Sunday, November 22, 2015

Review of Lettuce’s Album Crush

Brooklyn-based funk stalwarts Lettuce released their much-anticipated fourth studio album Crush earlier this month. The acclaimed groove outfit didn’t disappoint on this stellar effort, bringing tons of deep funk and raw soul to the mix.

One of the standout tracks on Crush is the blistering rock/funk instrumental “Silverdome,” which boasts some face-melting guitar work from Adam “Shmeeans” Smirnoff and Eric Krasno. There’s some serious Funkadelic-meets-Zeppelin flavor going on in this track.

Another strong cut from the collection is the immensely soulful cover of Bobbie Gentry's “He Made a Woman Out of Me,” featuring an earthy vocal performance from guest vocalist Alecia Chakour.

“The New Reel” has a cool filmic vibe, and the percolating “Pocket Change” features some fantastic drumming from Adam Deitch. Also, Neal Evans’ keyboard work is top-notch here.

“Sounds Like a Party” is a fun, raucous dance jam. Deitch holds the groove down with a phat, booty-shakin’ beat, and Erick “Jesus” Coomes serves up an irresistible bassline; the track also features a splendid vocal performance from Nigel Hall. The groove has some vintage old-school flavor, giving a nod to rowdy party tracks from the ‘70s.

“Get Greasy” is aptly titled, because this is definitely some greasy funk. The nasty funk groove showcases sax man Ryan Zoidis and trumpeter Eric “Benny” Bloom’s impressive playing abilities. Their contributions elevate the groove to its maximum funkatude.

"Chief” is a ferocious funk jam with dynamic horn lines and some great Hammond B3 organ work from Evans. The track also features a scorching guitar solo and super-tight drumming.

And on the other end of the sound spectrum, there's “Phyllis,” an intoxicating and atmospheric track with a marvelous arrangement. It sets a really chill mood.

Lettuce covers a variety of moods and styles on Crush, displaying their tremendous versatility and considerable chops as musicians; the band effortlessly navigates the waters of deep funk, psychedelia, hip hop, hard rock, classic soul and other styles on this inspired collection. It’s a very impressive effort in which the band effectively captures the energy and excitement of their powerful live shows.

In other Lettuce news, Let’s Us Play, an in-depth documentary about the band, premiered November 17 at the Angelika Film Center in NYC. The band also has a bunch of tour dates lined up over the next few months. So there's a lot of cool Lettuce-related stuff going on at the moment.

The full Crush album is available for listening or to download at Lettuce’s website.


"Sounds Like a Party"

Official Trailer for Let's Us Play

Friday, September 25, 2015

“I Got My Mind Made Up (You Can Get It Girl)” by Instant Funk

R&B groove outfit Instant Funk put themselves on the map in a big way with their funky disco smash “I Got Mind Made Up (You Can Get It Girl)” in 1979. The track was near ubiquitous at one point that year; it was blasted on radio stations across the U.S. and was a dancefloor favorite at parties, clubs and discos. It has all the essential ingredients for an epic dance smash: sizzling guitar licks, super-funky bass line, monstrous backbeat, loud handclaps and tight percussion. It also has an irresistible bridge that features some splendid vocal work.  And the extended 12-inch disco version has a terrific synthesizer solo.

The track spent three non-consecutive weeks atop the U.S. R&B singles chart in 1979. It also topped the U.S. disco charts and climbed to #20 on pop singles charts. The disco/funk mega hit went on to sell a million copies and is what band is most recognized for.

Instant Funk was formed in Trenton, New Jersey in 1971.The band’s original core lineup was Raymond Earl (bass), Scott Miller (drums) and Kim Miller (guitar). The band—who then called themselves the Music Machine—later expanded to include the following members: Dennis Richardson (keyboards); James Carmichael (lead vocals); Charles Williams (percussion); and horn players Eric Huff, Larry Davis and Johnny Onderlinde.

In 1976, the band relocated to Philadelphia where they met soul artists/producer/songwriter Bunny Sigler. Sigler caught one of the band’s shows and was very impressed with their sound and musical chops. Soon after, the band became regular session players for Sigler and played on many of his tracks. This opened door for the band being featured on tracks by a number of well-known artists, including Curtis Mayfield, the Manhattans, Evelyn "Champagne" King, Lou Rawls, the O'Jays and Archie Bell & the Drells. They built a sterling rep for themselves in the studio and became high-demand session players. At this time, they began calling themselves Instant Funk.

Sigler produced Instant Funk’s debut album Get Down With the Philly Jump (1976). The collection—which was released on TSOP Records—was a mix of Sigler’s sophisticated Philly soul/disco sound and raw, dirty funk. It was a solid LP but had no hits.

Instant Funk’s 1979 self-titled second album—released on Salsoul Records—contained their monster hit “I Got My Mind Made Up (You Can Get It Girl),” which was written by Raymond Earl, Scott Miller and Kim Miller. They also scored another moderate hit with the Sigler-penned disco/soul track “Crying."

Instant Funk had a few other minor hits on the R&B charts over the years before disbanding in 1985. They might have faded, but “I Got My Mind Made up” ensured that they'll never be forgotten.

I Got My Mind Made Up at Amazon

Extended 12" disco mix

I Got My Mind Made Up (12" Dance Mix) at Amazon

Sunday, August 9, 2015

"Funky Worm" By The Ohio Players

“Funky Worm” was the first big hit for Dayton-based funk/R&B band the Ohio Players. It’s a ridiculously funky groove that showcased the band’s wicked sense of humor. The song, which hit the airwaves in 1973, features the character Granny, who owns a magical worm that knows how to funk and can “play guitar without any hands.” She along with the Ohio Players have the worm audition for a record exec, and massive funk and insanity ensue.

The groove kind of creeps along at a slow, crawling pace befitting the song’s titular character. And it contains some marvelous synthesizer work from Junie Morrison, who also provided the Granny voice. Morrison played his synth parts on an ARP Pro-Soloist, an analog synthesizer. Additionally, Greg Webster puts some extra stank on the funk with his sick drumming. The track also features some cool horn lines. It’s just a fun, funky cut.

The track was written and produced by Morrison and was the third single off the Ohio Players' third studio album Pleasure, which was released in December of 1972. It topped Billboard’s R&B singles charts in the U.S. and peaked at #15 on Billboard’s Hot 100. The album itself also performed well, peaking at #4 on Billboard U.S. R&B top albums chart and #63 on Billboard U.S. pop album chart. And it’s a strong collection of tracks. In addition to “Funky Worm,” some of the other stand-out cuts on the album include “Pleasure,” Laid It,” and “Walked Away From You.” The album was released on Westbound Records.

“Funky Worm” also became a favorite in the hip-hop community; a slew of hip hop artists have sampled it, including Kris Kross (“Jump”), De La Soul (“Me Myself and I”), N.W.A. (“Dopeman”), The Game, featuring Snoop Dogg and Xzibit (“California Vacation”) and Ice Cube (“Ghetto Bird”).

The lineup for the Ohio Players when they dropped “Funky Worm” was the following: Leroy “Sugarfoot” Bonner (guitar, vocals), Gregory Webster (drums), Marshall Jones (bass), Walter “Junie” Morrison (keyboards, vocals), Ralph “Pee Wee” Middlebrooks (sax, trumpet) and Clarence “Satch” Satchell (sax, flute, vocals).

Funky Worm at Amazon

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

“Come Unto Me” By The Mavericks

I’ve recently become addicted to the song “Come Unto Me” by the Mavericks. The track is an indelible aural feast that’s full of great hooks and assorted ear candy; it has an infectious Latin-tinged surf-rock vibe that will have you wearing out the repeat button. The twangy reverb-laden guitar riff evokes images of a desert mirage; and Raul Malo’s haunting lead vocal is reminiscent of vintage Roy Orbison. The song also boasts a killer accordion solo, and it closes out with an equally badass trumpet solo. Additionally, the song has a strong cinematic feel. I could easily imagine hearing it played in a scene from a Robert Rodriguez or Quentin Tarantino flick. Hell, it would even fit right in with one of Sergio Leone's Spaghetti Westerns.  It’s just a brilliant track.

The Mavericks are an American band that was formed in Miami, Florida in 1989; the band is guided by the multi-talented Cuban-American singer/songwriter/guitarist and producer Raul Malo. The original lineup for the band was Malo, guitarist Ben Peeler, bassist Robert Reynolds and drummer Paul Deakin. The band's eclectic sound covers a wide selection of styles, including Tex-Mex, rockabilly, traditional country, Latin, neo-traditional country, Americana, rock, country-rock and progressive country.

Since their formation, the Mavericks have recorded tons of great music over the years, earning a devoted international following in the process. They have released two platinum-selling albums and have won several prestigious music awards, including a Grammy for their 1995 song “Here Comes The Rain.” Moreover, 14 of their songs have charted on Billboard’s country charts. Their highest charting single in the U.S. was “All You Ever Do Is Bring Me Down,” which climbed to #13 on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs singles chart. They’re also a terrific live act, and they never disappoint their fans in concert.

“Come Unto Me” was written by Malo and is a track from the Mavericks’ 2013 album In Time. The collection was a critical and commercial success; it garnered mainly high marks from noted music critics and peaked at #8 on U.S. Billboard Top Country album chart and reached #39 on the U.S. Billboard 200. Also, "Come Unto Me" was featured on the soundtrack for the 2013 film Grudge Match, which starred Sylvester Stallone, Robert De Niro and Kevin Hart.

The Mavericks have undergone several personnel changes over the years, and they continue to record and tour. In February of this year, they released the album Mono. The collection debuted at #5 on the Billboard Hot Country Album chart in the U.S. The band has tour dates lined up for later this month and in September. Check out their website for concert dates and other info about the band.

According to the Mavericks' website, the current lineup for the band is the following: Raul Malo (lead vocals, electric and acoustic guitars, piano and percussion); Paul Deakin (drums, percussion and marimba); Eddie Perez (electric and acoustic guitars); and Jerry Dale McFadden (piano, organ and celeste).

The Mavericks performing "Come Unto Me" live

"Come Unto Me" at Amazon

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

"Get On The Good Foot (Pts. 1 & 2)" by James Brown

During his storied career, James Brown had a slew of nicknames, and one of his less-familiar sobriquets was “The Minister of New Super Heavy Funk. ”And on this insanely funky, super-energized groove, the moniker fits like a glove. The track is impeccably arranged and amazingly syncopated. Not a drop of funk is wasted here. It kicks off with Brown’s proclamation, “Can’t pass the people, can’t pass the, hit me!”  Like on Brown’s best tracks, this groove flows like a well-oiled funk engine.

The monster groove is anchored by the ace rhythm section of Fred Thomas (bass) and John “Jabo” Starks (drums). Thomas contributes a smooth, fluid bass line, while Jabo keeps on the groove on-point with his funky, rapid-fire drumming. Longtime J.B. members Hearlon “Cheese” Martin and Bobby Roach hold down the guitar parts with their usual funky flair. And it addition to his powerful vocals, Brown gets funky on the organ near the end of the song. Moreover, the track has a badass bass/drum breakdown.

The track boasts some sterling horn work that further accentuates the funk. The lineup for the horn section on this hot cut was the following: Fred Wesley (trombone), St-Clair Pinckney (tenor saxophone), Isiah Ike Oakley (trumpet) and Russell Crimes (trumpet).

The song’s main theme is about taking care of your business and endeavoring to keep your life in a positive direction (on the “good foot”).  And it has a secondary theme of racial unity and how music can bring people from different backgrounds together: “Said the long-hair hippies and the Afro blacks/ They all get together across the tracks/and they party.”

“Get On The Good Foot” was written by Brown, Fred Wesley and Joseph Mims and was released in 1972 as part of a two-part single. Brown also produced the track, which topped the R&B charts in the U.S. and peaked at #18 on the U.S. pop charts. It was also the title track for the Godfather's 1972 album.

“Get On The Good Foot” has been sampled by a ton of hip-hop artists, including OutKast (“B.O.B.”), Big Daddy Kane (“Raw”), Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five (“Gold”) and Kool Moe Dee (“Gansta Boogie”). In all, it has been sampled in 173 songs, according to the website WhoSampled.

Get On The Good Foot (Pt. 1 & 2) at Amazon

Thursday, July 16, 2015

"Don’t Wanna Fall In Love" by Jane Child

Toronto-born singer, musician and producer Jane Child brightened up the airwaves with this infectious slice of synth-driven dance pop back in 1989. The track is hook-filled, replete with great keyboard riffs and shining synth lines; and it boasts an irresistible sing-along chorus. When I first heard the track on the radio back in the day, I thought for sure she was one of Prince’s protégés. It definitely has a Princely vibe going on. But it turns out Child had no affiliation with the Purple One, but you can definitely hear his influence on this cut.

The song is from Child’s eponymous debut album, released in 1989. It reached #2 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 and peaked at #6 on the Billboard’s R&B singles chart. It climbed to #4 on Canada’s RPM singles chart and #22 on the UK singles chart. The album also had a solid showing on the charts, climbing to #49 on the Billboard 200 album chart. Also, “Don’t Wanna Fall In Love” was featured in the popular video game Grand Theft Auto V for the Playstation 3, Xbox 360, Xbox One, PS4 and PC. Additionally, a remix of the song earned Child a Juno Award for Dance Recording of the year in 1991.

Child’s second single from her debut album, “Welcome to the Real World,” was a modest hit, peaking #49 on the Billboard Hot 100. The song was featured in the 1988 comedy Married to the Mob, which starred Michelle Pfeiffer.

Child was born Jane Richmond Hyslop on February 15, 1967 and grew up in an accomplished musical family in Toronto, ON, Canada. Her father, Ricky Hyslop, was a concert violinist, who composed and performed contemporary classical music as well as wrote film and television scores. Her mother, Lorraine Johnson, was a vocalist/pianist/composer and music teacher.  They began grooming their young daughter for a career as a classical musician at the age of five, with a regimen of piano, voice, violin and harmony lessons. Child sang in the Children's Chorus of the Canadian Opera Company when she was 12 and was later accepted into the Royal Conservatory of Music to study piano.

 However, she dropped out of the conservatory when she was 15 to join a rock band. After touring with the band for two years, Child returned to Toronto and began performing her own songs locally. She was writing a song a day at this juncture in her career.  Eventually a demo she had produced found its way to some record labels, which ultimately resulted in her signing a deal with Warner Bros. Records. Apparently, the label had a lot of faith in Child’s talents, as they gave her complete creative control over her debut album in which she wrote, arranged and produced all the tracks.

She followed up her debut album with Here Not There in 1993. This collection melded New Jack Swing with almost hard rock elements. She released her last album, Surge, in 2001.

Also, Child’s song “Mona Lisa Smiles” was featured on the soundtrack for the 1992 sci-fi action thriller Freejack, which starred Emilio Estevez and Mick Jagger.

In addition to her music, Child is known for her bold fashion style, spiked hair with long braids and a nose chain.

Child is still very much involved in music but has been keeping a pretty low profile over the past several years, mainly doing behind-the-scenes session work and side projects.  She’s married to musician Cat Gray, who's the musical director for the television game show Let’s Make a Deal, which is hosted by actor, singer, comedian Wayne Brady.

Child plays several instruments, including guitar, synthesizers, violin, bass and piano.

Don't Wanna Fall In Love at Amazon

Related blog entry: "You, Bluebird" by Jane Child

Friday, July 10, 2015

Songs About Working

For centuries the subject of working has been an inexhaustible source of inspiration for songwriters. Tons of songs about working have been recorded over the years and in various music genres; some songs romanticize the plight of the working stiff, while others condemn the workplace as a numbing, soul-crushing environment that stifles all creative thought and individuality. So I've decided to put together a list of my 14 favorite songs about being on the grind. Here it is in no particular order:

Let It Rock – Chuck Berry (1960)

The protagonist of this hot-rockin’ tune toils away on a railroad track in Mobile, Alabama as a distant train comes bearing down. Berry’s great storytelling gifts and wry sense of humor are on full display here, as are his impressive skills as a guitarist. He even makes his guitar sound like the oncoming train at one point in the song. This track was the second single from Berry’s 1960 album Rockin’ at the Hops, which was released on Chess Records. It peaked at #64 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 chart and climbed all the way to #6 on the UK singles chart.

Let It Rock at Amazon

9 to 5 – Dolly Parton (1980)

Buxom country music queen Dolly Parton landed a monster hit with this rousing anthem to working stiffs. Parton penned this track for the 1980 hit comedy of the same title in which she co-starred along with Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin and Dabney Coleman. The song was also featured on Parton’s album 9 to 5 and Odd Jobs (1980). It topped both the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 and Billboard’s Adult Contemporary singles chart; it also reached #1 on Billboard's Country singles chart. Additionally, the song garnered Parton an Oscar nomination for "Best Original Song" and four Grammy noms, including two wins:  “Best Country Song” and “Best Country Vocal Performance, Female.”

9 to 5 at Amazon

Hard Work – John Handy (1976)

Legendary alto saxophonist John Handy lays down some smooth soul-jazz on this bumpin’ instrumental. It's the title track from Handy’s 1976 LP. The groove is bolstered by Handy’s masterful sax playing. The album performed well on the charts, peaking at #4 on the Billboard Jazz chart and #43 on the Billboard 200 album chart.

Hard Work at Amazon

Banana Boat Song (Day-O) – Harry Belafonte (1956)

Singer, actor and social activist Harry Belafonte scored a big hit with his stirring
rendition of the traditional Jamaican folk song. The song is about dock workers who labor throughout the night loading bananas onto ships. The musical arrangement is impeccable and nicely frames Belafonte’s raspy tenor. His version of the song used lyrics adapted by renowned Caribbean composer Irving Burgie and American novelist/playwright William Attaway.

“Day-O” was a single from Belafonte’s album Calypso, released in 1956. The album was a massive success and became the first LP to sell a million copies, and “Day-O" peaked at #5 on the pop singles chart and reached #7 on the R&B singles chart. Belafonte is credited with putting Calypso music on the map worldwide, which earned him the nickname “The King of Calypso.”

The Banana Boat Song (Day-O) at Amazon

Let’s Work – Prince (1981)

This gospel-infused funk burner is about putting in work between the sheets. His Royal Badness serves up one of his funkiest slap bass lines on this blistering groove. The track was blasted at parties and clubs across the U.S. back in the day. It was the second single from Prince’s 1981 platinum-selling Controversy album, and it peaked at #9 on the U.S. R&B singles chart and #104 on the pop charts. And it topped the Hot Dance Club Songs chart in the U.S. In addition to the 3:57 album version of the track, there’s an eight-minute extended version that’s definitely worth checking out.

Check out the extended version of "Let's Work" here.

Let's Work extended version at Amazon

A Hard Day’s Night – The Beatles (1964)

The protagonist of this exuberant John Lennon-penned Beatles classic works marathon hours to buy nice things for his lady, who rewards him with plenty of love and affection when he finally gets home. The song was the title track from the Beatles’ superb third studio album, released in 1964. The LP also served as the soundtrack for the film A Hard Day’s Night (1964), which starred the Beatles in their feature-film debut. The proto-mockumentary effectively captured the excitement, madness and hysteria surrounding the band at the height of Beatlemania. 

Seven of the album’s 13 tracks were featured in the film. The song “A Hard Day’s Night” topped both the U.S. and UK pop charts. Its title was inspired by one of Ringo Starr’s characteristic dry malapropisms, giving Lennon all the inspiration he needed to write the song.

Sixteen Tons – Tennessee Ernie Ford (1955)

This indelible tune tells the story a coal miner who works in a coalmine in Muhlenberg County, Kentucky. Ford’s rich bass-baritone goes down real easy on this terrific song. It was originally written and recorded by  acclaimed country and western guitarist/singer/songwriter Merle Travis. Travis’ version was released in 1947.  Ford’s rendition of the song—released in 1955—became a huge hit, topping both the pop and country charts in the U.S.

Sixteen Tons at Amazon

Livin’ It Up (Friday Night) – Bell & James (1978)

This cookin’ groove by soul duo Bell & James is about a working slob who trudges through his boring, dead-end job each day simply for the paycheck. The only thing that gets him through the week is the thought of Friday night where he can finally lay his burden down, jump in his ride and head to where the party people hang. This cut resonated with a lot of people who could relate with the protagonist’s situation. The track boasts a sterling music arrangement and strong vocal performances from the duo. The song peaked at #15 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 and #7 on Billboard’s R&B charts.

Bell & James were formed in 1978 by drummer/guitarist Leroy Bell and guitarist/bassist/keyboardist Casey James. Both were formerly members of Philadelphia band Special Blend.

Livin' It up (Friday Night) at Amazon

Working in a Coal Mine – Lee Dorsey (1966)

The infectious tune by famed New Orleans R&B singer Lee Dorsey reflects on the plight of a coal miner who's forced to endure the harsh and dangerous conditions of working in a coal mine five days a week. The song even contains the sound of a pickax clinking. It was written by legendary producer, songwriter and musician Allen Toussaint. The song was Dorsey’s second biggest hit, peaking at  at #8 on the U.S. pop singles chart and #5 onthe U.S. R&B singles chart. Pioneering new  wave band Devo later covered the song, which was included on the soundtrack for the 1981 film Heavy Metal.  The 7” single of the song was packaged with Devo’s album New Traditionalists (1981).

Working in the Coal Mine at Amazon

Working Day and Night – Michael Jackson (1979)

This kinetic, high-powered track has MJ working around the clock in hopes of getting some sweet lovin’ from his girl.  The pop/soul superstar delivers a dynamic and extremely soulful vocal performance on this potent groove. It's a track from MJ’s landmark 1979 album Off The Wall. He penned the song as well as co-produced it. Surprisingly, it wasn’t released as a single. Nonetheless, it got massive play on the airwaves and at parties and clubs. And it was a crowd favorite at MJ’s concerts, and he never failed to blow the doors off the hinges whenever he performed it live.

Working Day and Night at Amazon

Work – Bob Marley & the Wailers (1980)

This powerful Bob Marley song is about working every day toward bettering the world and pushing for more positivity, love and African unity, as well as spreading the message of Rastafarianism. The song is from Bob Marley & the Wailers’ highly acclaimed 1980 album Uprising. This was the final studio album featuring Bob Marley & the Wailers to be released during the reggae legend’s lifetime. The album peaked at #45 on the U.S. album charts and #41 on the U.S. R&B album charts. It had a much stronger chart showing in other parts of the world, making the top ten on the album charts in several places, including the UK (#6), Sweden (#3), New Zealand (#1) and Norway (#6).

Work at Amazon

Chain Gang – Sam Cooke (1960)

This soul-pop gem is a poignant ode to prison chain-gangs who work along the highways and byways. The lush arrangement and Sam Cooke’s velvet-smooth vocal delivery belie the song’s harsh and depressing subject matter of chained prisoners doing thankless and grueling work. The song became one of the music legend's biggest hits, peaking at #2 on both the pop and R&B charts in the U.S., and it reached #9 on the UK singles chart.

Chain Gang at Amazon

Five O'Clock World – The Vogues (1965)

American vocal group the Vogues scored a top-five hit with this sterling slice of folk/rock/pop. It’s about a guy who hates his job and can’t wait for the five o’clock whistle to blow to set him free.  He doesn’t truly feel alive until the clock hits five; that’s when the world finally opens up for him. The song was written by producer and songwriter Allen Reynolds, who went on to produce country music superstar Garth Brooks’ multiplatinum albums in the ‘90s. The song reached #4 the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 and peaked at #1 on Canadian RPM Top Singles

The Vogues were formed in 1960 by four high school friends from Turtle Creek, Pennsylvania. The original and founding members of the quartet were as follows: Bill Burkette (lead baritone), Don Miller (baritone), Hugh Geyer (first tenor) and Chuck Blasko (second tenor).

Five O'Clock World at Amazon

Car Wash – Rose Royce (1976)

Rose Royce blew up the airwaves with this R&B/disco smash about working at a bustling car wash. The song is spilling over with energy, excitement and fun. The percolating groove boasts some sassy guitar licks and a nice string arrangement. And Gwen Dickey (aka Rose Norwalt) delivers a strong lead vocal performance. The song was written and produced by legendary Motown songwriter/producer Norman Whitfield. It was the lead single from Rose Royce’s 1976 debut album Car Wash, which served as the soundtrack for the raucous comedy of the same name. The song topped both the U.S. pop and R&B charts and reached #3 on the disco charts. The band had a few more hits in the ensuing years, but “Car Wash” remains their most universally recognized song.

Car Wash at Amazon

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Review of The Commodores’ Debut Album Machine Gun

The Commodores scored a winner right out the gate with their strong debut album Machine Gun (1974). The Tuskegee, Alabama-bred funk/soul band flexed their impressive musical chops and songwriting abilities on this terrific LP.  The collection is chock-full of gritty, hard-hittin’ funk grooves. There are none of the band’s signature ballads that would appear on their later albums to be found here—just straight-ahead, unapologetic funk.

The explosive title track is a clavinet-driven instrumental written by Commodore keyboardist Milan Williams. The groove just crackles with energy and funk. It was inspired by Billy Preston’s 1972 hit instrumental “Outa-Space,” but the Commodores put their own original flavor on the groove. “Machine Gun” was the album’s biggest hit, peaking at #7 on the U.S. R&B charts and #22 on the U.S. pop charts. The song was used to great effect in an exhilarating montage sequence from Paul Thomas Anderson’s widely acclaimed 1997 film Boogie Nights.  Also, the Beastie Boys sampled the track for their song “Hey Ladies” in 1989.

“I Feel Sanctified” is a powerful funk groove that’s anchored by a wicked bass line. The track contains some nasty guitar licks and punchin’ horn lines, which were provided by Lionel Richie (saxophone) and William King (trumpet). According to those in the know, P-Funker Billy “Bass” Nelson laid down the bottom on this track with none other than Eddie “Maggot Brain” Hazel himself on guitar. The track saw some chart action; it climbed to #12 on the U.S. R&B singles chart and made it to #75 on the U.S. pop singles chart.

“The Bump,” is an irresistible groove about the hot ‘70s dance craze. The track boasts some sweet chicken-scratch guitar licks, super-tight horns and some percolating clavinet work.  It also has cool vocal breakdown in the middle of the song. This cut no doubt had folks bumpin’ on the dance floor until their hips were bruised back in the day.

“Rapid Fire” is another great funk instrumental.  As in “Machine Gun,” “Rapid Fire” contains some smokin’ clavinet work from Williams, who also wrote the song.

And Richie was already displaying his budding songwriting abilities on the solid grooves “Superman” and “There’s a Song In My Heart.” His songwriting would become stronger with each succeeding album.

There are even a couple of socially conscious tracks to be found on this collection: “The Assembly” and "The Zoo (The Human Zoo).”

Machine Gun was released on Motown Records in 1974. The album was co-produced by James Anthony Carmichael and the Commodores. It climbed to #22 on the U.S. R&B album charts and peaked at #138 on the pop album charts. The band members had a hand in the writing of the majority of the albums' tracks.

The lineup for the Commodores at the release of this album was the following: Walter “Clyde” Orange (drums, vocals), Ronald LaPread (bass), Lionel Richie (saxophone, vocals), Thomas McClary (guitar, vocals), William King (trumpet) and Milan Williams (keyboards, guitar). This would remain the lineup until 1982 when Richie left the band to pursue a solo career.

Machine Gun captures the young band in the process finding its own voice and direction. The talent is definitely there, and with each subsequent album, their abilities as musicians and songwriters would increase exponentially until they became one of the biggest and tightest R&B/funk bands of the ‘70s.

Machine Gun CD at Amazon

Friday, June 19, 2015

“The Same Thing (Makes You Laugh, Makes You Cry)” by Sly & the Family Stone

The groundbreaking multi-genre band Sly & the Family Stone dropped this terrific underrated track back in 1979. The song is about life’s many paradoxes—how seemingly positive things could also have a negative component. The track boasts a moseying funk groove, which is deftly anchored by Keni Burke’s loafin’ bass line. The track also features some sweet guitar licks and cool talk-box work. And Sly delivers a strong lead vocal performance. His distinctive, malleable voice is in top-form here. Additionally, the background singers provide great support with their soulful, gospel-laced vocals.

This track was written by Sly and was a single from the Family Stone’s tenth studio album Back On The Right Track (1979). The collection was meant to be Sly’s big comeback LP—hence, the title. Unfortunately, the album failed to really catch fire. Its two singles (“Remember Who You Are” and “The Same Thing (Makes You Laugh, Makes You Cry)" didn’t crack the charts, and the album itself mainly got mixed reviews from most music critics, as well as failing to chart. It’s a solid collection of tracks, but it doesn’t measure up to the innovative and sterling recordings released during the band’s peak years (1968-’73).

In addition to Sly, the other original Family Stone members who played on the album were Cynthia Robinson (trumpet), Freddie Stone (guitar, vocals), Pat Rizzo (saxophone) and Rose Stone (vocals). Sly contributions on the album:  keyboards, vocals, harmonica and songwriting.

Some of the other musicians who played on the album included Alvin Taylor (drums), Keni Burke (bass), Ollie E. Brown (percussion) and Hamp Banks (guitar).

Back On The Right Track marked the first time that Sly didn’t produce his own album. The collection was produced by acclaimed music producer, arranger, songwriter and keyboardist Mark Davis. 

The Same Thing at Amazon

Friday, June 12, 2015

"Just a Touch of Love" By Slave

Dayton, Ohio-bred funk/R&B band Slave scored their second top ten R&B hit in 1979 with the sexy funk track “Just a Touch of Love.” Mark “The Hansolor” Adam’s slinky, sinuous bass line really makes this song. The talented late bassist had a gift for coming up with great bass lines that were at once catchy and super-funky. And Steve Arrington's lead vocal performance is packed with sensual soul. Additionally, Starleana Young’s lush background vocals help heighten the track’s strong seductive vibe. It’s just a snazzy little groove.

"Just a Touch of Love" was the title track from Slave's fourth studio album, which was released in 1979.  The song peaked at #9 on the U.S. R&B singles chart and #26 on the U.S. club chart. And it climbed to #64 on the UK singles chart.  It’s one of the band's most recognized tracks and has been sampled by a number of artists, including Del La Soul (“Keepin’ The Faith); Mariah Carey (“I’ve Been Thinking About You”); En Vogue (“Ooh Boy”); 2Pac, featuring Dwayne Wiggins and Silky (“Raise Off These Nuts”); Jurassic 5, featuring Nelly Furtado (“Thin Line”); and Kriss Kross, featuring Super Cat (“Alright”).

R&B star Keith Sweat recorded a solid cover of the song in 1997, which was included on his compilation album Just a Touch.

The lineup for Slave when they released the LP Just a Touch of Love was the following: Steve Arrington (vocals, drums), Mark Adams (bass), Danny Webster (guitar, vocals), Starleana Young (vocals), Steve Washington (trumpet, vocals, percussion), Mark “Drac” Hicks (guitar, vocals), Raye Turner (keyboards), Floyd Miller (trombone), Tom Lockett, Jr. (tenor and alto sax) and Curt Jones (vocals).

“Just a Touch of Love” was written by Arrington, Adams, Hicks, Turner, Young and Webster.

The song "Just A Touch of Love" at Amazon

Related blog entry: Slave Burned Up The Charts And Filled Dance Floors With Hit "Slide"

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

James Brown Funked Up The Stage On Late Night With David Letterman

David Letterman’s recent retirement from late-night television made me think of all the terrific music guests who had performed on his long-running talk show Late Night With David Letterman over the years—as well as the show’s great house band led by Paul Shaffer. When it premiered on NBC 33 years ago, the show was sort of a younger, hipper and more irreverent alternative to The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. And Letterman’s show always booked top music talent.

My favorite music performance on the show was when James Brown treated Dave’s audience to an electrifying, roof-raising set back in 1982. Brown kicked off his set with a dynamic performance of his funk classic “Get Up (I Feel Like Being a) Sex Machine,” which immediately got audience members moving in their seats. He even tickled the keys a bit during the song.  The funk/soul legend then launched into a rousing rendition of the nostalgic “There Was a Time," and he closed out his set with an explosive performance of his super-funky cut “I Got The Feelin’.”

Throughout the set, Brown thrilled the audience with some of his famous dance moves, illustrating why people dubbed him “Mr. Dynamite” back in the day. And he couldn’t have asked for a tighter backing band than Paul Shaffer and his talented crew, aka “The World’s Most Dangerous Band.” The lineup for the late-night band when this performance was taped was Paul Shaffer (keyboards, musical director), Hiram Bullock (guitar), Will Lee (bass) and Steve Jordan (drums and percussion). Also on hand were Brown’s longtime horn players Sinclair Pinckney (saxophone) and Hollie Ferris (trumpet).

In the ensuing years, the Godfather of Soul made a few more appearances on David Letterman’s show and never failed to tear the roof off each time.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Yo Mama’s Big Fat Booty Band Releases New Album Funk Life

Funk lovers rejoice! Yo Mama’s Big Fat Booty Band are back with some brand-new music, and they’re funkier than ever. The talented Asheville, NC-based groove outfit dropped their much-anticipated fourth studio album, Funk Life, on Tuesday, June 2nd.  The eight-song collection is chock full of hot tracks, which showcase the band members’ sterling musicianship and impressive songwriting abilities.  The album is a worthy successor to their excellent 2013 release Onward!

According to the Booty Band’s website, Funk Life was conceived in the backseat of a 1972 Impala while the members were listening to a mixtape of P-Funk, Sly & the Family Stone, Aretha Franklin, Tower of Power and James Brown. And those inspirations are definitely apparent throughout this stellar LP but with the Booty Band’s own unique flavor. The album kicks off in style with “24/7.” The infectious groove is highlighted by John Paul Miller’s percolating wah-wah guitar licks and a dynamic horn arrangement.  And Al Al Ingram’s phat bass line keeps things nice and funky. The song also has a really cool music video, which was directed by Daniel Judson.

The album’s title track is an indelible funk groove that features a strong lead vocal performance from keyboardist/vocalist Mary Frances—aka Mama Funk. Another great track is the hard-funkin’ instrumental “Quick E.” This hot cut has some fantastic drumming from Lee Allen, and trombonist Derrick Johnson serves up a massively funky ‘bone solo.

The kinetic, high-energy “Wake Yo’Self” boasts a scorching organ solo from Mama Funk. And “Nah Brah” is an irresistible soul track, which is anchored by Ingram’s bumpin' bass line. He also handles the lead vocals on this cut.  The Booty Band drops a truckload full of funk on a badass cover of Lyn Collins’ “Mama FeelGood.” The cover features some super-tight drumming from Allen and a gritty lead vocal performance from Mama Funk, who more than lives up to her sobriquet. “Brand New Day” is a smooth laid-back track about taking control of your life and making efforts to improve it each day. The soothing soul groove features a great horn arrangement.

The album closes out with the wicked funk-rock track “Living The Dream.” JP Miller lets loose with some blistering fretboard funk on this dope cut.

Funk Life is a superb collection of tracks, and it shows that the Booty Band hasn’t lost a step when it comes to creating powerful funk grooves. The album is available for a free download at their website. The hard-working band has tour dates lined up throughout this month and in July. Their tour schedule is also available at their website.

Music video for "24/7"

Friday, May 29, 2015

Boogie Wonderland by Earth, Wind & Fire, Featuring The Emotions

The mighty Earth, Wind & Fire brought a mystical vibe to their exquisite disco smash "Boogie Wonderland." The legendary band put their powerful and distinct stamp on this infectious dance track, which distinguished it from the flood of other disco cuts released in 1979. The song is impeccably arranged and orchestrated, and the band got strong vocal support from the honey-voiced R&b/pop sensations The Emotions. Additionally, Philip Bailey’s amazing falsetto soars to the heavens on the bridge. And Maurice White delivers a suave and assured lead vocal performance.

 The song is about how many people go to discos in hopes of finding something that has been missing in their lives whatever that may be: love, excitement, human connection, etc.  The disco is not just a place where people go to escape their troubles and worries on the dance floor for a while but also somewhere that provides them the illusion of something better than their lives.

“Boogie Wonderland” was written by award-winning songwriters Allee Willis and Jon Lind and was produced by White and Al Mckay. It was the lead single from EWF’s double-platinum album I Am (1979). The song peaked at #2 on the US R&B charts and climbed to #6 on the pop charts; and it charted at #4 on the UK singles charts. The disco hit sold more than a million copies and earned the band a Grammy for Best R&B Instrumental Performance.  And in addition to “Boogie Wonderland,” the album yielded another huge hit, the gorgeous ballad “After The Love Has Gone,” which peaked at #2 on both the US R&B and pop singles charts and reached #4 on the UK singles chart. The song landed the band a Grammy for Best R&B Performance by A Duo, Group Or Chorus.

“Boogie Wonderland” is now considered a timeless disco classic and has been featured in a number of films, including Happy Feet, Madagascar, Caddyshack, Roller Boogie, Don’t Look Under The Bed, Kronk’s New Groove, Billy & Mandy's Big Boogey Adventure and The Intouchables. It’s also used in the widely acclaimed Australian musical Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.

Boogie Wonderland at Amazon

Monday, May 25, 2015

Bass Titan Louis Johnson Dead at 60

Legendary funk bassist Louis “Thunder Thumbs” Johnson died last Thursday, May 21. He was 60. The cause of his death has not yet been disclosed. Johnson was one of the most naturally gifted bass players to ever pick up the instrument. His explosive, ferociously funky playing abilities distinguished him as one of the preeminent bass players of the funk era in the 1970s and placed him in the esteemed company of bass giants such as Larry Graham, Bootsy Collins and Stanley Clarke.  In the mid-1970s, Johnson took Graham’s innovative thump-and-pluck technique and expanded on it, adding his own unique fire and intensity to the style. And as a result, he became a highly influential bassist in his own right—with tons of aspiring players trying to cop his dynamic, rapid-fire funk style.

Johnson was born in Los Angeles on April 13, 1955 and developed a huge interest in music at a young age. While in high school, he and his two brothers (George and Tommy) along with their cousin Alex Weir formed the band Johnson Three Plus One. Upon graduation, they began backing big-name music acts such as the Supremes and Bobby Womack on tour. Louis and George—who’s a talented guitarist—eventually broke off from Johnson Three Plus One to join Billy Preston’s band. They wrote two songs for Preston (“The Kids and Me” and “Music Is My Life”) before leaving his band in 1973. 

They were later hired to play on Quincy Jones’ album Mellow Madness (1975), which contained four of their compositions. To return the favor, Jones took them on his Japan tour and then produced their debut LP Look Out For #1 (1976), which was released on A&M Records. They began dubbing themselves the Brothers Johnson shortly before the recording of the album. The LP was an auspicious debut for the gifted duo. It contained the smash “I’ll Be Good To You,” which shot to #1 on the US R&B singles chart and peaked at #3 on the pop charts.  The collection also contains the dance-floor hit “Get The Funk out Ma Face” (#3 R&B chart, #30 pop chart and #11 dance chart). It also features a super-cool rendition of Beatles classic “Come Together.” The collection went platinum and topped the R&B album charts in the US; and it peaked at #3 on the jazz charts and climbed to #9 on the pop charts. With the exception of “Come Together,” the duo had a hand in the writing of all the album’s tracks.

Jones produced three more Brothers Johnson albums: Right on Time (1977), Blam! (1978) and Light Up the Night (1980). All three LPs went platinum. And the brothers had several more hit singles, including an inspired, funkified cover of Shuggie Otis’ psychedelic soul track “Strawberry Letter 23.” The track reached the top spot on the US R&B singles chart and peaked at #5 on the pop charts. It’s probably their most well-known song. Some of their other hits include the monster funk jam “Ain’t We Funkin’ Now”; the dance smash “Stomp!”; and the smooth, soulful “Runnin’ for Your Lovin’.”

Following Light Up the Night, the duo released six more studio albums: Winners (1981), Blast! (1982), Out of Control (1984), Kickin’ (1988), Funkadelia (1994) and Brothers ‘n’ Love (1996).

In addition to the Brothers Johnson’s albums, Louis and George worked on outside projects. Louis was an in-demand session player and contributed his phenomenal bass skills to tracks by notable artists such as George Duke, Herb Alpert, George Benson, Paul McCartney, Aretha Franklin, Michael McDonald, Stevie Wonder and Jeffrey Osborne. And he played on Michael Jackson’s landmark albums Off The Wall and Thriller. He laid down the bottom on iconic tracks like “Billie Jean,” “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough,” “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’,” and “Off The Wall.”

And an addition to his superb bass abilities, Louis Johnson was a talented songwriter and an exciting performer. He could electrify an audience with his raw energy and powerful bass playing.

Louis Johnson left an indelible mark on funk bass playing and on the genre itself. He influenced and inspired bass players across the globe with his incredible bass skills and ultra-funky style.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Bootsy Collins Bridges Old School And New School On “Kool Whip”

P-Funk bass lord Bootsy Collins collaborated with young hip-hop artists Phil Adé and Morris Mingo for this nasty funk track. The song is a delicious mix of old-school funk and new-school hip hop. Mingo holds down the keyboards, while Adé serves up a strong rap. And Bootsy delivers a stupidly funky bass line.
The song also boasts some fantastic string work and a sexy, soulful vocal performance from Candi$weetz. And the tight horns help further raise the groove's funk quotient. The track also has an irresistible bridge. With this powerful groove, Bootsy proved that raw, uncut funk was still very much alive and kicking as we entered into the second decade of the 21st century.

“Kool Whip” was co-written by Bootsy, Adé and Mingo and is a track from the funk legend’s 2011 album Tha Funk Capital of the World. The collection offers a highly listenable smorgasbord of funk, rock, hip hop, soul, jazz and gospel. Back when the album was released, Bootsy said he recorded it to pay  tribute to some of his musical heroes, such as James Brown, Jimi Hendrix, Thelonious Monk and Miles Davis, as well as late P-Funk vocalist/guitarist/songwriter Garry Shider, who died in 2010.

The album also works as sort of a music history lesson for the young folks. And it features a myriad of celebrity guests, including Bobby Womack, Samuel L. Jackson, Snoop Dogg, Dr. Cornel West, Ron Carter, George Duke, Sheila E., Ice Cube, Buckethead, Chuck D, Béla Fleck, Musiq Soulchild, George Clinton and Rev. Al Sharpton. That sounds like one hell of a house party.

Kool Whip at Amazon

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

B.B. King's Best Live Performances

Blues icon B.B. King left behind an extraordinary musical legacy.

The universal outpouring of love for B.B. King over the past several days is a testament to the legendary guitarist’s massive legacy and how many millions he has touched with his music and performances over the years. B.B.—who died last Thursday at 89—was one of most iconic and influential blues artists to ever take the stage; he had an immeasurable impact on modern music and was major influence on a slew of celebrated guitarists, including Eric Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Jimi Hendrix, Bonnie Raitt, Keith Richards, Mark Knopfler, Carlos Santana, Duane Allman and Buddy Guy, among countless others.

And it wasn’t just his soulful guitar playing, powerful voice and magnetic stage presence that endeared him to so many; it was also his humble and jovial demeanor. His laidback, down-home charm made everyone feel completely at ease in his presence, both onstage and off.  He was a true gentleman and a class act in every way. In recognition of the blues legend’s passing, I thought I’d put together a list of my five favorite B.B. King performances. Here they are in no particular order:

B.B. Performing “How Blue Can You Get” at Sing Sing Correctional Facility (1972)

B.B. brought the house down with this electrifying performance of “How Blue Can You Get” (aka “Downhearted”) at the notorious maximum security prison Sing Sing in New York. The revered bluesman brought his patented stage charisma and humor to this powerful performance. The performance was part of a concert that B.B. and famed folk singer Joan Baez put on for Sing Sing’s inmates in 1972.

B.B. Performing “Sweet Little Angel” with James Brown at the Beverly Theater (1983)

James and B.B. lit up the stage with a soul-stirring performance of blues standard “Sweet Little Angel." This was one of the many highlights of the historic concert that B.B. and James put on at the Beverly Theater in Los Angeles in 1983.  This was also the same concert in which Prince and Michael Jackson made brief guest appearances onstage.

B.B. Performing “The Thrill is Gone” in Montreux (1993)

B.B. delivered a majestic performance of the timeless blues classic “The Thrill is Gone” at his 1993 concert in Montreux.

B.B. and Gladys Knight performing “Please Send Me Someone To Love” (1987)

B.B. and Gladys Knight set the stage on fire with this show-stopping rendition of Percy Mayfield’s blues ballad “Please Send Me Someone To Love” at Los Angeles' Ebony Showcase Theatre in 1987. Both music legends dazzled the audience with their inimitable musical gifts.

B.B. Performing “Let The Good Times Roll” at the Beverly Theater (1983)

B.B. got the joint jumpin' with a rousing, crowd-pleasing rendition of Louis Jordan’s jump-blues classic during his concert with James Brown at the Beverly Theater in 1983.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Prince Hosts Two Peace Rally Concerts And Releases A Protest Song

Moved by the nationwide demonstrations following the untimely deaths of Freddie Gray and Michael Brown, Prince decided to let his voice be heard. On May 10, he released his new song, “Baltimore,” which  honors the memories of Gray and Brown, who both died from injuries sustained during encounters with police officers.  Many feel their deaths were two more examples of an ongoing pattern of the police using excessive force when dealing with African Americans. The song is a call for peace and an end to the unrest that has taken hold across the country. It also condemns police brutality and gun violence, which continues to cut short too many young lives in the United States—especially in low-income urban communities. Prince wrote and produced the song as well as played all the instruments. The song has a gorgeous melody and some sterling guitar work from the Purple One.  And soul/R&B singer Eryn Allen Kane sweetens the groove with her soulful vocals.

On May 11, the multitalented musician performed alongside his backing band, 3RDEYEGIRL, before a sold-out crowd at Baltimore’s Royal Farms Arena for his second “Dance Rally 4 Peace” concert. Prince debuted “Baltimore” during the show. A portion of the concert’s proceeds will go to Baltimore-based youth charities. According to a statement released by LiveNation, the concert is meant to be a “catalyst for pause” and was done “in the spirit of healing.”

Baltimore resident Freddie Gray died from a spinal injury sustained while he was arrested last month. He fell into a coma while in police custody as he was being transported in a police van. Before falling into a coma, Gray pleaded for medical care but none was given. He died a week later. The 25-year-old's death ignited a new string of protests and riots across the country with people again decrying police misconduct and abuse.

His Royal Badness hosted the first “Dance Rally 4 Peace” concert on May 2 at his Paisley Park Studios in Chanhassen, near Minneapolis. When Prince announced the concert via social media, he asked attendees to wear gray in Freddie Gray’s honor. He and 3RDEYEGIRL treated the audience to 41 minutes of blistering rock and gutbucket funk. Some of the songs on the set list included “Chaos & Disorder,” “Guitar,” “Dreamers,” “Plectrumelectrum” and a cover of Tommy James & The Shondells’ classic “Crimson and Clover.”

And in an uncharacteristic move, Prince shared the entire concert on his new Soundcloud page.  He closed out his concert with these parting words: “Do me a favor and take care of each other, all right? It don’t matter the color; we are all family.”

Full "Dance Rally 4 Peace" concert at Paisley Park Studios

Monday, May 11, 2015

The Bee Gees Get Funky on "Boogie Child"

The Bee Gees were at their absolute funkiest on this irresistible hard-bumpin’ groove. The famed English-Australian trio released a lot of great grooves in their day, but none were quite as funky as this joint. “Boogie Child” is a potent slice of blue-eyed funk. The groove just kind of pimp-strolls. The group’s signature falsetto harmonies bring this track to its maximum groovosity. And Barry Gibb ably holds down the lead vocals, while brother Maurice serves up a dope bass line; the percolating keyboards and the funky guitar licks keep the groove crackling. Also, the track boasts a terrific bridge and an infectious sing-along chorus.  And the tight horns nicely accentuate the groove. It’s one of the top-selling group’s most underrated tracks.

“Boogie Child” was co-written by all three Bee Gee members (Robin, Maurice and Barry Gibb). It was the third single from their double platinum-selling album Children of the World (1976) and was released in January 1977. The song performed well on the charts, peaking at #12 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart; however, it was overshadowed by the album’s monster chart-topping disco smash “You Should Be Dancing.”

In addition singing lead vocals, Barry Gibb played acoustic guitar on “Boogie Child” as well as provided backing vocals. Maurice and Robin also sang background vocals. Other musicians who played on the track included Dennis Bryon (drums), Alan Kendall (electric guitar), Blue Weaver (keyboards, synthesizer), Gary Brown (saxophone), Joe Lala (percussion) and brass ensemble the Boneroo horns. The song was co-produced by the Bee Gees, Karl Richardson and Albhy Galuten.

The Bee Gees went on to even bigger success with their contributions to the massively successful Saturday Night Fever soundtrack, which was released in late 1977. The multiplatinum-selling soundtrack shot the group to the stratosphere, making them one of the biggest music acts in the world during the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. However, none of their other releases could get close to the wicked funkiness of “Boogie Child."

"Boogie Child" at Amazon

Friday, May 1, 2015

Review of Cameo’s Debut Album Cardiac Arrest

New York-bred groove outfit Cameo brought their own original brand of funk to the music game with their impressive debut album Cardiac Arrest in 1977. The collection boasts some really strong funk grooves as well as some top-flight ballads. You can definitely hear influences of well-known funk acts of the day sprinkled throughout the album, including Parliament-Funkadelic, Kool & the Gang and the Commodores. This collection captures Cameo in the process of cultivating their own unique sound and putting their special flavor on the funk, which they dubbed “C-Funk.” And with each following album, the band continued to refine their singular “C-Funk” sound until they became influential trendsetters in their own right. The band had one of most distinctive funk styles of the ‘80s—along Prince’s famed Minneapolis sound and Roger & Zapp.

The album kicks off with the bumpin’ high-energy funk groove “Still Feels Good.” The track has a super-tight horn arrangement and some nasty guitar licks.  “Still Feels Good” is followed by “Post Mortem,” another hard-hitting funk track.  This nasty groove features some quality horn work, and bassist William Revis lays down some funky bottom.

“Smile” is a great ballad that has some soothing synth work from Gregory Johnson. And Tomi Jenkins elevates the track with his strong lead vocals.

“Funk Funk” is the centerpiece of the album. The mammoth groove is anchored by Revis’ supremely funky bass line, and the horns are on fire.  Drummer and bandleader Larry Blackmon is at the helm on this cut and gives the lowdown on the “C-Funk” concept with his trademark offbeat humor. This cut stands apart from the other tracks on the album as a truly original and potent slice of funk. You can hear the band finding their own distinct voice on this funkalicious track.

The irresistible dance-floor rump-shaker “Rigor Mortis” is almost as strong as “Funk Funk.” The powerful groove boasts a badass bass line that lured folks to the dance floor back in the day. The track also has a terrific horn-laden bridge.

“Find My Way” is a straight-forward disco cut. Jenkins serves up a superb vocal performance on this elegantly arranged dance track. And the song also contains some cool wah-wah guitar licks, which further enhances the track’s disco flavor.

The band keeps the groove momentum going with the upbeat “Good Times.” The kinetic track is driven by a Revis’ infectious bass line, and Johnson provides some stellar synth work. 

The album closes out on a mellow note with the soulful, heartfelt ballad “Stand By My Side.” The track is highlighted by some top-notch vocal work from Jenkins and vocalist Kurt Jeter.

Cardiac Arrest was produced by Blackmon, who also wrote or co-wrote seven of the album’s eight tracks. The album was released on Chocolate City Records, which was a subsidiary of Casablanca Records. The collection had an impressive showing on the charts. It peaked at #16 on the U.S. R&B album charts and #116 on the U.S. pop album charts. Also, three tracks from the collection charted on the U.S. R&B singles chart: “Funk Funk” (#20), Rigor Mortis (#33) and “Post Mortem” (#70).  And “Find My Way” shot to #3 on the U.S. dance charts.

Cameo’s full lineup during the recording of Cardiac Arrest was the following: Larry Blackmon (drums, percussions, lead and backing vocals); Eric Durham (guitar); Tomi Jenkins (lead vocals); Gregory Johnson (piano, synthesizer, electric piano, vocals); William Revis (bass); Charles Sampson (acoustic and electric guitar); Nathan Leftenant (trumpet); Kurt Jeter (vocals); Arnett Leftenant (saxophone) and John Kellogg (backing vocals).

Cardiac Arrest was an auspicious debut and put the band on the map in the R&B and funk scene. It's a definite must-have for true funk lovers. The fact that Cameo was able to create such a huge buzz right out the gate in a crowded field of great funk artists was a testament to band’s exceptional talent and singular style. With this album, the band showed that they were a funky force to be reckoned with; this LP was the first shot fired in setting off the glorious “C Funk” era.

Following Cardiac Arrest, the band went on to release a ton a great tracks in the ensuing years and became one of the most prominent funk acts of the ‘80s. And the anthemic funk classic “Word Up!” catapulted the band to superstar status worldwide in 1986.

"Funk Funk"

"Rigor Mortis"

Related blog entry: "I Just Want To Be" by Cameo

Friday, April 24, 2015

Turn This Mutha Out by Idris Muhammad

The late, great jazz drummer/composer Idris Muhammad had clubs, parties and discos jumpin’ with this bodacious dance-funk track back in the day. This cut hits you right in the bump zone and will have you breaking for the dance floor in record time. Wilbur Bascomb’s percolating bass line drives this kinetic groove, while Muhammad keeps things funky with his tight drumming. And there is no shortage of cowbell on this irresistible cut. Additionally, the track features a scorching solo from late guitarist Hiram Bullock. And the soulful vocals are provided by Frank Floyd, Kenny Williams and Zachary Sanders.

The song is the title track off Muhammad’s fifth studio album, which was released on Kudu Records in 1977. The collection was produced and arranged by David Matthews. The producer co-wrote “Turn This Mutha Out” with Tony Sarafino. The song climbed to #21 on the U.S. Billboard R&B singles chart. The elegantly smooth dance track “Could Heaven Ever Be Like This” is another single from the album that charted, peaking at #68 on the U.S. Billboard R&B singles chart and #76 on the Billboard Hot 100. And it shot to #2 on Billboard’s Hot Dance Club Play chart.

Idris Muhammad was born Leo Morris on November 13, 1939 in New Orleans, Louisiana. He began playing drums at the age eight and was performing with jazz bands by the time he was 16. The talented musician is recognized as one of the most innovative drummers in soul music and had worked with legendary music acts such as Sam Cooke, Jerry Butler, Sonny Stitt, Roberta Flack, George Benson, John Scofield, Grover Washington, Jr. and Curtis Mayfield.  And he played on Fats Domino’s Rock ‘n’ Roll classic “Blueberry Hill” when he was just 16. Muhammad also worked extensively with jazz greats Lou Donaldson, Ahmad Jamal and Pharoah Sanders. Also, he was the house drummer at Prestige Records from 1970 through '72. 

The famed drummer/composer was quite an eclectic artist. He took on a number of different styles during his long, distinguished musical career, including jazz, funk, R&B, soul, fusion, post-bop, soul-jazz, bebop, dance and jazz-funk. And he played on some of the best soul-jazz tracks ever recorded. In the 1960s, the musician changed his name to Idris Muhammad after converting to Islam. And in the ‘70s, he released a string of stellar albums that are now prized among funk, soul-jazz and R&B fans.

Muhammad’s music was introduced to a new generation via hip hop. A slew of celebrated hip-hop artists have sampled his music for their tracks, including Nas, Eminem, Drake, 2Pac, the Notorious B.I.G. and the Beastie Boys.

The legendary drummer died at the age of 74 on July 29, 2014, leaving behind a wealth of great music and performances. He’s remembered as one of the greatest soul-jazz drummers of all time.

Turn This Mutha Out (album) at Amazon

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Album Review of Earth, Wind & Fire's All ‘N All

Legendary R&B/funk/jazz band Earth, Wind & Fire were at the peak of their popularity and success when they released their ninth album All ‘N All in late November of 1977. They were probably the biggest African-American band in the world at the time, boasting legions of fans of all races and nationalities across the globe. However, the mega-talented outfit didn’t rest on their laurels and broke new sonic ground with this amazing collection. It’s a highly creative work but still very accessible to a wide audience.
The album is chock full of musical gems and is extremely cohesive; all the songs complement one another, with one song flowing seamlessly to the next.  The lead single, “Serpentine Fire,” is a rhythmic masterpiece—fusing funk, African, gospel, soul and Latin in one explosive package. The track has a really unique percussion-laden groove; and it boasts a monstrous bass line and a super-tight horn arrangement. Also, the dynamic intro sounds like the band is bursting out of a volcano. In short, this is massive RHINOCEROS FUNK. The song was a big hit, spending seven weeks atop the U.S. Billboard R&B singles chart and peaking at #13 on the Billboard Hot 100.

The other big hit from the collection is the majestic, uplifting “Fantasy.” The song is superbly arranged and orchestrated, and Philip Bailey delivers a sterling lead vocal performance. It charted at #12 on the U.S. Billboard R&B singles chart and at #32 on the Billboard Hot 100. It’s one of Earth, Wind & Fire’s best-known tracks and still gets a lot of play on the radio.

The hyperkinetic “Magic Mind” is one of the band’s most underrated songs. It’s about striving to achieve your highest potential in all aspects of life, taking risks and not being afraid to fail—as well as not allowing the negativity in the world to consume you. The song’s title refers to how powerful the human mind is and the endless things you can accomplish if you fully utilize it.  The potent, hard-driving groove boasts some incredible playing from the celebrated Phenix Horns; and Verdine White keeps things nice and funky with his impeccable bass work.

 “I’ll Write A Song for You” is a gorgeous ballad that features an exquisite vocal performance from Bailey. This track illustrates what a truly gifted vocalist he is.

The urgent, high-energy “Jupiter” is a about a wise and benevolent extraterrestrial who travels to Earth to spread a message of love and positivity. The band’s flawless musicianship elevates this supersonic groove to the stratosphere.  The primitive-sounding “In the Marketplace” interlude is a great lead-in to “Jupiter.” It takes the listener from ancient times to high-velocity futuristic funk. And Maurice White provides some great kalimba work on the interlude.

The powerful ballad “Be Ever Wonderful” showcases Maurice’s impressive vocal chops. Another track in which he shines on lead vocals is the luminous mellow jam “Love’s Holiday.” And it features a terrific guitar solo from Johnny Graham. “Love’s Holiday” is followed by the irresistible interlude “Brazilian Rhyme,” which has a marvelous vocal arrangement and some splendid bass work from Verdine. Even the interludes are first-rate on this album. This could stand on its own as a full song.

The band flexes its jazz muscles on the fusion-jazz instrumental “Runnin’.” The song features some dazzling keyboard work from Larry Dunn and excellent solos from saxophonist Don Myrick and trumpeter Michael Harris.

All ‘N All was produced solely by Maurice White, who also helped write the majority of the album’s tracks. It’s one of EWF’s most successful albums, both critically and commercially. The collection climbed to the summit of the U.S. Billboard R&B album chart, where it remained for nine weeks; and it peaked at #3 on the Billboard 200 pop album chart. It also charted in the top 20 in several other countries and made the top 10 in Canada and the Netherlands. The collection went triple platinum and was the best-selling R&B album of 1978. And it received high marks from music critics. Additionally, the album won a Grammy for Best R&B Vocal Performance By A Duo, Group or Chorus; and “Runnin’” landed the band another Grammy for Best R&B Instrumental.

Earth, Wind & Fire outdid themselves with All ‘N All—one of the landmark albums of the late ‘70s and a jewel among the band’s acclaimed oeuvre.

Serpentine Fire

In The Marketplace (Interlude)/Jupiter

All 'N All at Amazon