the irresistible reggae-flavored groove “Don’t Lie To Me,” where she unleashes a dazzling guitar solo.

In her interview with Funkatropolis below, Jackie discusses some of her biggest musical influences, the inspiration behind her EP Transcends, her experience touring with Gary Clark Jr., and more.

What drew you to blues music?

I absolutely loved electric blues guitar and electric blues guitar solos. Nothing better… Fender Strat through a fender amp screaming out a solo with a great blues band. Nothing. Better.

Who are some of your biggest musical influences? Was there a particular artist whose work impacted you to the point where you knew that you had to do music?

 My father in a huge way since he was succeeding in music every day. I literally watched his career happen and work! Same goes for my older brother, who has a really great career in music. As far as outside my family, Andrew Lloyd Webber - he is an excellent composer and songwriter and his music was extremely important to me when I was young.

You were a pianist for many years before you picked up the guitar. What got you interested in the guitar?

I was feeling bored and jaded on the piano, like the passion had left me. I heard a blues guitar solo by Jonny Lang and I just got bit by the bug. Good timing!

What was the experience like touring with Gary Clark Jr.? Was there anything that you learned from him that has helped you as an artist and performer?

It was an unforgettable experience for sure. I learned how to be zen about all of the crazy things that happen in this insane industry I have chosen to be a part of. I also learned patience and to go with the flow.

What was the inspiration behind your EP Transcends

Self-love and acceptance of self and others. Fighting for our right to be ourselves and to love ourselves. I also wanted a record that had damn good grooves.

I’m seeing more and more black female guitarists breaking out these days. In the past, you didn’t see a lot of women of color jamming out onstage with a guitar or bass. I’m also seeing more black female musicians venturing into rock and blues. What do you think is bringing about this change? 

I honestly don’t know, the world changes when it has culmination of previous events gathering a lot of tension and energy and then things just explode. This happened in the ‘60s in a lot of ways, this happened in the Renaissance era. It’s just how humans are and how society has always worked.

Is the guitar your main go-to instrument in writing songs or do you sometimes use the piano to write?

I sometimes use the piano but it really is mostly the guitar.

What are some of the things that you enjoy most about performing?

Sharing positive energy with people and connecting with people. I also love being surrounded by my own music just bumping loud as hell, making my bones vibrate.

What advice would you give to a young person who is considering a career as a musician?

Love it first, learn how to hustle and work your butt off, be humble, be patient.

Jackie has some concert dates lined up this month and in May. Visit her website for tour details or to explore more of her music.

Jackie  performing her song "Always Free" live

Video for "Don't Lie to Me"

Performing her song "Transcends" live

Friday, April 6, 2018

The Black Eyed Peas Return To Their Roots on "Street Livin’”

In the wake of the volatile political climate in the U.S., the Black Eyed Peas have put their good-time party music on hold for the moment to drop some serious street knowledge. On the powerful new track, “Street Livin’,” the multiplatinum-selling group takes on a slew of burning social issues—including systemic racism, immigration, gun violence, drug trafficking, black-on-black crime, police brutality and the prison-industrial complex. The track effectively brings home the harsh realities of daily life in the inner city.

“Street Livin’”–BEP’s first single in seven years—boasts a haunting, jazz-infused beat, which samples the intro from Os Catedráticos’ song “Pouca Duração." And will.i.am., apl.de.ap and Taboo deliver their rap verses with flair, power and conviction. (Fergie did not participate in the recording of “Street Livin’,” as she was busy working on her solo album The Dutchess and Double Dutchess. She has since left the group.) "Street Livin'" was written by will.i.am., apl.de.ap, Taboo and Joshua Alverez.

People who were only familiar with BEP's dance-pop hits were taken aback when the group released this unflinching, hard-hitting rap track in January. However, what many of BEP's young fans aren’t aware of is that the group released a great deal of socially conscious material in their early pre-Fergie days in the late ‘90s; and their alternative hip-hop sound was much different from the electronic, auto-tune-heavy party hits that they’re best known for. The group employed sparse, stripped down-beats that melded soul, jazz and funk on those ‘90s cuts.

When Fergie joined the Black Eyed Peas in 2002, the group changed up its sound and, for the most part, dropped its socially conscious themes and began releasing commercial pop radio-friendly tracks. BEP mastermind/leader will.i.am hit on a winning dance-pop/hip-hop/EDM formula that made the group a household name. The songs were catchy and fun but lacked the depth and seriousness of the BEP’s early material. Not surprisingly, the group caught some flack as being “sellouts” from many of their early hardcore fans.

“Street Livin,’ is a step in the right direction to possibly win back some of those former fans. The overall response to the track has been very positive with many applauding the group’s return to more serious themes. Party tracks are cool, but it’s good for music artists to sometimes take a step back and take a hard look at the world around them and write about it. They have a huge platform that most people don't have and can reach many with just one song. BEP took that step back, and what they saw wasn’t pretty—and they dropped “Street Livin.”

However, the Black Eyed Peas members didn’t suddenly become “re-woke.” They have long been supporters of a number of charity foundations, educational programs, human rights causes and philanthropic endeavors; and they have established several foundations of their own, which work toward helping people in disadvantaged communities and providing better educational opportunities for young people in those areas. Their foundations also address human rights issues, both domestically and abroad.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Janelle Monáe Releases Prince-Inspired New Track “Make Me Feel”

R&B star Janelle Monáe gives a nod to her late mentor Prince on her new track “Make Me Feel,” a wickedly funky bisexual anthem. It’s fitting that there’s so much Prince flavor on this song, as he was all about sexual freedom and gender fluidity—long before it was widely accepted. It’s sort of a 21st century update on the Purple One’s funky classic “Kiss.” It has the same minimalist funk sound, replete with tight chicken-scratch guitar licks, hot synth jabs, a rubbery electro beat and an irresistible chorus.

“Make Me Feel” is a single from Monáe’s forthcoming album, Dirty Computer, which is set for release on April 27. In a recent interview on BBC Radio 1, she said that Prince was working on the album with her “before he passed on to another frequency, and helped me come up with sounds.” The album marks a welcome return to music-making for the six-time Grammy Award nominee, who has been busy with her budding acting career, appearing in the widely acclaimed films Hidden Figures and Moonlight. She released her last album, The Electric Lady, in 2013. So anticipation is very high for the new album.

“Make Me Feel” is accompanied by a provocative music video that was directed by Alan Ferguson and features actress Tessa Thompson (Creed, Thor: Ragnarok). It takes place in a hip nightclub where Monáe flirts with both Thompson and a good-looking male patron, which culminates in a bisexual triangle/dance-off. The video is fun and very sexy but stops short of being raunchy. It’s also peppered with lots of cool Prince references; and Monáe pulls off some smooth dance moves.

On the same day that Monáe dropped “Make Me Feel,” she released the hard-hitting rap track “Django Jane,” which is also a single from Dirty Computer. These two strong tracks bode well for the new album, indicating that Monáe could have another classic on her hands.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Album Review of The Big Ol’ Nasty Getdown’s Volume 2

The Big Ol’ Nasty Getdown are back and funkier than ever. The behemoth funk collective dropped their much-anticipated second album, Volume 2, last month. It’s a stellar follow-up to the Getdown’s critically acclaimed debut album, Volume 1 (2012). The collection is filled with powerhouse grooves, impeccable musicianship and tons of funk. And like its predecessor, Volume 2 boasts an amazing lineup of top musical talent, including Fred Wesley (James Brown, Horny Horns), Vernon Reid (Living Colour), Taylor Dayne, Norwood Fisher (Fishbone, Trulio Disgracias), Larry Dunn (Earth, Wind & Fire), Karl Denson (the Rolling Stones, Lenny Kravitz) and members from the following bands: Parliament-Funkadelic, Graham Central Station, Kool & the Gang, the Funky Meters, Yo Mama’s Big Fat Booty Band, The Time, Dumpstaphunk, Mandrill and Bootsy’s Rubber Band, among many others. In all, more than 50 musicians from 18 bands contributed their talents to this album.

Volume 2 kicks off with the exuberant funk track “Rock It,” which features Speech from famed hip-hop group Arrested Development on vocals. This song has a lively, upbeat flow with tight horns, infectious guitar licks and a funkalicous trombone solo from horn legend Fred Wesley. And Larry Dunn brings some of his keyboard wizardry to the mix with some fantastic synth work.  Also, Speech’s energetic vocals help enhance the track’s fun, party vibe.“Rock It” is followed by the marvelous “Love Somebody.” Acclaimed singer-songwriter Laura Reed elevates the song with her exquisite vocals.

RonKat Spearman (Katdelic, P-Funk All Stars) delivers a dynamic vocal performance on the sizzling, high-powered funk jam “Groovy Nasty.” Jamar Woods (The Fritz) serves up a blistering organ solo while Ryan Martinie (Mudvayne) lays down some wicked bass. Additionally, the funk is augmented by blazing horn volleys from sax man Greg Hollowell (Yo Mama’s Big Fat Booty Band); trumpeter Michael Ray (Kool & the Gang, Sun Ra Arkestra); and trombone players Clifford Adams (Kool & the Gang) and Derrick Johnson (Yo Mama’s Big Fat Booty Band).

One of the album’s biggest highlights is the stunning “Mantra.” This jazz-laced soul gem features Grammy-winning songstress Kendra Foster (P-Funk, D’Angelo’s The Vanguard) and Speech on vocals. Foster serves up a mesmerizing vocal performance, and Speech is at the top of his game here, delivering his rap verses in a powerful, captivating fashion. Bassist extraordinaire Norwood Fisher holds down the bottom with his usual funky finesse. And the horn lines on this track are pure fire.

Laura Reed returns with more vocal magic on the lovely ballad “Word.” The track boasts some sterling flute work by Karl Denson.  It’s followed by the superb “Dream,” which features renowned singer Taylor Dayne, whose vocal skills are as impressive as ever.

The Getdown turn up the funk again on the hard-hitting fusion groove “Past, Present, Future.” The epic jam features some dazzling fretboard work from legendary guitarist Leo Nocentelli (co-founder of the Meters). Also, Mike Dillon (Mike Dillon Band, Primus) kills it on the vibes.

Fishbone’s frontman Angelo Moore and guitar virtuoso Vernon Reid are featured on the deep funk groove “Creatures of Habit.” Moore turns in a spirited vocal performance, and Reid tears it up with a scorching solo.

Rev. Desmond D'Angelo (The Soular System) provides the soulful lead vocals on the irresistible “B4u Loved Me.”

The Getdown brought it again on Volume 2, which is a superb collection soul, funk and R&B tracks. Those who enjoyed the Getdown’s first album definitely won’t be disappointed with this offering.

The Big Ol’ Nasty Getdown is an ambitious project that bassist/producer John Heintz (Trulio Disgracias) conceived in 2007. The Getdown was created to celebrate funk music and its massive impact on contemporary music and culture. With the help of Yo Mama’s Big Fat Booty Band members Derrick Johnson and John-Paul Miller, Heintz assembled a group of some the baddest players on the planet in New Orleans for the Getdown’s first jam session in December 2007.

The epic session set the project in motion in a big way. The Getdown continued to expand, recruiting more talented musicians along the way. The funk supergroup released their debut album, Volume 1, in 2012, which received high praise across the funk, soul and R&B communities.

To learn more about the Getdown, visit their website or Facebook page.

"Rock It"


Related blog entry: The Big Ol' Nasty Getdown Pays Tribute To Funk Music

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Former Temptations Frontman, Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Dennis Edwards Dies At 74

Dennis Edwards, former lead singer for legendary Motown group the Temptations, died on Thursday, Feb. 1, at a Chicago-area hospital of complications from meningitis. He was 74.

Edwards was one of the foremost R&B vocalists of the late 1960s and ‘70s. As the lead singer for the Temptations, he lit up many classic tracks with his gritty, gospel-infused vocals. The singer joined the Temptations in 1968 as David Ruffin’s replacement. This was right when the group was entering its psychedelic-soul era, which was guided by visionary producer Norman Whitfield.

Edwards had has his work cut out for him, but he immediately proved that he was more than up for the task. His powerful, gutbucket vocal style turned out to be a perfect fit for the Temps’ new sonic direction, which was edgier and funkier than their previous work.  He brought his vocal magic to classic tracks such as “Cloud Nine,” “Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone,” “I Can’t Get Next to You,” “Ball of Confusion (That’s What the World is Today),” “Shakey Ground” and “Runaway Child, Running Wild.” Edwards’ vocals were filled with passion, conviction and a sense of urgency, which helped drive home the power and significance of the songs’ social and political themes. Edwards was a member of the Temptations from 1968 to 1977. He would briefly rejoin the group at various times throughout the ‘80s.

The singer also enjoyed success in his solo endeavors. His song “Don’t Look Any Further,” a duet with singer/songwriter Siedah Garrett, spent two weeks at #2 on the U.S. R&B singles chart in 1984. Edwards’ album of the same title also performed well on the charts, peaking at #2 on the U.S. R&B album chart. The song has been embraced by the hip-hop community and can be found, via sample, on a slew of rap tracks. 

 Edwards won three Grammy awards as a member of the Temptations. The first one was for “Cloud Nine.” The hit single earned the group a Grammy for “Best Rhythm & Blues Group Performance, Vocal or Instrumental” in 1969. It was the first Grammy win for the group, as well as the first Grammy win for the Motown label. In 1972, the Temps landed two Grammys for their classic “Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone”:  “Best R&B Vocal Performance By A Duo, Group Or Chorus” and “Best R&B Instrumental Performance.”

Edwards was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1989 as a member of the Temptations; and he was inducted into the Rhythm and Blues Hall of Fame as a Temptation in 2013.

Edwards will be remembered as the vocal powerhouse who led the Temptations through their most socially conscious and experimental period. He gave those tracks the rawness and immediacy they needed. The singer brought an abundance of soul and funk to the Temptations’ recordings, and his legacy will forever live on through those classic tracks.

The Temptations performing"Shakey Ground" on The Midnight Special in 1975

"Runway Child, Running Wild"

"Don't Look Any Further" -- Dennis Edwards, featuring Siedah Garrett