Wednesday, 26 December 2018

The Meters

The Meters were an influential, ground-breaking New Orleans-based funk-soul group that produced several quality albums from 1969-1977.... 

The Meters (1969)
Initially created as a house band for Allen Toussaint, the Booker T. & The Mgs-influenced funk quartet soon created their own New Orleans-style funky identity, almost launching a genre themselves with their cookin' hot brand of instrumental funk. Vocals would be added in The Meters' later albums, but this debut was instrumental, raw and edgy.

The album kicks off with the now much-sampled "Blaxploitation" classic slab of urban funk in Cissy StrutHere Comes The Meter Man is another smokin' hot cut, full of funky guitar and swirling Booker T-style "fat" organ breaks. Just check out the rumbling, rich bass intro to Chug Chug A-Lug (Push And Shove). Intoxicating or what. The drum sound is excellent too. All these cuts are quite minimalist in many ways, but in other respects they are full of detail and nuance. There are still a few lingering sixties influences to the sound, such as on 6V6 LA but basically this is prototype seventies down 'n' dirty, gritty funk. Listen to a track like Live Wire and its sublime guitar sound, interplaying with the drums and the organ. this is the blueprint for the whole album. There is not too much analysis that can be done, track by track, however. Some, like Art, have more of an upbeat swing and are more Booker T.-ish, but others have that New Orleans "bayou funk" feeling that was to make The Meters unique.

Personally, I feel they got even better when, alongside the copper-bottomed funk cuts, they added vocals and laid down some underrated soul numbers, their albums became more rounded and fulfilled then. Nevertheless, this is a masterpiece of its kind - a whole album of classic instrumental funk tracks that have not dated all these years later. Just put on Sophisticated Sissy as a great example of languid, effortless infectious funk, or the addictive groove of Ease Back.

Look-Ka Py Py (1969)
This is the second album of largely instrumental funk from the New Orleans foursome, headed by Art Neville. There are a few sort of chanted backing vocals but it is pretty much a cooking, organ, drum and guitar-driven album of red hot early funk. It has been very influential subsequently.

Look-Ka Py Py is beautifully bass heavy and backed up with catchy guitar licks and infectious organ swirls. It is pretty much irresistible. The same applies to the crystal clear percussion and sixties-style psychedelic organ on Rigor Mortis. The tracks pretty much follow the same pattern, remnants of the sixties are kicking around in the "fat" organ breaks but there is a resonant bassiness and clever use of guitar breaks that make for a funky brew. The drumming is staccato, rhythmic and intoxicating. Unlike with vocal tracks, it is more difficult to go through each number, track by track, particularly here when they all get into the same funky groove. It is just an excellent, uplifting instrumental album. When The Meters got more soulful and added vocals on their seventies albums the sound and product was more fulfilled and polished, but there is a raw, funky edginess to these early recordings that render them pretty essential in the development of funk.

This Is My Last Affair must surely have influenced Elvis Costello when writing songs for Get Happy!!, just check out the rumbling bass, melodic organ riffs and drums. You almost expect Costello to start singing. 
Funky Miracle has a captivating shuffling beat, as does Pungee. Also, the vibe on Yeah You're Right is just so captivating. Perfect. All this material just sounds like perfect funky backing tracks and all have a pre-blaxploitation upbeat urban, down 'n' dirty groove to them. I have to say, also, that the sound quality is truly outstanding throughout, particularly considering it was recorded in 1969. Highly recommended.

Struttin' (1970)

This was The Meters' third album, By now you knew what you were going to get - their, at the time, quite unique brand of funky guitar, organ, drum and bass-driven workouts, like a series of extended studio jams, but quite intoxicating. That it was more of the same doesn't matter. If you like their sound you'll like it. 
The opener, Chicken Strut, gets aboard the contemporary Funky Chicken groove train, patented by Stax's Rufus Thomas, complete with obligatory chicken noises. Liver Splash is a classic Meters, Memphis-style, Stax-ish instrumental groove, driven along by some sublime bass, organ and insistent drums. The next cut is a bit of a surprise, to say the least - a cover of Glen Campbell's iconic, evocative ballad, Wichita Lineman, full of telegraph-sounding guitar and a catchy upbeat, rhythmic drum part on the end of the verses, which, funnily enough, doesn't sound incongruous. The original is so perfect in itself that this doesn't really work, but, listened to while trying to forget the original, it's ok.

That addictive rhythm continues on the wonderful, bassy groove of the instrumental Joog
Go For Yourself is a delicious organ-driven instrumental. Same Old Thing has them going very James Brown. The funk The Meters came up with is totally energising, I have to say. Clap Your Hands is similarly catchy, while Darling Darling Darling is a sumptuous slice of Stax-style soul, with a Sam Cooke-esque vocal and bass and organ riffs to die for. Look, the album continues in the same vein to the end - funky as hell instrumentals on the whole like the irresistible Britches that just take over as you listen to them. As I said earlier, you know what you're going to get and if it is to your taste, you're in for a treat. Their cover of Lee Dorsey's Northern Soul classic Ride Your Pony is given a sixties-style funky, pounding makeover. Great stuff. A highly recommended classic album of its genre. Check out the various solos on Funky Meters Soul for compelling evidence.

Cabbage Alley (1972)

If it is pure 1970s funk you are after, then you cannot go far wrong with The Meters. They were probably the best of their genre around. The sound quality on this remasters is excellent, with a nice seventies stereo sound and full, warm bass tones. The group had been around since the mid-sixties. 
This was their fourth album. In many ways they are the personification of the New Orleans funky soul sound.                                         

The album kicks off in great style with the extended funk of the seventies message-driven You've Got To Change (You've Got To Reform). It has a marvellous organ riff driving it along, with full, powerful drums and bass. The message is one of unity, and the band are certainly as one - listen to that bass near the end, then the wah-wah guitar kicks in - Lordy!

Stay Away has a pulsating drum-cymbals-guitar intro. It is a real funky grinder of a track, with a soulfully gruff vocal and a funky drum solo half way through cut open by some searing electric guitar. I recognised Neil Young's Birds from its cover by Paul Weller on Studio 150. The Meters' version here is wonderful and soulful. The Flower Song is a mid-pace, solidly piece of funky instrumental. I have to keep typing "funky" in this review because there is so much raw funk on this album that there is no other adjective to use. It is simply funk of the highest quality. The guitar-drum interplay near the end of this track is awesome.

The riff on Soul Island is hypnotic and so recognisable. Infuriatingly I can't place it, something that always drives me insane. It has definitely been sampled somewhere. 
Do The Dirt ("do the doit" as it is sung) is so funky it hurts. I have read one critic say that the problem with The Meters was that they had no decent songs to hang their rhythms on. I feel firstly, that is somewhat harsh and, secondly, when you have backing like this, does it matter? Smiling is another top notch instrumental. It is all about the sound. You want lyrics, listen to Bob Dylan. You want perfect pop, listen to Motown. You want sublime seventies funk, listen to The Meters. The answer to that negative argument can be heard in the irresistible soul Heaven that is Lonesome And Unwanted People, that was surely influential on some of Traffic's mid-seventies soul/rock output, like Walking In The Wind, for example. This is a magnificent track. "No songs?". Do me a favour!

Getting' Funkier All The Time starts with a kick-posterior bass line and has that typical seventies slightly nasal funk vocal. It is a very "blaxploitation"-style urban groover. 
Cabbage Alley is a piano-driven, lively boogie-ish romp with some excellent instrumental soloing. This is a highly recommended album. A pleasure to listen to.

Rejuvenation (1974)

This was New Orleans funkers The Meters' first album since Cabbage Alley in 1972. They were now on a new label (Cabbage Alley was the first on Reprise Records) and the album’s title gave a strong hint of a new birth. As on the previous album, vocals were much more to the fore than they had been on their first three albums (on Josie Records). Musically, though, it is pretty much what you would expect - solid, muscular funk - although the production is slightly more polished and less edgy than previous earthy offerings, it is still very funkily essential. The Meters led the way in seventies funk, of that there is no doubt. The album's cover is pretty garishly tasteless, though, not that it really matters!      
People Say is five minutes of typical Meters copper-bottomed funk. They show a Stax-ish soul side, however, on the sumptuous, horn-driven soul majesty of Love Is For Me. This is simply a magnificent, uplifting piece of classic soul, far more soul than funk, which is surprising. This is where the slight change in style is most apparent. The funk returns in the intoxicating wah-wah and bass of the down and dirty Just Kissed My Baby, which gets into its groove and just keeps going. Watcha Say continues the James Brown-esque funk but with a spacey Earth, Wind & Fire feel, admittedly before the latter adopted that style, so this may well have been an influence. I have to mention also that the sound quality is excellent throughout this album. Jungle Man is a bassy, rumbling slice of urban Blaxploitation funk, very typical of its era. Proper seventies growling funk. Hey Pocky A-Way cooks, big time, full of catchy brass bursts and another irresistible funky backing. 

The sublime guitar on It Ain't No Use is almost Santana-like and the vocal and percussion reminiscent of Sly & The Family Stone’s Family Affair. This really is a great track, full of virtuosity.  It is nearly twelve minutes long, but it never gets tiring. The Meters at their best, but developing from their earlier, shorter workouts. Loving You Is On My Mind is a lively, piano-driven soul semi-instrumental featuring only occasional vocals. It has a killer bass line underpinning it. Again, it shows a slight move away from more typical Meters fare. Africa ends the album with some more recognisable thumping funk, with airs of the UK’s Cymande, for me. It is a culturally-conscious number with a Graham Central Station feel to it. Just as with The Meters’ other albums, you can’t go far wrong with this album if powerful seventies funk appeals to you. Highly recommended.

Fire On The Bayou (1975)

This is a gritty mix of funk and soul from The Meters. There is a lot of typical New Orleans funk, great drumming and intoxicating funky guitar sounds. It is their most "swampy" New Orleans-style album. The group now include vocal tracks on all their albums, and the product is now far more diverse, not that the early funk instrumental albums were not appealing, for they were, but these mid-seventies albums are really top quality. As with all their albums, there is nothing that sticks out notably, simply a succession of immaculately played, atmospheric funk and soul numbers that never fail to please. It has been said that the music simmers constantly, full of flavours, but never gets to the boil. That is not necessarily a bad thing. The funky aroma is constant.                              
Out In The Country is a catchy piece of country rock-funk, sort of Boz Scaggs meets mid seventies Traffic with lyrics influenced by The Band. It is actually quite different to those early funk instrumental numbers from a few years earlier. Fire On The Bayou is a swampy slice of cookin' funk with a Dr. John feel about it and hints of fellow funkers War as well. It has infectious shuffling drums and sort of skanking style guitars. Love Slip Upon Ya is a guitar and organ-driven grinder, seriously funky. Talkin' Bout New Orleans is typically New Orleans horn-driven funk, as you would imagine. You can almost feel the heat and smell the cooking. They All As'd For You is a slightly incongruous piece of New Orleans cajun light-hearted jazzy fun. Can You Do Without? sees the funk return with a totally delicious, deep bass line and addictive funky beat. Liar is a mid-tempo rock funk number. You're A Friend Of Mine is an Al Green-ish slow soul number enhanced with some killer guitar in the middle. There is some wonderful slow soulful funk on this track. 

Middle Of The Road is a lengthy, delicious concoction of laid-back jazzy guitar-driven groove. It is an instrumental with a sensual late-night feel to it. The guitar is superb from Leo Nocentelli. All of The Meters were/are incredibly talented musicians. Running Fast is a strangely short funker with echoes of Sly & The Family Stone in its vocal. It fades out just as it has got going, however. Mardi Gras Mambo is a suitably upbeat party song to end this enjoyable album. One of The Meters' best offerings. It was actually to prove to be their last great album, however.

Trick Bag (1976)

Like many artists, The Meters decided to dabble in disco in 1976 and, unfortunately, it signalled the beginning of the end for this iconic New Orleans funk/soul group. There would be only more album after this one. It was largely an album of soul numbers and slightly more commercially-aimed dance-ish tracks, (at least at the outset), seriously lacking in the funk that was the cornerstone of their music at times, but, that said, the group were trying to move with the times, so maybe I am being a bit unfair. In fact, I think I am, as the album improves as it progresses.                              

The opener Disco Is The King Today is an upbeat disco cut that sounds nothing like The Meters. This is actually the only disco track on the album, so the accusations of this being a "disco album" are pretty wide of the mark. Find Yourself is a slow paced soul chugger that is perfectly ok, and the same applies to All These Things, which is a fetching smoocher. These soul tracks are pretty good, the latter in a Neville Brothers style, it has to be said. However, it is upon funk that The Meters made their name, and there is not much of that to be found here. I Want To Be Loved By You sees a bit of funk appear, slightly, but it is more of a muscular, bassy soul cut as opposed to funk. It features a killer organ break however. It is a good track, with an insistent soulful vibe to it. Suite For 20G is a syncopated instrumental, featuring some disco-y synthesiser. Some funk is buried beneath the keyboards, though, and it has a spacey groove to it. 

(Doodle Loop) The World Is A Little Bit Under The Weather thankfully is a solid funker, with shades of Traffic's Feelin' Alright. This showed they hadn't forgotten their musical roots, although it is still funk with a 1976 sheen to it. Trick Bag has a pumping funky soul feel to it. Mister Moon is also a funk number for the time with a great soul vocal with a Parliament vibe to it. It is one of the best tracks on the album. Chug-A-Lug is a solid, punchy piece of funky soul. You know this album improves in its second half quite a bit. There is still some good material to be found here. Hang 'Em High is a cookin' organ-driven cover of the spaghetti western them music. It is actually funky as hell. 

The final track is an interesting, gutsy cover of The Rolling StonesHonky Tonk Women, which works pretty well. The Meters opened for The Stones on their tour at the time. The album is certainly worthy of a bit of a reassessment. Either way, though, there would only be one more Meters album after this.

New Directions (1977)
After nearly nine years of releasing quality funk and soul albums, this was, unfortunately, the last outing for this excellent New Orleans band. They had given consistent pleasure from the late sixties through to the mid seventies in their eight high quality albums.                   
No More Okey Doke is a pounding, upbeat brassy funk grinder, with horns to the fore and a it sees a return to their finest funky feel. The organ, bass, drum interplay at the end is impressive, as is the gritty soulful vocal. I'm Gone is a lively piece of poppy soul-blues, with once again features some kicking horn parts. Be My Lady is a sumptuous smoochy soul number, with great bass and horns, as is now expected. For this final album, The Meters have merged their natural funk with soul a lot more obviously than on previous albums. The track maybe doesn't justify six and a half minutes, but it doesn't grate in any way. My Name Up In Lights is a delicious slice of insistent, grinding funk. It is very typical of mid-late seventies soul/funk.

Funkify Your Life is, as the title would suggest, a superbly funky workout, with hints of Parliament-FunkadelicStop That Train is The Meters first venture into reggae, and they do it pretty convincingly with their cover of Peter Tosh's classic. It fitted in to the crossover into reggae that became fashionable in 1977 with the punk/reggae thing. 
We Got The Kind Of A Love is back to sumptuous soul with a Harold Melvin meets Third World ballad. The backing vocals are very Third World. Give It What You Can is a gritty, industrial piece of thumping horn-powered funk rock, with a socially-conscious message and some great vocals. This is not a bad album to bow out with. A nice mix of funk, soul and reggae. It was a shame The Meters decided to call it a day after this, particularly as the album was titled New Directions, but there you go.

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Tower Of Power

Tower Of Power were a multi-racial, multi-instrumental Californian funk-r'n'b group that formed in the late sixties-early seventies. Their sound was based around their vibrant horn section, thumping drums and a big, throbbing bass....

Bump City (1972)

This was Tower of Power's debut album, and a good one it was too. The sound quality on this remastered release is excellent too - full, bassy and warm.   
You Got To Funkifize is a magnificent slab of driving, brassy, pulsating seventies funk. What Happened To The World That Day? is a much lighter, soulful and breezy number, with a catchy hook and some melodious, smooth backing horns. The vocal is impressive, in a laid-back soul way. It is a much less attacking, punchy track than the previous one, but it again has a sublime bass line and a real appeal to it. It is a bit reminiscent of some of the material on Blood, Sweat & TearsChild Is Father To The ManFlash In The Pan is a driving piece of jazzy, funk rock with an exhilarating rhythm to it. Once again, the hooks, both vocal and brass are intoxicating. There is also an upbeat  bluesy feel to this in places. The vocalist on this one is gruffer and more earthy than the lighter one on the previous track. Rick Stevens is created as lead vocalist, although several others are credited with vocals as well. It may be Stevens on both tracks, just singing in a different style, but they certainly sound different. Indeed, listen to the next track, the early Chicago-ish Gone, a tender, flute-driven slow ballad. The vocals on there are definitely different, credited to Skip Mesquite. I am sure it is also him on What Happened..... There is some seriously good trumpet on this track too.

The pure, down 'n' dirty funk is back on You Strike My Main Nerve, which has a feel of The Meters or War about it. There were so many great funk-rock-soul bands around in the early-mid seventies. Add Sly & The Family StoneThe Ohio Players and Graham Central Station to those already referenced and you have some cookin' groups. 

Another such cooker is the funk of Down To The Night Club. Yes, its a bit commercial in its lyrics but its rhythm is pretty irresistible. Willy De Ville cut a track many years later called Jump City that owes a lot to this, I am sure. You're Still A Young Man has a delicious horn intro and another of the light, soully, laid-back harmonious vocals. It has hints of Heatwave's later Always And Forever to it. The influences of this album were far and wide, I am sure. Skating On Thin Ice has such a beat that it could almost be a Northern Soul track, it could be a floor filler, but I'm not sure it ever was. Either way it is energetic and supremely soulful. (Actually, I see it is listed on the Northern Soul 45s website). Of The Earth is an ecologically-conscious, hard-hitting closer, getting its message over about pollution convincingly, over a funky, brassy and flute-enhanced backing. This album really is a breath of fresh air. I am playing it on a summer Sunday morning. It is ideal. Great stuff.

Tower Of Power (1973)

This was Tower Of Power's third album and they underwent a few line up changes - Skip Mesquite left and was replaced by Lenny Pickett on saxophone. He sessioned for Elton John, The Meters and the Brothers Johnson among others as well. The excellent, honey-voiced Lenny Williams was brought in to give them permanent lead vocalist. It was awarded a gold record for sales and is one of their most rounded, confident, fulfilled offerings. The band had thirteen musicians playing on this album and you can tell. It is musically most impressive.
The opener, What Is Hip? is a superb slice of Meters-style funk, with the band's punchy horn section at its best. Clever Girl is a laid-back, smooth piece of soul, while the jaunty, upbeat This Time It's Real has Northern Soul written all over it. Will I Ever Find A Love is an orchestrated, slow soul ballad, with sweeping strings and a confident, soulful vocal. Just when you thought they had deserted the fun, it was back, big time, with the seriously cookin' Get Yo' Feet Back On The Ground. However good the soul stuff is, it is on these down 'n' dirty workouts that you get the best of Tower Of Power, in my opinion. Just check out those irresistible funky rhythms, the drum, bass and organ interplay. Marvellous. Stuff like this was actually quite ahead of its time, although having said that, The Meters had been putting out seriously good funk since the late sixties. 

So Very Hard To Go was actually a hit single too, which was unusual. It has a Temptations feel to it, and a wonderful horn refrain. Memphis-style Stax-y guitars drive it along too. Soul Vaccination is so deliciously funky it is making me hungry. It cooks to the nth degree. Those lilting, funky guitars are thoroughly addictive, as is the drum rhythm. It doesn't get much better than this, as for the saxophone break - wow. That is not even mentioning the beauty of the bass solo half way through. Musicianship of the highest quality, a band totally in tune with each other. Both Sorry Over Nothin' is pure Otis Redding soul, with added funk too. I know this was Tower Of Power's most successful album, but why they weren't huge is a mystery to me. There is some seriously great material on this album. The soul-funk brilliance continues on the impressive Clean SlateThe album closes with return to late-night soul with the beautiful Just Another Day. If you like seventies funk and soul, you can't go for wrong with this. The sound quality, as on all Tower Of Power's albums, is excellent as well.

Back To Oakland (1974)

After their second album, the eponymous Tower of Power, built their reputation as horn-driven funkers, this follow up album delivered more of the same, although, strangely, it wasn't as successful, commercially. It is still packed full of red hot brassy, upbeat fun, however, with some smoochy soul thrown in too.                                            

The album is bookended by two lively, jazzy semi instrumentals in ...Oakland Stroke and Oakland Stroke..., (differentiated by the full stops before and after). In between we get a lively mix of cooking funk and sweet soul.

Don't Change Horses (In The Middle Of A Stream) is rousing and brassy with the horn section simply confirming its respected reputation. Just When We Start Makin' It continues in laid-back soulful fashion, with a touch of quirky jazz-funk near the end. 
Next up is the soul funk of groove of Can't You See (You're Doin' Me Wrong), while Squib Cakes brings the funk back with a simmering, extended, seven minutes-plus instrumental workout full of shuffling Blaxploitation funky jazz rhythms. Time Will Tell is a sweet, slow tempo slice of typical, orchestrated seventies soul. Man From The Past is a delicious piece of bassy, rumbling, Stax-y soul-funk, with hints of The Undisputed Truth, in places, for me. Simply great stuff and surprising that it was not huge, to be honest. It is that good. The funk is cooking hot at times, particularly in the guitar/percussion interplay half way through. 

Love's Been Gone So Long gives us a soully feel, but with a bit more of a brassy punch. I Got The Chop is an energetic number, full of horns, funky guitar and soulful vocals. Below Us, All The City Lights is a sumptuous soul ballad in a laid-back Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes style to end the album with - this has been an impressive collection of seventies funk and soul that is well worth checking out.

Urban Renewal (1975)

This was probably the last of the four great soul-funk albums from Tower Of Power in the early-mid-seventies, before some line-up and lead vocalist changes saw a slight dip in quality. This album is a bit more slick than the previous ones, with a bit less of a raw edge. The songs are, on the whole, shorter and poppier, with no extended funk workouts this time out.                        

Only So Much Oil In The Ground is an ecologically-aware funker to kick off what was actually largely an album of soul-pop more than pure funk. However, this is the one more lengthy groove. The funk is still clearly here on the album, such as on this track, but just slightly less so than on the previous three outings. It's Not The Crime, for example, is a short, two minute poppy workout, while Come Back, Baby is a Philadelphia-influenced soul number. Next up is a piece of sweet, laid-back brass-driven soul in I Won't Leave Unless You Want Me To, a typical mid-seventies orchestrated soul ballad. One of only two really laid-back soul numbers on the album. 

Maybe It'll Rub Off is in a kicking, lively funky vein and the funk continues with (To Say The Least) You're The Most. It is notable that here is more poppy funk and less soul on this album than on the previous one. As I said, though, the funk is more to the point and poppier. That said, we get the sumptuous Willing To Learn which is once again very Harold Melvin-esque. 

Back to funk - Give Me The Proof is classic shuffling, staccato, horn-powered Tower Of Power funk, of the sort that influenced so many subsequent funk groups. It Can Never Be The Same is a soulful Al Green-style slow-tempo number and I Believe In Myself is another one with huge hints of Green about it. Walkin' Up Hip Street is a lively, jazzy and funky instrumental featuring some impressive drum work. It has that feel of a seventies movie soundtrack to it. This ends this short sharp album of poppy soul funk in fine fashion.

In The Slot (1975)

I disagree with those who say that the change in vocalist that Tower Of Power underwent before this album was detrimental to this one. Personally, I still think this is a great album, admittedly their last great one, but impressive all the same. 

Just Enough And Too Much is a lively, upbeat, guitar and brass-driven funky number. Treat Me Like Your Man is a Memphis-style laid-back piece of wonderful soul. It features some killer horns and saxophone and vocals from new vocalist Hubert TubbsIf I Play My Cards Right is a punchy, horn-powered funker. As Surely As I Stand Here is a bit of a typical mid-seventies soul ballad with some somewhat clich├ęd keyboard swirls in places, it has to be said. Fanfare: Matanuska is a brief instrumental interlude. On The Serious Side is seriously funky, in a cooking Meters style, full of infectious percussion and a staccato shuffling beat. 

Ebony Jam is just as funky and is a six minute plus workout the like of which was absent from the group's previous album. You're So Wonderful, So Marvellous could almost be a Northern Soul track. It has a mid-seventies Drifters feel to it too, or maybe The O'Jays. It is a lovely piece of poppy soul and quite unlike most of TOP's other material. It should have been a hit single. Vuela Por Noche is, unsurprisingly, a Latin-tinged instrumental, which, via the piano interlude of Essence Of Innocence leads into the beautifully soulful The Soul Of A Child. This is actually quality soul, up there with the likes of The O'Jays, The Stylistics or Blue Magic. It just isn't really like the punchy funk of TOP's earlier albums. For the final track the funk is back with the Blaxploitation-esque Drop It In The SlotIt had been a great run of five classic funky albums from the peerless Tower Of Power between 1972 and 1975. Check out any of them, they are all well worth it.

Soul Side Of Town (2018)

This is an excellent comeback album from legendary Oakland, California funksters Tower Of Power, over forty-five years since the first arrived on the scene. The old plus points are still here - melodic but punchy brass, solid funky guitar, cookin' organ, rhythmic drums and shared Earth, Wind & Fire-style vocals. Tower Of Power were great in the seventies and they are great now - this is a really good album, with truly outstanding sound quality. This iconic band have lost nothing. It is a pleasure from beginning to end. I love the atmospheric cover too. Dark, urban streets, a few lights still on in an office block, the narrow street wet with rain. You just may hear snatches of this album coming from a bar.

Highlights are the brassy instrumental romp of Butter Fried, the Earth, Wind & Fire-esque sweet soul of Love Must Be Patient And Kind, the invigorating Southside Johnny-influenced soul rock of On The Soul Side Of Town, the enthusiastic clavinet-driven Sly Stone meets Parliament-style funk of Hangin' With My Baby.

Do You Like That? has such a seventies soul vibe too, with some sumptuous saxophone, it is great to hear. Let It Go is delightfully smooth and soulful, and Selah is full of both melodious soul and horn-driven funk. Look, you could make a case for any of the tracks on here, there isn't a poor one among them.

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Saturday, 22 December 2018

Bonnie Raitt

Flame-haired "queen of the blues" Bonnie Raitt has put out many reliable, solid albums over a career getting near to fifty years now. The ones I have covered are...
Bonnie Raitt (1971)                     
The sassy, redheaded veteran guitarist, singer and songwriter released her debut album way back in 1971.

It is certainly a very rough and ready album, recorded on a farm by Bonnie and a group  of her musician friends. Consequently, it has a few sound vaults, even on the “remastered” version but it is far more “pure” in its country blues style than later, rockier albums. There is much less pounding, electric instrumentation, concentrating on an acoustic, sparse, stripped back style. 
Hints at the powerful blues rock that was to come in her career can be found in two standout tracks - Mighty Tight Woman and Finest Lovin' Man. There is also the Janis Joplin-esque advice to the sisterhood in Women Be Wise.

Give It Up (1972)
Give It Up is a far more full-sounding album than the downhome, farm-recorded eponymous first one. 
From the first track, the rousing horn-driven fun of Give It Up Or Let Me Go we get an artist who is growing up, album by album. Nothing Seems To Matter is a soft, tender ballad backed by acoustic guitar, basic bongo percussion and a wailing saxophone. Bonnie got earthier as she got older, although she could always be sexy. Here she is still comparatively young and romantic, as opposed to hard-bitten and world-weary. I Know is a funky, bluesy groove with some New Orleans-style trumpet and a down ’n’ dirty vocal from Bonnie. 

If You Gotta Make A Fool Of Somebody is a lovely, rich, bassy number with some more sumptuous saxophone and a sort of fresh, innocent sounding vocal, together with some clunky piano. Love Me Like A Man is a slide guitar-led bluesy cornerstone of the album, with young Bonnie developing that blues lady voice and attitude. “Love me like a man” she pleads - ok , Bonnie, if you insist…Top notch guitar work on this one and a full, confident sound. After the slightly scratchy sound of the debut album, things have improved for this album. Too Long At The Fair is a nicely bass heavy slowie, with a sensual vocal and mysterious atmosphere. A convincing, rocking cover of Jackson Browne’s Under The Falling Sky shows how Bonnie can make a cover version sound as if it has always been her own song. This song suits her immensely. it turns into a roadhouse knees-up by the end of it - harmonica and keyboards giving it their all. You Got To Know How is a jazzy, upbeat piece of bluesy fun, with some lovely saxophone and and a knowingly sexy vocal. 

You Told Me Baby is an upbeat slice of country rock in a sort of Fleetwood Mac style but coming years before their Stevie Nicks era. There is a real touch of Nicks in Bonnie’s voice here. Love Has No Pride is a plaintive, end of the evening, crying into your Budweiser, heartbreaker. A bit like the early Jackson Browne albums, this is a good album, but it is still somewhat raw around the edges, and now, in retrospect, we know that better was to come.

Takin' My Time (1973)

This album really should have broken it big for Bonnie Raitt. Quite why it didn't is a mystery. It is bluesy, lively, rocking, tender too. Just a great album. 

You've Been In Love Too Long has an infectious funky percussion beat and a great soulful vocal from Bonnie. A cover of a Martha Reeves & The Vandellas number, it is a great, ballsy opener to the album. The album has excellent sound quality and the bass on this number is big and throbbing. Great stuff. The bluesy, rocking voice, the interplay between guitar and percussion, the funky beat, all of it is wonderful. 

I Gave My Love A Candle is impressive too, sounding almost Jackson Browne-esque in places in its tenderness. Lovely piano backing too and a laid-back, romantic country rock feel. Let Me In is a lively, New Orleans-style brassy upbeat number, full of fun and vitality. Before anyone gets too happy though, we revert to a bluesy mood with a sumptuous, powerful blues cover of Mose Allison's Everybody's Cryin' Mercy. This is Bonnie Raitt at her bluesy best. Then it is back to mid-tempo country rock balladry with Cry Like A Rainstorm, which is the sort of number that would appear more on the next album, Streetlights, as opposed to the bluesy stuff. Wah She Go Do is a rather bizarre calypso-vaguely reggae Caribbean number, with Bonnie putting on an unconvincing voice. It all sounds pleasant, summery and appealing but I have to say it doesn't really work. 

I Feel The Same sees a return to the blues, with a haunting, evocative bottleneck guitar backing and excellent vocal. Great guitar at the end. I Thought I Was A Child actually is a Jackson Browne song and is delivered in a solid mid-tempo rock style. Bonnie sounds like a female Browne, with exactly the right cadences for the song. It is probably a better version than Browne's original from For Everyman. Maybe it is the definitive version of the song. Write Me A Few Of Your Lines/Kokomo Blues is a lively, slide guitar-driven blues while Randy Newman's Guilty is delivered in a beautifully blues meets slow rock'n' roll sort of way. This was a good album, but the emphasis for the next album was to be less of the blues and more of the AOR mid-tempo country rock style.

Streetlights (1974)

This was Bonnie Raitt's fourth album, and was, like its predecessors, a comparative commercial failure. Her record company had asked her to tone down the blues and become more folk-rock acoustic in style, so, there is none of the guitar-toting blues rock that she became well-known for and successful with in the late eighties/early nineties. It is an AOR rock, but often laid-back album on the whole. It was looking for the crossover to the rock mainstream and didn't quite get there, at least commercially. It does, however, have a more muscular, much better-sounding backing to the somewhat starker backing of the earlier albums (certainly from the first two, if not the third). It has a soulful feel in places too. Many musicians and strings and horns are used. The credits are endless. In many ways, it has to be said, it is a most mature, impressive album. She also looked more mature on the cover, less of the coy, country girl more of the sassy woman who knew what she was doing.                  

Joni Mitchell's That Song About The Midway is evocative and acoustically beautiful. Rainy Day Man is ever so slightly bluesy, with a solid drum and guitar backing, but it is still tender and relaxed in tone. Angel From Montgomery is an Eagles-ish slow tempo Americana-style country rock ballad. She still plays the song in concert many years later, so not all the material on here has been forgotten. The same goes for Rainy Day ManI Got Plenty is a brass-backed, confident slice of bluesy rock that still retains her sassy sexiness of previous albums. 

Streetlights is another big-production slow tempo rock ballad of the sort Judie Tzuke and Fleetwood Mac would be in subsequent years. Bonnie's voice is excellent on this one. What Is Success, an Allen Toussaint song, is given a Stax-ish, slightly funky soulful backing. It is one of the best cuts on the albums. It shows that Raitt could handle soul vocals with ease. Ain't Nobody Home also has a horn-driven soul vibe to it. It is another impressive track that makes you wonder why this album didn't do well. Everything That Touches You has a sumptuous bass line and a beautiful laid-back feeling. Fleetwood Mac must have listened to this. They did so much material just like this a few years later. Got You On My Mind is a delicious slice of airy, country rock. The album closes with the Philadelphia soul-sounding, upbeat tones of You Got To Be Ready For Love, which sounds as if it should have been sung by Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes. It is another convincing number from an album which is actually quite underrated. Although it is not as good an album as its predecessor, Takin' My Time, it has its good points which deserve a listen.

Home Plate (1975)

After three rootsy, bluesy albums, Bonnie Raitt had made a play for the mainstream with her fourth and, on this, her fifth outing, she left everyone in no doubt that her direction had changed from those edgy, downhome early albums. The production of her albums by now was far slicker. The roster of musicians is huge, including Jackson Browne and Emmylou Harris. It is a punchy, lively album, with lots of brass backing and full guitar sounds but although it is aimed at the mainstream, it is still not an overtly commercial album.

The album begins with the horn-driven country soul of What Do You Want The Boy To Do, written by Allen Toussaint, and it has suitably Stax-y moments. Good Enough is a rousing piece of funky soul. Bonnie's voice has really developed over the years and she now sounds confident taking on many different styles. Run Like A Thief is an Eagles-like country rock ballad. It has a killer guitar solo in it too. Bonnie could never leave that plaintive bluesy soulfulness too far behind, however, and Fool Yourself perfectly exemplifies that. My First Night Alone Without You is a winning, Fleetwood Mac-Judie Tzuke type of slow rock ballad. This obviously influenced those two artists in particular. Walk Out The Front Door is a ballsy, piano and guitar-driven mid-pace rock number.  

Sugar Mama continues in the same vein. This is "my man done me wrong" country rock. Very effective it is too. Pleasin' Each Other is very Elton John circa Tumbleweed Connection-Honky Chateau with its piano and horn backing. I'm Blowin' Away is a classic, big production country ballad, while Sweet And Shiny Eyes is a more traditional roadhouse country maudlin drinking song. This album is a success because you know what you are going to get by now. Yes, the early rough and readiness has gone but it is still appealing music all the same. Worth an occasional listen indeed.

Sweet Forgiveness (1977)

This was the third album since 1974's Streetlights that saw Bonnie Raitt going "mainstream" with her radio-friendly country rock approach, as opposed to her earlier rootsy, bluesy offerings. She was now an accomplished, polished, confident artist and this album offered more of the same fare that Streetlights and Home Plate had offered. Each album seems to get slicker and more solid. This time, however, Bonnie used her touring band as backing, as opposed to the myriad musicians used on the previous two outings. This gives this album a slightly looser, rockier feel.
About To Make Me Leave Home is an impressive, earthy and muscular blues rock opener. It is like her earlier blues material given a slicker, bigger production, with some excellent slide and wah-wah guitars in there. Bonnie's cover of Del Shannon's Runaway, turning the rock 'n' roll number into a grinding blues rock number is interesting and appealing. Her voice is excellent on this - throaty and soulful. Two Lives is a gentle, melodic country rock ballad. Louise is a true maudlin country heartbreaker and the sombre mood is lifted back up by the bluesy guitar-driven rock of Gamblin' Man. Despite "going mainstream", the blues are never far away on Bonnie Raitt albums. Sweet Forgiveness is another of those Fleetwood Mac-style polished rock ballads, with a funky blues rock break in the middle. Again, Bonnie's voice is down 'n' dirty and bluesy. 

Jackson Browne's My Opening Farewell is a good cover of a sensitive song. Raitt always covers Browne's songs impressively. Three Time Loser is a ballsy slice of barroom rock. The mood continues with the solid rock of Takin' My TimeHome is a plaintive country ballad to end the album. By now, listeners knew what they were going to get from Bonnie Raitt albums, the early homemade-style albums were long gone and these type of albums would continue to the end of the seventies and throughout the eighties and beyond.

The Glow (1979)

This album is one of Bonnie Raitt's bluesiest, rocking albums for a while. It is, for me, my favourite of hers since 1973's Takin' My Time. The previous three albums had their moments, but this is consistently high quality. It was also one of the first albums to be recorded digitally, and you can tell, the sound is superb. The lengthy roster of musicians involved contains some of the finest US players around at the time - Danny Kortchmar, Waddy Wachtel, David Sanborn, Steve Madaio, Bill Payne, Rick Marotta among many others.                          
I Thank You is a huge pounding thumper of an opener, which is a bluesy, rocking cover of Sam & Dave's Stax soul track from the late sixties. Bonnie does it marvellously, full of sass and sexy power. Your Good Thing (Is About To End) is a smoky, torch-song-ish cracker of a track. Bonnie has traces of Janis Joplin in her voice on this, for me. It has some killer Young Americans-style saxophone in the middle too. Instantly recognisable as David Sanborn, who played sax on Bowie's iconic album in 1975. It is also a Stax cover, from Mable John in 1966. Both these songs were written by Issac Hayes and David PorterNow it is time for some guitar-totin' bar-room rock in the form of the rousing Standin' By The Same Old Love. Great drums on this one as well. 

Sleep's Dark And Silent Gate is a wonderful, muscular soulful rock ballad. Bonnie's voice is superb here. As soon as you hear it, you think "that's a Jackson Browne song". It is, of course, from 1976's The PretenderThe Glow is a late-night jazzy slow brush-drum ballad. Once again, the vocal delivery is top notch and the musicianship outstanding. Bonnie knew her soul, and Bye Bye Baby is a catchy, infectious cover of a Mary Wells song from 1963. Bonnie gives it new life. Great track. The Boy Can't Help It is a slowed down, slide guitar-driven bluesy cover of a Little Richard song that echoes Bonnie's first three downhome bluesier albums. (I Could Have Been Your) Best Old Friend is a solid blues rock chugger that is instantly recognisable as Bonnie Raitt. Robert Palmer's You're Gonna Get What's Coming is the rockiest, most upbeat cut on the album and is just palpably enjoyable and uplifting. Great riffy guitar on it. The album ends on a slow note with the beautiful country soul of (Goin') Wild For You. It has a lovely guitar solo in the middle and the vocals are evocative and moving. It also hits some serious power notes half way through as well. This is definitely one of Bonnie Raitt's best albums. It is a pleasure from beginning to end. Highly recommended. I love it.

Green Lights (1982)

Bonnie Raitt wanted to get even more rocking on this album , three years on from the excellent The Glow. She had been listening to new wave and wanted to produce an upbeat album. She did just that, probably confounding her early acoustic blues fans, but that was ten years or more in the past.                              
Keep This Heart In Mind is a solid, riffs and saxophone rocker to open with. River Of Tears has a Honky Tonk Women riff and a copper-bottomed bluesy, gravelly rock vocal from Bonnie. Can't Get Enough has a sort of rock-reggae beat and rocks pretty solidly despite a bit of eighties-style synth-funk backing. Willya Wontcha is a real piano-driven, slide guitar bar-room rocker. Let's Keep It Between Us is a typical Bonnie Raitt mid-tempo, driving bluesy rocker. It was actually written by Bob Dylan but it has never appeared on any of his albums. Me And The Boys is a lively throwaway rocker but perfectly enjoyable at that. It is a bit similar to some of The Rolling Stones' material from the same period. 

I Can't Help Myself is a sublime, slow riffy, evocative rock number. Bonnie's voice is excellent here, as indeed it is on all the album. The Equals' thumping Baby Come Back is covered energetically, although Bonnie struggles to match the backing, vocally, just a little bit. It is quirkily and catchily appealing, however. Talk To Me is an ebullient, slightly funky track with some searing saxophone near the end. Green Lights is another Stonesy rocker, very similar to some of the material on Emotional Rescue. All this material is very straight ahead rock, and not really new wave, despite Raitt's listening habits. It was obviously far more popular an album in the US than it ever was in the UK, where it wouldn't fit in very well in 1982's post punk-new romantic zeitgeist. Mind you, The Stones put stuff like this out in 1980 and 1983. This album, for me, although most enjoyable, is not quite as good as The Glow, where there were some excellent covers of soul songs turned into rock songs. I really liked them. This is more of a straight ahead rock album. A good one though, nevertheless.

Nick Of Time (1989)

This was supposedly a big "comeback" album for Bonnie Raitt, as if the previous ones hadn't been up to much. That wasn't the case, they were all pretty good, they just didn't sell many and, for whatever reason, this one did. Maybe it was just her moment to be fashionable again, as she approached "grand old lady of the blues" status. Thankfully, it was the end of the eighties and synthesisers were being placed by "proper" instrumentation once more. This is a solid rock album.
Nick Of Time is a very Fleetwood Mac-ish opener, with a captivating rhythmic beat and Bonnie doing her best Stevie Nicks on her vocal. Thing Called Love is a bluesy piece of solid country rock. In 1989, "new country" was on its way, so it was "cool" to be into this sort of thing whereas a few years before it wouldn't have been. Shania Twain would do lots of stuff like this a few years later. Love Letter is a bluesy, smoky rock ballad of the sort Tina Turner was doing around this time. You could see why this was popular. Cry On My Shoulder, while an ok song, is a bit eighties for my taste.

Mary Chapin Carpenter surely listened to the stomping, strong, ballsy lady thing of Real Man before writing Shut Up And Kiss Me and I Feel Lucky, the influences are that clear. 
Nobody's Girl is a lovely slow country blues with echoes of Raitt's early seventies material. Her vocal on this is excellent, clear and moving. Bonnie has always liked a bit of reggae, surprisingly for a country blues artist, and she explores the style once more n the very appealing Have A Heart, which features a convincing dubby bass-drum sound. Too Soon To Tell is a late-night, jazzy ballad. I Will Not Be Denied returns to the gritty blues rock sound of Love Letter. It is a slow grinding, atmospheric song. I Ain't Gonna Let You Break My Heart Again is a plaintive piano and vocal ballad, while the bluesy thump of The Road's My Middle Name ends this pleasant mix of blues, rock, pop and slow country ballads.

Longing In Their Hearts (1994)
This is a solid bluesy rock album from an artist from who, by now, you knew what you were going to get. There are more self-penned songs and less covers and the feeling is one of confident rock music as opposed to soul or country influenced material. Some of that is on here, but overall, it is a rock album. She was by now an artist with well over twenty years' recording experience and it shows in an accomplished, confident album. It does, however, lack some of the vitality of the late seventies-early eighties material.                                     
Love Sneakin' Up On You is a muscular rock number to open the album, with some good guitar, while Longing In Their Hearts is an appealing, bar-room rocker full of killer riffs and roadhouse vocals. You is a Tex-Mex sounding country ballad. Cool, Clear Water is upbeat and lively with a staccato, reggae-style beat. Circle Dance is a typical, slow pace rock ballad with an impressive, moving vocal performance. It features some subtle violin backing and a nice keyboard and organ interplay. I Sho Do is a bluesy, growly rocker of the type you would expect from Bonnie Raitt in this period. It is nothing special but it is comfortingly solid if you know what  mean. Good, honest, straightforward fare.

At The Dimming Of The Day is a beautiful, plaintive love song. Feeling Of Falling is another bluesy, slow but powerful rock number with bags of atmosphere. 
Steal Your Heart Away is a keyboard and drums-driven Fleetwood Mac-ish track. Storm Warning is in the same vein, while Hell To Pay is more of a chugging rocker. The closer, Shadow Of Doubtharks back to the first couple of albums with its bluesy, acoustic mournful sound. Overall, though, although this is a competent enough album, there are others I return to before this one.

Dig In Deep (2016)

I have a load of Bonnie Raitt albums, but they stop at 1989's Nick Of Time, but I returned for this one in 2016. It is a fine rock album with a full, deep sound and clear proof that Bonnie can still do it, even at 66. Her voice sounds as good as ever, as does her guitar. You know what you're going to get here, so the album certainly doesn't disappoint.                  

Unintended Consequences Of Love is a mid-pace rocking blues burner to start with, with a gritty vocal and deep bass rhythm. It has a great organ solo at the end. Need You Tonight is an INXS cover. It doesn't concentrate on that recognisable riff as much as the original does. It is more Stonesy and Bonnie's delivery makes it more sexy, for me, anyway. I Knew is an excellent, soulful country rock number. The vocal and guitar are just great on this, particularly the guitar-organ interplay near the end. All Alone With Something To Say is a slow burning ballad in typical Bonnie Raitt style. Nothing much more can be said about ones like this, they do the business. What You're Doin' To Me is an upbeat piece of bluesy bar-room rock. The type Bonnie does with her eyes shut. Shakin' Shakin' Shakes is a Los Lobos cover with a lively, rocking vibe to it. Undone is a nice, slow, romantic ballad. 

If You Need Somebody is a chunky, riff-driven mid-pace rocker. Gypsy In Me is also upbeat in that typical, grinding bluesy way. The Comin' Round Is Going Through continues in similar style, another full on, guitar-driven rocker. The final two tracks, You've Changed My Mind and the beautiful, Jackson Browne-esque Raitt-penned The Ones We Couldn't Be are both immaculately delivered emotive ballads. The album, as I said at the beginning, is one of consistency and one that met the expectations you may have had of it.