Saturday, June 28, 2014

“I’m Tired of Good, I’m Trying Bad”- Bootsy Collins, featuring Lady Miss Kier

This funkalicious track brings together the stellar talents of funk legend Bootsy Collins and Deee-Lite diva Lady Miss Kier. The chill, slow-bumpin’ groove is highly addictive and definitely good to your earhole. I recently discovered it on Youtube and have been replaying it ever since. I’m really surprised this track hasn’t gotten more love, because it’s so damn good.  And there is something so likable about these two artists; they each possess a quirky, good-natured charm and an offbeat sense of humor. Those qualities shine through on this track.

Kier delivers a smooth and soulful vocal performance, which is also quite sexy in an understated way. And Bootsy brings his patented droll humor to the track, dropping waggish Bootsy-isms throughout the song ("Ahh, Boot Rappafella here, baby”). And his laid-back vocals add to the track’s chill, relaxed vibe.  The song was co-written by Bootsy, Lady Miss Kier, Martin Bettinghaus and Martin Buttrich. It’s about a woman who’s decided to try being a bad girl on for size, because she’s been burned being the nice, trusting partner in her relationships; she naively thought she could convert a player from his player ways. Plus, being bad sounds like much more fun, and she’ll be the one doing the burning.

The song is from Bootsy’s 2002 album Play with Bootsy: A Tribute to the Funk. The collection contains some quality funk, R&B and hip hop tracks. And it boasts a plethora of distinguished music guests, including George Clinton, Bobby Womack, Chuck D, Macy Gray, Garry Shider, Snoop Dogg, Robbie Shakespeare, Fat Boy Slim, Fred Wesley and of course Lady Miss Kier.  Bootsy teams up again with Kier on the infectious groove “All Star Funk,” which also features Can 7.

And Kier's appearance on this album is not the first time she and Bootsy have worked together. The two have collaborated on a number of occasions, most famously on Deee-Lite's 1990 smash single "Groove Is in the Heart." Bootsy also appeared in the song’s music video, which received heavy rotation on MTV, VH1 and other popular video channels. And Bootsy and other P-Funk veterans—including Bernie Worrell and Michael “Kidd Funkadelic” Hampton—toured with Deee-Lite on the group’s World Clique tour (1990-‘91).

Play With Bootsy at Amazon

Related blog entry: P-Funk Alumni and Deee-Lite Burn Up The Stage in Rio

Monday, June 23, 2014

Janelle Monáe Captivates Audience At The Hollywood Bowl

Image by Tony Felgueiras at flickr
Janelle Monáe mixed a little bit of the old with the new during her Sunday night concert at the Hollywood Bowl on June 22. In addition to performing tracks from her eclectic oeuvre, she gave a nod to some music legends who have influenced and inspired her.

Monáe kicked off her show with a bang, immediately bringing the audience to its feet with her dynamic entrance. Amid screams, shouts, cheers, howls and loud whistles, the diminutive singer/songwriter/performer was wheeled onto the stage wearing a straitjacket before launching into a mesmerizing performance of “Givin’ ‘Em What They Love,” a Prince collaboration from her latest album The Electric Lady. Monáe did just fine without the Purple One’s assistance Sunday night and completely owned the stage.  However, it would be cool to see the two perform the song together live one day.

Monáe’s set contained other tracks from The Electric Lady, including a show-stopping rendition of “Q.U.E.E.N.” and a high-energy performance of “Dance Apocalyptic.” She followed up “Dance Apocalyptic” with a  Michael Jackson/J5 tribute, performing “I Want You Back” and “ABC.” It was uncanny how much she sounded like a preteen MJ when she performed these two pop/soul classics, which had audience members singing right along with her.

And Monáe paid homage to another music legend with a galvanic performance of her song “Tightrope.” She channeled Mr. Dynamite himself, James Brown, during this performance, which included his trademark shuffles, glides and spins. She fittingly ended the performance with Brown’s legendary cape routine, in which someone from her band placed a black cape over her shoulders.  And the James Brown tribute didn’t end there.  Legendary music superstar and global ambassador Stevie Wonder joined Monáe onstage to perform Brown’s funk/soul classic “I Got You (I Feel Good).” Needless to say, the crowd went wild when they saw Stevie being escorted on stage. In addition to trading vocals with Monáe, Stevie went to work on the keyboards, dazzling the audience with some funky piano solos.

Other concert highlights included a powerful performance of “Cold War.” And the talented soul/funk/rock dynamo blew the doors off the hinges with a ripping, balls-to-the-wall performance of Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy.” She also lit up the stage with a beautiful reading of “Sincerely, Jane.”

Monáe closed out the concert with the spooky punk/swing track “Come Alive (The War of the Roses).”  It was an inspired song choice for the finale, with each member of Monáe’s super-talented band performing a solo. The monster performance had audience members dancing in the aisles.

In addition to Monáe, the concert boasted two other topflight music acts: R&B/soul artist Roman GianArthur and Seun Kuti & Egypt 80. Seun is the youngest son of the late, great Afrobeat pioneer Fela Kuti. Egypt 80 was Fela’s final band.

Roman GianArthur delivered a stellar set, which showcased his considerable guitar-playing skills and impressive vocal talent. And Seun Kuti & Egypt 80 worked the audience into a frenzy with its soul-stirring Afrobeat sound and kinetic stage work.

With Sunday night’s concert, Monáe once again proved that she’s one of most talented, unique and charismatic young artist/performers on the music scene today, and that she’s here for the long haul. 

The Electric Lady album at Amazon

Friday, June 20, 2014

Album Review of Kool & the Gang’s Wild and Peaceful

Kool & the Gang’s fourth studio album Wild and Peaceful (1973) was the band’s big breakthrough LP. Prior to the album’s release, the talented R&B/ funk/jazz outfit had been putting out great music for several years and had already built a substantial following among black record buyers. But Wild and Peaceful helped the band significantly expand their pop fan base with the crossover hits “Hollywood Swinging,” “Jungle Boogie” and “Funky Stuff.”  The album is a sterling collection of R&B, funk and jazz tracks and is now regarded as a classic.

The album, which was produced and arranged by the band, kicks off with the good-time funk jam “Funky Stuff.”  The raucous track is one of the best party grooves released in the ‘70s. There is just so much to like about this cut: the tight, in-the-pocket syncopation; the super-funky bass line; the sassy chicken-scratch guitar licks; the unison group lead vocals; and the marvelous horn arrangement. And the loud whistles throughout the song really add to the fun party vibe of the track.  The song performed extremely well on the charts, reaching #5 on the R&B charts and #29 on the pop charts.  The funk continued with “More Funky Stuff,” the part two of “Funky Stuff.”

The Arabic-influenced “Jungle Boogie” is another great funk track from the album.  It’s not only funky but has a lot of humor as well, with the band’s roadie, Don Boyce, performing the spoken-word lead vocals complete with jungle-man grunts.  The bumpin,’ hook-filled track blew up on the airwaves and was hugely popular at clubs and parties. It’s superbly arranged, with killer horn lines and wicked guitar riffs. It’s one of the band’s most recognized ‘70s tracks. It shot up to #2 on the R&B charts and #4 on the pop charts. And in 1994, a new generation of music lovers discovered the song when it was featured in filmmaker Quentin Tarantino’s classic crime/thriller Pulp Fiction.

Things get mellow on the jazzy title track “Wild and Peaceful.” The band displays its deep jazz roots on this smooth, majestic instrumental. The track got a lot of play on jazz stations, and it still does. It’s a great cut to just kick back and chill to.

 “This Is You, This Is Me” is a dynamic soul-jazz track with a positive social message about improving your situation and breaking out of the cycle of drugs, crime, prostitution etc. that many who live in poor urban communities get caught up in.  It’s also about raising awareness about the plight of those who live in these communities, and how it’s everyone’s personal responsibility to work toward the betterment of the world around them. The track features two stellar sax solos from Ronald Bell (later known as Khalis Bayyan), and the urgent, soulful background vocals were provided by New Jersey funk group Tomorrow’s Edition.

The album’s biggest hit was the anthemic “Hollywood Swinging.” The irresistible funk/pop smash was the band’s first #1 single, climbing to the summit of the R&B charts in June of 1974. It also had a very impressive showing on the pop charts, peaking at #6 on the Billboard Hot 100.  The groove is anchored by Robert “Kool” Bell’s circus-funk bass line, and it boasts a terrific hook with the indelible chant, “Hey, hey Hey/What ya got to say?” The track also has a very memorable chorus: “Hollywoooood, Hollywood swinging!” The song was inspired by the band’s experiences in Hollywood during the recording of their Live at P.J.’s album, released in 1971. The lead vocals are sung by band keyboardist Ricky West, who brings a self-deprecating charm to his vocal performance. The song went on to sell a million copies and is now considered a funk/pop classic. And it has been sampled by a number of hip hop artists, including Mase (“Feel So Good”), DJ Cool (“Let Me Clear My Throat”) and Too Short (“Money in the Ghetto”).

“Life Is What You Make” it is an infectious funk track that will have you immediately bobbin’ your head. The song has a really tight, percolating groove with some cool guitar work from Claydes Smith. It’s a really dope cut and probably the most underrated song on the album.

“Heaven at Once” is another message song in which Kool has a conversation with his little brother, Rory, about bringing more positivity into the world and what they can do to make the world a better place to live. It’s a bit corny and heavy-handed, but the music is on-point, with a soothing, jazz-tinged groove.

All the tracks on Wild and Peaceful were penned collectively by the band members, with some having more input than others on certain songs. The album went gold (500,000 copies sold) and peaked at #3 on the R&B charts and #33 on the pop charts.

The band’s lineup at time of the album’s release was as follows: Robert “Kool” Bell (bass, vocals); Ricky West (electric piano, vocals); Claydes Smith (guitar); George “Funky” Brown (drums, vocals, percussion); Dennis “Dee Tee” Thomas (alto saxophone, flute, congas, vocals); Khalis Bayyan (tenor and soprano saxophone, vocals) and Robert "Spike" Mickens (trumpet, vocals).

Kool & the Gang may have achieved bigger commercial success in the late ‘70s and throughout the ‘80s when they adopted a more sleek, pop-radio-friendly sound, but Wild and Peaceful remains the band’s strongest and most consistent album, capturing the band at the top of their game. There is a real sense of camaraderie among the band members on this collection and the feeling that they were having a blast the entire time they recorded it.  The album has stood the test of time and sounds just as good now as it did when the band first released it 41 years ago.

"We are scientists of sound/We're mathematically puttin' it down" - Robert "Kool" Bell from "Heaven at Once."

Wild And Peaceful at Amazon

"Funky Stuff"

"Wild and Peaceful"

Friday, June 13, 2014

Nikka Costa's "Happy in the Morning"

Funk/rock /soul artist Nikka Costa celebrates the joys of great morning sex on this jaunty funk cut. The song boasts an infectious keyboard-driven groove, which showcases Costa’s soulful, sexy vocals. There's some serious Prince flavor permeating this track, but that's not surprising considering the flame-haired funkster has cited His Royal Badness as one of her major influences and sources of inspiration. The track has an upbeat, sunny flow yet is still very funky. Also, the keyboard work here is fantastic, and the song has a really imaginative vocal arrangement. It’s just an all-around great cut. I’m surprised it hasn't gotten more love from funk fans as well as music lovers in general.

“Happy in the Morning” is a track from Costa’s 2005 album Can’tneverdidnothin’, the follow-up to her critically acclaimed stateside debut album Everybody Got Their Something (2001). The song was penned by Costa and her husband Justin Stanley, a noted musician/producer whose production credits include Eric Clapton, Sheryl Crow and Jet.  The couple also co-produced all of Can’tneverdidnothin’.

 The album is an impressive collection of funk, rock, soul and pop tracks and a worthy successor to her strong U.S. debut album. And a distinguished line-up of well-known artists make guest appearances on the album, including Lenny Kravitz, Wendy Melvoin, ?uestlove and David Campbell.

The musicians who played on “Happy in the Morning” are as follows: Costa (vocals), Shawn Davis (bass), ?uestlove (drums), Roger Joseph Manning, Jr. (Clavinet), Justin Stanley (guitar), Stan “Chance” Howard synthesizer (Moog Bass), and Jon Brion synthesizer (Univox Synth).

Costa often performs “Happy in the Morning” in concert and always kills it, bringing massive doses of funk each time.

Raw and hella-funky live performance of "Happy in the Morning" followed by "Pebble to a Pearl"

"Happy in the Morning" at Amazon

Related blog entry: Nikka Costa: Fiery Redhead Funkser

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

"Los Angeles": X's Cynical LA Tale

George Rose/Getty Images
X’s blistering “Los Angeles” is among the acclaimed LA punk band’s finest tracks.  The song has a raw, visceral power that typified the best of the burgeoning LA punk scene in the early ‘80s.  John Doe and Exene Cervenka’s passionate co-lead vocals add a sense of sense of urgency to the song, and Billy Zoom’s hard-driving guitar and D.J. Bonebrake’s rapid-fire drumming keep the adrenaline high and the rock quotient amped up to 11.

Penned by Cervenka and Doe, the song is about a Los Angeles woman who’s come to the end of her rope. She feels alienated, unhappy and overwhelmed and decides to leave La-La Land. These feelings awaken her deep-seated prejudices, and she lashes out at anyone who is different from her, including blacks, Jews, gays, Latinos and the wealthy (“idle rich”). The caustic lyrics even contain the infamous “N” bomb.

Some people have misinterpreted the song and wrongly accused the band of being racist and homophobic. However, the song doesn’t reflect the band’s beliefs but those of the close-minded, bigoted protagonist. It was apparently inspired by a close friend of Cervenka’s who had moved to LA from a culturally homogeneous small town. She no doubt experienced a bit of culture shock during her time in the diverse, multiracial City of Angels.  In a 1980 interview with BAM Magazine, Cervenka discussed the separation between the band’s beliefs and those of the song’s protagonist:

“People don't understand. When you read a book, you don't think the narrator's the person who wrote the book. There's a separation," Cervenka explained.

“Los Angeles” is the title track from X’s 1980 debut album, which was produced by the late Doors co-founder, keyboardist and songwriter Ray Manzarek.  Cervenka and Doe co-wrote all the tracks on the album, except for an inspired cover of Doors classic “Soul Kitchen.” The album is a superb collection of punk and rockabilly tracks and is now considered one of the most influential punk albums of all time.  A number of noted music publications have included the album on their greatest albums lists. Additionally, the song “Los Angeles” is hailed as a rock classic and was included on the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s list of the 500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll.

X was formed in Los Angeles in 1977 by bassist/vocalist/songwriter John Doe and rockabilly guitarist Billy Zoom. Doe’s poetry-writing girlfriend (and later wife), Exene Cervenka, joined the band as a vocalist shortly thereafter.  A year later, drummer D.J. Bonebrake was brought into the fold.

Following the release of Los Angeles, the talented punk outfit continued to record great music throughout the ‘80s and early ‘90s. X made a huge impact on punk rock and is widely recognized as one of the most influential punk bands to come out of Los Angeles.

"Los Angeles" at Amazon

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Zapp's "More Bounce to the Ounce" Helped Set Off A Dynamic New Sound

In 1980, Ohio funk band Zapp kicked off their self-titled debut album with the ridiculously funky cut “More Bounce to the Ounce.” The bumpin,’ roof-rattling track reassured funk fans that the FUNK was still very much alive and kicking at the dawn of the ‘80s.  It’s so funky it could wake the dead and out-stank a football stadium full of nasty outhouses. The groove is anchored by a monstrous synth bass line that kicks you square in the gut, and the heavy-duty funk beat is accentuated by thunderous granny-slapping handclaps. And the track boasts some splendid guitar work, with dirty chicken-scratch licks bouncing off smooth Wes Montgomery runs. The track is over nine minutes of exhilarating uncut funk.

The song was written by the late singer/songwriter/producer and multi-instrumentalist Roger Troutman.  He played guitars, bass and synthesizer on the track and performed all the vocals through his signature talkbox. The Zapp frontman and leader co-produced the track with legendary funk master Bootsy Collins, who played guitar on the record.  Roger’s brothers, Lester (drums) and Larry (percussion), also played on the track.

The seminal electro-funk hit was not only blowing up the airwaves; it also had folks stampeding the dance floor at parties and clubs back in the day.  It was a single from Zapp’s eponymous debut album, which was released in 1980.  The track rose all the way to #2 on the Billboard Soul Singles chart. The album also performed well on the charts, peaking at #2 on the Billboard Hot R&B album chart and #20 on the Billboard 200 album chart. The LP was eventually certified gold (500,000 copies sold). Roger and Bootsy co-produced the entire album, which is a strong collection of funk and R&B tracks.

Since its release 34 years ago, “More Bounce to the Ounce” has become an influential funk classic.  The song— and Zapp’s music in general—had a huge influence on the West Coast G-Funk sound that was popular during the early to mid ‘90s.  It is one of the most sampled tracks in hip-hop history and has appeared on 181 tracks, according to  Some of the notable hip-hop artists who have sampled the song include The Notorious B.I.G., Snoop Dogg, Public Enemy, Ice Cube, the Wu-Tang Clan, Digital Underground and Geto Boys.

Zapp was formed in 1978 by Roger and his four brothers, Larry, Lester, Tony and Terry.  The Troutman brothers were born and raised in Hamilton, Ohio. Bootsy’s brother, the late Phelps “Catfish” Collins, caught one of the band’s live performances when they were gigging around Ohio. Catfish was impressed with the young band’s talent and got them in touch Bootsy, who in turn brought them to George Clinton’s attention.  This eventually led to the band getting signed by Warner Bros. Records in 1979.  In addition to the Troutman brothers, keyboardist Gregory Jackson and vocalist Bobby Glover were also members of the band’s original lineup.

Zapp and Roger enjoyed continued success throughout the first half of the ‘80s and had a string of hits—from both the band and Roger’s solo efforts. In the mid-‘90s, the band saw a resurgence in popularity due to their tracks being sampled by countless hip-hop artists. Around this time, rap artists began featuring Roger on their songs. And the funk veteran worked with rap giants Dr. Dre and Tupac Shakur on the epic hip-hop anthem “California Love,” released in 1995.  Roger contributed to the writing of the track and provided the hook through his trademark talkbox.  He even had a cameo in the song’s extravagant video.

Zapp has quite an impressive musical legacy. In addition to its considerable influence on West Coast hip hop, the band was one of the key pioneers of the electro-funk sound that blew up in the ‘80s.

More Bounce To The Ounce at Amazon