Saturday, 29 December 2018

The Blaxploitation Compilations





THE BEST OF BLAXPLOITATION

  

This is the correct track listing for this excellent two CD set. It is a wonderful compilation showcasing the very best of this down 'n' dirty, socially conscious, aware, gritty urban funk that so characterised the mid/late-seventies. While prog rock, glam, punk and disco are what many people remember from that period, this comparatively underground genre was just as important, just as influential and often criminally underrated.

CD 1

1. Them From Shaft - Isaac Hayes
2. The Ghetto - Donny Hathaway
3. Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler) - Grover Washington Jr.
4. Superfly - Curtis Mayfield
5. The Bottle - Gil Scott-Heron
6. Papa Was A Rolling Stone - The Temptations
7. Woman Of The Ghetto - Marlena Shaw
8. Am I Black Enough For You - Billy Paul
9. Death Wish - Herbie Hancock
10. The Boss - James Brown
11. Trouble Man - Marvin Gaye
12. Home Is Where The Hatred Is - Esther Phillips
13. Ain't No Love In The Heart Of The City - Bobby "Blue" Bland
14. I'm Gonna Tear Your Playhouse Down - Ann Peebles
15. Celestial Blues - Gary Bartz

CD 2

1. If You Want Me To Stay - Sly & The Family Stone
2. All The Way Lover - Millie Jackson
3. I'd Rather Be With You - Bootsy Collins
4. September 13th - Deodato
5. Little Child Running Wild - Curtis Mayfield
6. Be Thankful For What You Got - William DeVaughn
7. Expansions - Lonnie Liston Smith
8. Across 110th Street - Bobby Womack
9. I Got So Much Trouble In My Mind - Sir Joe Quarterman
10. Let's Clean Up The Ghetto - Philadelphia All Stars
11. Hercules - Aaron Neville
12. Sweet Sweetback's Theme - Earth, Wind & Fire
13. Ain't That A Bitch - Johnny "Guitar" Watson
14. Love TKO - Teddy Pendergrass


The funk is of the highest quality throughout - full of shuffling, muscular drums and that trademark funky guitar sound that you recognise instantly as soon as you hear it. It is evocative, urban music that is not dominated by braggadocio or underlying violence but carries often hard-hitting messages of both social and domestic discord and deprivation. Check out Marlena Shaw's marvellously atmospheric Woman Of The GhettoEsther Phillips' brutally cynical Home Is Where The Hatred Is and Bobby Womack's socially honest Across 110th Street for sublime examples.

Other highlights are The Temptations' extended Papa Was A Rolling Stone, with its iconic, lengthy intro; Curtis Mayfield's typical Blaxploitation anthem, SuperflyWilliam DeVaughan's supremely soulful Be Thankful For What You Got and Donny Hathaway's gritty, insistent funk of The Ghetto. Then there is the orchestrated, soundtrack instrumental funk of Death Wish, that is so representative of seventies movie soundtracks. To be honest, I could literally praise every single track. There is not a duff number on this collection. Very, very highly recommended.


BLAXPLOITATION ONE

  

CD 1

1. The Ghetto - Donny Hathaway
2. Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler) - Grover Washington Jr.
3. Woman Of The Ghetto - Marlena Shaw
4. Pusherman - Curtis Mayfield
5. Home Is Where The Hatred Is - Esther Phillips
6. Stone To The Bone - James Brown
7. Expansions - Lonnie Liston Smith
8. Also Sprach Zarathustra - Deodato
9. Stratus - Billy Cobham
10. Theme From Shaft - Isaac Hayes
11. He's A Superstar - Roy Ayers
12. Superfly - Curtis Mayfield

CD 2

1. Summer In The City - Quincy Jones
2. For What It's Worth - Sergio Mendes
3. Stepping Stones - Johnny Harris
4. Nubian Lady - Yusef Lateef
5. I'd Rather Be With You - Bootsy Collins
6. Straussmania - Daniel Salinas
7. Children Of The Ghetto - Courtney Pine
8. The Other Side Of Town - Julian Joseph
9. By All Means - Alphonse Mouzon
10. The Look Of Love - Isaac Hayes
11. If You Want Me To Stay - Sly & The Family Stone
12. Why Can't We Live Together - Timmy Thomas


In many ways, this is a compilation not just of "blaxploitation" movie soundtracks (of which there are only a few on here), but a collection representing a complete genre of mid-seventies urban black music. There is the orchestrated soundtrack stuff but there is also soul and funk served up in huge portions throughout. Sometimes you get three instrumental soundtrack grooves in a row, like with ExpansionsAlso Sprach Zarathustra (actually a chart hit) and Stratus, when it may have helped the balance to separate them with some funkers like Superfly or I'd Rather Be With You.

This is a minor point though. Overall, this is a wonderful compilation. The funk is of the highest quality throughout - full of shuffling, muscular drums and that trademark funky guitar sound that you recognise instantly as soon as you hear it. It is evocative, urban music that is not dominated by braggadocio or underlying violence but carries often hard-hitting messages of both social and domestic discord and deprivation. Check out Marlena Shaw's marvellously atmospheric Woman Of The GhettoEsther Phillips' brutally cynical Home Is Where The Hatred Is and Curtis Mayfield's socially honest Pusherman for sublime examples. There is also Curtis Mayfield's typical Blaxploitation anthem, Superfly and Donny Hathaway's gritty, insistent funk of The Ghetto. Great stuff.

Add to that Isaac Hayes' iconic Theme From ShaftTimmy Thomas's minimalist but hard-hitting Why Can't We Live TogetherJames Brown's funky Stone To The Bone and Sly & The Family Stone's gritty If You want Me To Stay and you have some seriously good material. That is not to mention all the other tracks, the quality of which never drops. Highly recommended.


BLAXPLOITATION TWO: THE SEQUEL

  

CD 1

1. Little Child Running Wild - Curtis Mayfield
2. Papa Was A Rolling Stone - The Temptations
3. Trouble Man - Grover Washington Jr.
4. The Boss - James Brown
5. I Got So Much Trouble In My Mind - Sir Joe Quarterman
6. Superstition - Quincy Jones
7. Children's World - Maceo Parker
8. Celestial Blues - Gary Bartz
9. Liberation Conversation - Marlena Shaw
10. Family Affair - Sly & The Family Stone
11. Do Your Thing - Isaac Hayes
12. The Ghetto '74 - Leroy Hutson

CD 2

1. Let's Clean Up The Ghetto - Philadelphia All Stars
2. Masterpiece - The Temptations
3. 24 Carat Black - 24 Carat Black
4. Freddie's Dead - Curtis Mayfield
5. From A Whisper To A Scream - Esther Phillips
6. Use Me - Bill Withers
7. Low Rider - War
8. Got To Give It Up - Marvin Gaye
9. Chameleon - Herbie Hancock
10. Wake Up Everybody - Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes


This is just as good as the first in the series of these excellent compilations. The iconic Blaxploitation numbers largely appeared on the first release, so on here the compliers were able to go a bit left field with some of their selections, such as the funky disco rhythms of War'Low RiderBill Withers' unique brand of folky soul on Use MeMarvin Gaye's dance classic Got To Give It Up and Quincy Jones' instrumental take on Stevie Wonder's Superstition.

We also get two magnificent extended Temptations "psychedelic soul" tracks in Papa Was A Rolling Stone and the underrated Masterpiece. Herbie Hancock's lengthy jazz funk workout, Chameleon offers something different too. Some sweet seventies soul, with a social message, appears too in Harold Melvin's evocative Wake Up Everybody, and Sly & The Family Stone's catchy, laid-back funk in Family Affair.


Some serious funk is here in James Brown's The Boss and Curtis Mayfield's excellent Freddie's Dead making it a very impressive compilation. As with all of the series, the quality is outstanding.


BLAXPLOITATION THREE: THE PAYBACK

  

CD 1

1. Ball Of Confusion - The Temptations
2. Ironside - Quincy Jones
3. Trouble Man - Marvin Gaye
4. Move On Up - Curtis Mayfield
5. Joy - Isaac Hayes
6. All The Way Lover - Millie Jackson
7. Public Enemy Number 1 - James Brown
8. Ain't No Sunshine - Grover Washington Jr.
9. Breakout - Johnny Hammond
10. Who Is He (And What Is He To Do ) - Creative Source
11. Be Thankful For What You Got - William DeVaughn
12. Love TKO - Teddy Pendergrass

CD 2

1. One Nation Under A Groove - Funkadelic
2. Back Stabbers - The O'Jays
3. Give Me Your Love - Curtis Mayfield
4. Westchester Lady - Bob James
5. Watermelon Man - Herbie Hancock
6. Melting Pot - Booker T. & The MGs
7. Across 110th Street - Bobby Womack
8. Hot (I Need To Be loved, Loved, Loved) - James Brown
9. Ike's Mood - Isaac Hayes
10. Bad Montana - Maynard Parker
11. It's Your Thing - The Isley Brothers
12. Lady Day & John Coltrane - Gil Scott-Heron
13. The World Is A Ghetto - War


This, the third in this excellent series, is actually a very diverse collection of funk and soul, meandering a bit away from the "blaxploitation" movie soundtrack thing, which is not a bad thing, because we get a really impressive mix of mid-seventies urban black music.

Highlights on here are The Temptations' socially-aware Ball Of ConfusionMarvin Gaye's sublime funk of Trouble ManBobby Womack's atmospheric Across 110th StreetWilliam De Vaughn's soulful Be Thankful For What You Got and James Brown's uber-funky Hot (I Need To Be Loved Loved, Loved), which used the killer riff from David Bowie's Fame.

Some soundtrack-style orchestrated instrumentals are present in Herbie Hancock's Watermelon ManQuincy JonesIronside and Bob JamesWestchester Lady, some sweet Philadelphia soul in The O'JaysBack Stabbers and some funky jazz in Gil Scott-Heron's Lady Day And John Coltrane. We get some lively pop funk in Funkadelic's One Nation Under A Groove and some saucy, sexy fun in Millie Jackson's All The Way Lover. As with all the other albums in this series, I cannot do anything other than recommend this.


BLAXPLOITATION FOUR: HARLEM HUSTLE

   

CD 1

1. The Law Of The Land - The Temptations
2. Am I Black Enough For You? - Billy Paul
3. Death Wish - Herbie Hancock
4. (Don't Worry) If There's A Hell Below, We're All Gonna Go - Curtis Mayfield
5. September 13th - Deodato
6. Grandma's Hands - Gil Scott-Heron
7. Who Is He And What Is He To You - Bill Withers
8. Truck Turner - Isaac Hayes
9. Son Of Shaft - Bar-Kays
10. Mister Magic - Grover Washington Jr.
11. Theme From Cleopatra Jones - Joe Simon
12. Flying Machine - War

CD 2

1. Sweet Sweetback's Theme - Earth, Wind & Fire
2. I Want You - Marvin Gaye
3. Theme From Savage - Don Julian
4. For The Love of Money - The O'Jays
5. Strawberry Letter 23 - The Brothers Johnson
6. Natural High - Bloodstone
7. Inside My Love - Minnie Riperton
8. One Gun Salute - Donald Byrd
9. Always There - Ronnie Laws
10. God Made Me Funky - Headhunters
11. Get Up, I Feel Like Being A Sex Machine - James Brown
12. Harlem Shuffle - Bob & Earl
13. Didn't I (Blow Your Mind This Time) - The Delfonics


This is the last in this wonderful series of compilations which cover "blaxploitation" soundtracks, funk and soul from the mid-late seventies. Here the soundtracks feature in Sweet Sweetback's ThemeTheme From SavageTheme From Cleopatra Jones and Herbie Hancock's atmospheric Death Wish.

The urban "message" funk is there in Billy Paul's magnificent Am I Black Enough For You? and The O'JaysFor The Love Of Money and there is some catchy funk in Bill WithersWho Is He And What Is He To YouThe Brothers Johnson provide some poppy funk in Strawberry Letter 23 and there is some sweet soul in Minnie Riperton's Inside My Love and Bloodstone's Natural High.

The TemptationsThe Law Of The Land is a marvellous piece of driving, catchy soul, Marvin Gaye's I Want You is, well, Marvin Gaye, it speaks for itself and The DelfonicsDidn't I (Blow Your Mind This Time), while sublime, is not quite a "blaxploitation" song. It doesn't really matter, though, because overall the album, like all the others, is a superb collection.

BLAXPLOITATION: TIN BOX SET

  

This is a superb, sixty track compilation of the best of the seventies urban funk genre that went hand in hand with the cinema genre of "blaxploitation". Not all the usual suspects are on here - lots of them, but not all, and there are some comparative rarities too. Importantly, the sound is outstanding - speaker-shakingly bassy. Just check out Curtis Mayfield's Pusherman played through a deep, bass-heavy system. It sounds revelatory.

I won't list all the sixty tracks but I will correct the listing in that CD 1 Track 10 is Cholly (Funk Getting Ready To Roll) by Funkadelic; CD 2 Track 3 is One Nation Under A Groove also by Funkadelic and CD 3 Track 16 is Oh, I by, guess who - Funkadelic. Quite why the original label listing does not show these three Funkadelic tracks in unclear. Anyway, there are twenty tracks on each CD. Sixty in total.

Highlights are the well-known cuts like Superfly, Pusherman and Freddie's Dead by Curtis MayfieldAcross 110th Street by Bobby WomackThe Staple SingersFunky LoveHercules by Aaron NevilleEase Back by The MetersThe Bottle by Gil-Scott-Heron; the heavy, funky pound of Bumpin' Part 1 by Ground Hog; the soulful She's A Woman by Betty Davis and the chart funk of Joe Tex's Ain't Gonna Bump No More (With No Big Fat Woman). There are too many to mention, really, not a duff track in the set. You can dip into it at random and always be guaranteed to enjoy it.


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. They are:-

The Meters (1969)


Cissy Strut/Here Comes The Meter Man/Chug Chug A-Lug (Push And Shove)/Live Wire/Art/Sophisticated Cissy/Ease Back/6V6 LA/Sehorn's Farm/Ann/Stormy/Sing A Simple Song                             
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 Strut

Here 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)


Look-Ka Py Py/Rigor Mortis/Pungee/Thinking/This Is My Last Affair/Funky Miracle/Yeah You're Right/Little Old Money Maker/Oh, Calcutta!/The Mob/9 'til 5/Dry Spell   
                           
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 sound 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)


Chicken Strut/Liver Splash/Wichita Lineman/Joog/Go For Yourself/Same Old Thing/Clap Your Hands/Darling Darling Darling/Tippi-Toes/Britches/Hey! Last Minute/Ride Your Pony/Funky Meters Soul/Meters Strut    
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)


You've Got To Change (You've Got To Reform)/Stay Away/Birds/The Flower Song/Soul Island/Do The Dirt/Smiling/Lonesome And Unwanted People/Gettin' Funkier All The Time/Cabbage Alley  

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)


People Say/Love Is For Me/Just Kissed My Baby/Watcha Say/Jungle Man/Hey Pocky A-Way/It Ain't No Use/Loving You Is On My Mind/Africa   

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)


Out In The Country/Fire On The Bayou/Love Slip Upon Ya/Talkin' 'Bout New Orleans/They All Aks'd For You/Can You Do Without?/Liar/You're A Friend Of Mine/Middle Of The Road/Running Fast/Mardi Gras Mambo   

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)


Disco Is The Thing Today/Find Yourself/All These Things/I Want To Be Loved By You/Suite For 20G/(Doodle Loop) The World Is A Little Bit Under The Weather/Trick Bag/Mister Moon/Chug-A-Lug/Hang 'Em High/Honky Tonk Women  

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)


No More Okey Doke/I'm Gone/Be My Lady/My Name Up In Lights/Funkify Your Life/Stop That Train/We Got The Kind Of A Love/Give It What You Can   

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.





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)


You Got To Funkifize/What Happened To The World That Day?/Flash In The Pan/Gone/You Strike My Main Nerve/Down To The Nightclub/You're Still A Young Man/Skating On Thin Ice/Of The Earth  

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 Man

Flash 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)


What Is Hip?/Clever Girl/This Time It's Real/Will I Ever Find A Love/Get Yo' Feet Back On The Ground/So Very Had To Go/Soul Vaccination/Both Sorry Over Nothin'/Clean Slate/Just Another Day  

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 Slate.

The 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)


...Oakland Stroke/Don't Change Horses (In The Middle Of A Stream)/Just When We Started Makin' It/Can't You See (You're Doin' Me Wrong)/Squib Cakes/Time Will Tell/Man From The Past/Love's Been Gone So Long/I Got The Chop/Below Us, All The City Lights/Oakland Stroke... 

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)


Only So Much Oil In The Ground/Come Back, Baby/It's Not The Crime/I Won't Leave Unless You Want Me To/Maybe It'll Rub Off/(To Say The Least) You're The Most/Willing To Learn/Give Me The Proof/It Can Never Be The Same/I Believe In Myself/Walkin' Up Hip Street  

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)


Just Enough And Too Much/Treat Me Like Your Man/If I Play My Cards Right/As Surely As I Stand Here/Fanfare: Matanuska/On The Serious Side/Ebony Jam/You're So Wonderful, So Marvellous/Vuela Por Noche/Essence Of Innocence/The Soul Of A Child/Drop It In The Slot   

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 Tubbs

If 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 Slot.

It 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)


East Bay! All Day!/Hangin' With My Baby/Do You Like That?/On The Soul Side Of Town/Do It With Soul/Love Must Be Patient And Kind/Butter Fried/Selah/Let It Go/Stop/When Love Takes Control/After Hours/Can't Stop Thinking About You/East Bay! Oakland Style!  

This is an excellent comeback album from legendary OaklandCalifornia 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.