Monday, 31 December 2018

The Doobie Brothers - One Step Closer (1980)


  

Released October 1980

This was the last album from The Doobie Brothers as such. There were some later "reunion" ones, with slightly different line-ups, that appeared over a decade later, but, to all intents and purposes, this was the end of the line. It is a pretty uninspired album, played with technically brilliant musicianship and easy listening sound quality, it just lacks that certain something that had been present in their previous albums. It was solidly an AOR, late-night, polished soul/rock album. However, it was also, by now, sounding very formulaic. It is all very pleasant and you cannot object to it while listening, but the previous albums all had far more to offer.

TRACK LISTING

1. Dedicate This Heart
2. Real Love
3. No Stoppin' Us Now
4. Thank You Love
5. One Step Closer
6. Keep This Train A-Rollin'
7. Just In Time
8. South Bay Strut
9. One By One

"Dedicate This Heart" is a smooth, soulful opener, while "Real Love" is a bit of a "What A Fool Believes" remake, although it features a sumptuous saxophone solo, it has to be said. "No Stoppin' Us Now" has a pretty intoxicating groove to it, full of white funk licks. It is probably the strongest cut on the album. "Thank You Love" is standard, laid-back, sweet soul with great vocals and rhythm, but you feel they could do this sort of thing in their sleep. It does have a fetching bit of jazzy piano in it, however, and saxophone too. There is also some good percussion near the end.

The title track has some lively saxophone in its intro and an appealing vocal. It is a poppily catchy number. "Keep This Train A-Rollin'" is very early eighties in its synthesised backing and, although pleasant enough, is nothing special. As on most of the tracks, it is the saxophone which raises it up in places. "Just In Time" is a short, funky-ish number with some good Latin-influenced percussion.

"South Bay Strut" is a saxophone-led tuneful instrumental, very much of its time, and "One By One" closes the album with an infectious, bassy slice of jazzy soul/funk that is one of my favourites on the album.

As I said earlier, there is nothing intrinsically wrong with this album and it is an enjoyable listen, but, in comparison with the eight albums that came before, it is not quite as inspired. As a one-off album of late night eighties soul, it is perfectly acceptable.

C

The Doobie Brothers - Minute By Minute (1978)


  

Released December 1978

This was The Doobie Brothers' biggest-selling album and nothing like their first five albums of riffy, bar-room road trip rock. Doobie Brothers "phase two" (post 1975) was a radio-friendly, laid-back, West Coast, harmonious AOR group. Not that they weren't eminently listenable. It was now a commercial, white funk/soul sound and the public lapped it up. This album sold over three million copies. It was also a million miles away from the punk/new wave that was all the rage in 1978, particularly in the UK. I was nineteen in 1978 and I wouldn't have listened to this if you paid me, although had liked the group's mid seventies material. Time has mellowed me though.

TRACK LISTING

1. Here To Love You
2. What A Fool Believes
3. Minute By Minute
4. Dependin' On You
5. Don't Stop To Watch The Wheels
6. Open Your Eyes
7. Sweet Feelin'
8. Steamer Line Breakdown
9. You Never Change
10. How Do The Fools Survive?

"Here To Love You" is a smooth, polished soul number with some infectious piano and Michael McDonald's unique, smoky voice soaring above the excellent backing. "What A Fool Believes" is now an iconic song, known by many. It is catchy, soulful, gently and melodically rocking. It was a huge hit on mainstream radio and it is clear why on one listen. "Minute By Minute" is a classic of easy listening AOR soul. "Dependin' On You" is full of sweet harmonies, infectious, tuneful rhythms driven by McDonald's piano, the horns and some sublime percussion. There is even a Santana-style guitar solo on here too.

"Don't Stop To Watch The Wheels" is a nod back to their previous, more rocking incarnation, full of bluesy guitar and a solid rock beat. This is a song that will have pleased the older fans and probably would be skipped over by the new ones. "Open Your Eyes" is an infectious, piano-driven soul mid-tempo number with hints of Hall & Oates about it, for me. "Sweet Feelin'" is gently laid-back and pleasant, although it ends a bit abruptly. The band rediscover their Americana roots on the finger-picking country instrumental of "Steamer Line Breakdown", which again reminds one of those early albums.

"You Never Change" slows the tempo again, with some delicious percussion and some hot summer's day vocals that sound almost country-rock-ish, like America, or CSNY. "How Do The Fools Survive?" ends the album with some polished soul funk with a great bass line and impressive horns, once more. It gets into a groove and just sweeps you along. This is a highly recommended album of its type. Laid-back jazzy white soul/funk didn't get much better.

B-

The Meters - New Directions (1977)


  

Released in 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.

TRACK LISTING

1. No More Okey Doke
2. I'm Gone
3. Be My Lady
4. My Name Up In Lights
5. Funkify Your Life
6. Stop That Train
7. We Got The Kind Of A Love
8. Give It What You Can

"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/Funkadelic. "Stop 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.

C+

The Boomtown Rats - A Tonic For The Troops (1978)


  

Released June 1978

As I have said in other Boomtown Rats reviews, they were one of the most derivative groups around. No-one quite knew what they were, though, even themselves, I am sure. They definitely caught firmly on to the punk coat-tails, although The Rats had been toting the punk attitude around Ireland since 1975. So they were ahead of that game in a way, but not much of their output was punk, apart from their frenetic, wonderful first hit single from their debut album, "Lookin' After No. 1". Quite a lot of their material was more influenced by The New York Dolls and The Rolling Stones, and was often even a bit "glam rock"-ish in sound.

As I said, their influences were manifold - Bruce Springsteen, The Rolling Stones, Thin Lizzy, Graham Parker, Elvis Costello, Steve Harley, Lou Reed, Mink De Ville, The New York Dolls, Sparks, Alice Cooper, glam rock, Dr. Feelgood....the list goes on and on. So, they were a sort of jackdaw-styled group, collecting and expressing influences all over the place. Because of that, they never quite gained as much critical kudos as other groups.

By the time of this, their second album, however, they had notched up several chart singles and on here we found their first big number one single, so, although they didn't get so much cognoscenti respect, they certainly clocked up the sales. For many "non punk" music fans, they were a way of dipping into punk, a bit like they did with Blondie.

TRACK LISTING

1. Like Clockwork
2. Blind Date
3. (I Never Loved) Eva Braun
4. Living On An Island
5. Don't Believe What You Read
6. She's So Modern
7. Me And Howard Hughes
8. Can't Stop
9. (Watch Out For) The Normal People
10. Rat Trap

The opening track, "Like Clockwork" was a quirky hit single that was quite difficult to categorise. It has a strange staccato beat, some Stones/New York Dolls vocals and even some ABBA-style keyboards in places. It certainly wasn't punk, and not really new wave either. For me, it reminds me of Sparks in both its Russell Mael vocals at times and its madcap musical characteristics. "Blind Date" is more punky, with pounding drums and a chunky, riffy backing. It is very Graham Parker-esque in Bob Geldof's vocal delivery. It also has some Dr. Feelgood-style bluesy harmonica in it too. "(I Never Loved) Eva Braun" is something of an oddity, a bizarre song sung from Adolf Hitler's point of view. Again it features European-style ABBA keyboards and a quirky, jerky rock beat. Both musically and lyrically it doesn't seem to know what it is all about and doesn't do it for me. The breakneck, supposedly "punky' bit in the middle just annoys me. At times I think it is promising, at other points I just think it is a mess.

"Living On An Island" is quite catchy in places, despite some cod-Caribbean parts. It is another lyrically odd song about committing suicide on a tropical island. "Don't Believe What You Read" is a fast-pace, slightly punky rocker but with no real punk attitude, being too full of high-pitched, silly sounding backing vocals. Again, I'm not really sure what this song was trying to be. Geldof's contrived vocal continued on the hit single, "She's So Modern", which I really liked at the time. It has a hatful of energy and new wave vigour, with some punky riffs, perplexing lyrics and a singalong chorus. It is almost "glam" in many ways. Glam's snotty little cousin. "Me And Howard Hughes" is a catchy rock number about the millionaire recluse. The backing vocals are once more somewhat annoying, though, and the acoustic guitar solo is very Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel. The handclaps are so glam too. "Can't Stop" tries to be punk but with added nutty sounds and crazy keyboards. "(Watch Out For) The Normal People" is in the same vein, but with less silly noises apart from some superfluous "woo-woos". Unfortunately, I find both of these tracks irritating. Sorry. Some people probably love them, however. Oh look, they're ok, just not punk.

Then there is the album's tour de force, "Rat Trap", the big number one that was hailed as the first "punk number one". Stretching it a bit as it is full of wailing saxophone, Springsteen-esque street rock drama and plenty of Phil Lynott-isms in the vocals. For me, this is far of a Thin Lizzy pastiche than the usually quoted Springsteen one. Either way, it was a truly great single. Probably the group's finest song. It is miles ahead of anything else on the album. I loved it back then and I still do. I never tire of it.

This album was actually released several months before The Jam's "All Mod Cons", The Clash's "Give 'Em Enough Rope" and Siouxsie & The Banshees' "The Scream", so it was ahead of those albums, chronologically, yet it simple doesn't come close to competing with them, musically. It certainly was not what punk was about, neither was it new wave, or post punk. It did fit into any of those genres and I have to admit, although I bought it at the time, on the back of the singles, it is not an album I ever return to much. The sound, despite remastering, has always been pretty tinny too.

C

Sunday, 30 December 2018

The Meters - Trick Bag (1976)


  

Released July 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.

TRACK LISTING

1. Disco Is The Thing Today
2. Find Yourself
3. All These Things
4. I Want To Be Loved By You
5. Suite For 20G
6. (Doodle Loop) The World Is A Little Bit Under The Weather
7. Trick Bag
8. Mister Moon
9. Chug-A-Lug
10. Hang 'Em High
11. Honky Tonk Women

The opener "Disco Is The Thing 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 cooking 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 Stones' "Honky 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.

C+

The Doobie Brothers - Takin' It To The Streets (1976)


  

Released March 1976

The Doobie Brothers changed direction with this album, leaving behind the Eagles-influenced, riffy country rock and developing a slicker, AOR, semi-funky sound. They bought in the instantly recognisable voice of Michael McDonald too, which would dominate "Doobie Brothers phase two".  Guitarist Jeff "Skunk" Baxter, of Steely Dan fame, brought in for the previous album, is still there too, and would be for several more albums.

TRACK LISTING

1. Wheels Of Fortune
2. Takin' It To The Streets
3. 8th Avenue Shuffle
4. Losin' End
5. Rio
6. For Someone Special
7. It Keeps You Runnin'
8. Turn It Loose
9. Carry Me Away

"Wheels Of Fortune" is upbeat, funky and full of catchy guitar parts. It is quite infectious and appealing, with sublime horn breaks in places too and a great rubbery bass. The title track has a typical McDonald soulful vocal, something that completely changed the vibe of The Doobies' material. The track is rhythmic, with sumptuous percussion and a general soul groove to it. In many ways, this sort of material infuriated the freeway rock fans of albums like "The Captain And Me". "8th Avenue Shuffle" is a slightly latin-influenced Steely Dan-esque catchy number. "Losin' End" is a laid-back soully track, while "Rio" is full of percussive rhythm and samba-influenced jazzy sounds. This is an absolute sea change from their earlier albums.

"For Someone Special" is a soul classic worthy of Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes but with some most evocative bluesy, jazzy stylings with more airs of Steely Dan or Al Stewart. The musicianship on this is excellent. This really is a quite impressive, adventurous album. "It Keeps You Runnin'" is a very Steely Dan influenced track, again it is packed full of polished soulful ambience. "Turn It Loose" is the one concession to past riffage with a guitar-driven country-ish rocker. It is the only number that brings to mind anything from the first five Doobies albums. "Carry Me Away" is a precursor to "What A Fool Believes", with a pounding piano backing and McDonald's unique voice soaring above the impressive instrumentation.

As with all The Doobie Brothers' albums, from whatever phase, there is considerable pleasure to be derived from this album. Good stuff. The sound quality is excellent too.

B

The Doobie Brothers - Livin' On The Fault Line (1977)


  

Released August 1977

This is a very laid-back, easy-going AOR-oriented album. Released at the height of punk, it was about as far from punk as could be. A lot of the Eagles-style barnstorming country rock has disappeared from The Doobies' sound by now, replaced by a cool, sophisticated, polished sound. They had definitely set out their stall now to produce a slicker, more commercial, adult radio sound.

TRACK LISTING

1. You're Made That Way
2. Echoes Of Love
3. Little Darling (I Need You)
4. You Belong To Me
5. Livin' On The Fault Line
6. Nothin' But A Heartache
7. Chinatown
8. There's A Light
9. Need A Lady
10. Larry The Logger Two-Step

"You're Made That Way" is a jazzy, rhythmic Steely Dan ("Aja -era) style number, with a real easy listening soulful groove to it. The AOR feel continues with the breezy, harmonious, West Coast-ish "Echoes Of Love". "Little Darling ( I Need You)" is a lively, catchy, toe-tapping singalong rocker. It is a cover of a Marvin Gaye song from the sixties. "You Belong To Me" is a slow-tempo keyboard-powered piece of soulful balladry with more Steely Dan/Donald Fagen vibes blowing around. It is a classic late night number. "Livin' On The Fault Line" is a samba-influenced offering with a gentle rhythm and vocal to it. It features some sumptuous jazz guitar as well and some jazzy "vibes" sounds.

"Nothin' But A Heartache" explores the laid-back furrow once again, with a sweet, deep soul vocal from Michael McDonald. "Chinatown" is an atmospheric, shuffling jazzy, slightly funky number. The instrumentation on this, and indeed on all the album is top notch. It is one of the group's instrumentally finest offerings.

"There's A Light" continues the smoochy, soully feel with some fetching harmonica in the middle. "Need A Lady" is a funky grinder with bags of atmosphere. The album closes with a short piece of finger picking guitar in "Larry The Logger Two-Step". Overall, this is a pleasant album for a listen of an evening.

B-

The Meters - Fire On The Bayou (1975)


  

Released July 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.

TRACK LISTING

1. Out In The Country
2. Fire On The Bayou
3. Love Slip Upon Ya
4. Talkin' Bout New Orleans
5. They All Aks'd For You
6. Can You Do Without?
7. Liar
8. You're A Friend Of Mine
9. Middle Of The Road
10. Running Fast
11. Mardi Gras Mambo

"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. The title track 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 Aks'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.

B

Saturday, 29 December 2018

The Meters - Look-Ka Py Py (1969)


  

Released in December 1969

TRACK LISTING

1. Look-Ka Py Py
2. Rigor Mortis
3. Pungee
4. Thinking
5. This Is My Last Affair
6. Funky Miracle
7. Yeah You're Right
8. Little Old Money Maker
9. Oh, Calcutta!
10. The Mob
11. 9 'til 5
12. Dry Spell

This is the second album of largely instrumental funk from the New Orleans foursome, head 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.

The title track 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.

B

Blaxploitation 4 - Harlem Hustle


   

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.

TRACK LISTING

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 Theme"; "Theme From Savage"; "Theme 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'Jays' "For The Love Of Money" and there is some catchy funk in Bill Withers' "Who Is He And What Is He To You". The 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 Temptations' "The 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 Delfonics' "Didn'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.

B- 

Blaxploitation 3 - The Payback




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.

TRACK LISTING

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 Confusion"; Marvin Gaye's sublime funk of "Trouble Man"; Bobby Womack's atmospheric "Across 110th Street"; William 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 Man", Quincy Jones' "Ironside" and Bob James' "Westchester Lady", some sweet Philadelphia soul in The O'Jays' "Back 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.

B-

Blaxploitation 2 - The Sequel

  

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.

TRACK LISTING

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's "Low Rider"; Bill Withers' unique brand of folky soul on "Use Me"; Marvin 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.

B+


Blaxploitation 1


  

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.

TRACK LISTING

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 "Expansions", "Also 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 Ghetto", Esther 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 Shaft"; Timmy Thomas's minimalist but hard-hitting "Why Can't We Live Together"; James 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.

B+

The Blaxploitation Compilations




The Best Of Blaxploitation
Blaxploitation 1
Blaxploitation 2: The Sequel
Blaxploitation 3: The Payback
Blaxploitation 4: Harlem Hustle
Blaxploitation Box Set
Blaxploitation Tin Box Set

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.

TRACK LISTING

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 Ghetto", Esther 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, "Superfly"; William 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.

A

Barry White - Can't Get Enough (1974)


  

Released February 1974

TRACK LISTING

1. Mellow Mood (Pt. 1)
2. You're The First, The Last, My Everything
3. I Can't Believe You Love Me
4. Can't Get Enough Of Your Love, Babe
5. Oh Love, Well We Finally Made It
6. I Love You More Than Anything (In This World Girl)
7. Mellow Mood (Pt. II)

This was Barry White's most successful album, released at the peak of his powers in 1974, it contained two huge chart hits in the lively and soulful, pretty much irresistible "Can't Get Enough Of Your Love, Babe" and the catchily orchestrated "You're the First, The Last, My Everything", which is included here in its full version, complete with spoken intro before that now iconic intro kicks in. The whole album is about White and his orchestra's big, soul string production and nowhere is this exemplified better than on the ten minute slow burning, semi-spoken "I Can't Believe You Love Me", which you imagine will eventually get going, but never does. It doesn't need to. It gives people more time to enjoy on the couch...

The album is bookended by two layered instrumentals in "Mellow Mood"'s two parts. The album's remaining two tracks both show White's penchant for a long title in "Oh Love, Well We Finally Made It" and "I Love You More Than Anything (In This World Girl)". The strange thing is that lots of his songs have these long titles and I have trouble in remembering any of them. Anyway, back the music. The former is a Marvin Gaye-influenced soul crooner, featuring some sensual saxophone and sumptuous, rumbling bass backing White's deep, slow growling late night vocal. The latter is a slow burner that is slightly more upbeat than "I Can't Believe You Love Me", but only just. It takes its time, shuffling along with White's vocal rarely getting into second gear, typifying his material at its best.

If one album of Barry White is all you need, it should either be this one or "Stone 'Gon". The current 2018 remaster as included in the "20th Century Albums" box set is truly outstanding too, excellent sound quality.

B

Friday, 28 December 2018

Jackson Browne - Lawyers In Love (1983)


  

Released August 1983

This is another fine collection of thoughtful, sensitive songs from Jackson Browne, with his finger on the pulse of politics, the world situation and romance. He is a master craftsman, lyrically and also, by now, musically too. His excellent songs are backed by hooky, often gently riffy AOR rock beats and rhythms. Browne's social comment "message" songs had still not begun to completely dominate as yet, more of the material was still balanced toward relationships and the human condition as opposed to being overtly political, although his personal tide was changing.

TRACK LISTING

1. Lawyers In Love
2. On The Day
3. Cut It Away
4. Downtown
5. Tender Is The Night
6. Knock On Any Door
7. Say It Isn't True
8. For A Rocker

The title track is a wry look at contemporary throwaway culture sung over a catchy, melodic backing. "On The Day" is an appealing, mid-pace rock number with a copper-bottomed guitar solo half way through. "Cut It Away" has a bit of an eighties synthesiser backing but there is also an infectious guitar riff and crystal clear percussion too. Browne's voice is now strong and confident on these recordings too, far more so than ten years earlier. "Downtown" is very much a big production eighties number, but none the worse for it, although it could drop some of the synthesiser, to be honest.

"Tender Is The Night" is a seriously good, catchy rocker, with a great hook and evocative vocal from Browne. It is one of my favourites, he does this sort of thing so well. Yes, it sounds a bit eighties, as all the album does, but it still has something special. "Knock On Any Door" continues in the same vein. "Say It Isn't True" is a dignified, slow tempo, pot boiler of a rocker, building up slowly over an insistent keyboard/drum beat. Browne' voice is wonderful on this - sad, moving and expressive. "For A Rocker" is a synthesiser-driven upbeat number to end on. It sounds a bit dated now, it has to be said. Overall, though, this is another impressive Jackson Browne album, but it is definitely of its time.

B-

Siouxsie & The Banshees - Join Hands (1979)


  

Released September 1979

If anything, this was an even darker album than the debut album from the previous year, "The Scream" and it was an album that tore the band apart, guitarist John McKay and drummer Kenny Morris quitting the group on the day of the album's release. Funnily enough that was not the body blow one may have imagined, as replacements John McGeoch and Budgie proved to be be an essential part of The Banshees on subsequent, career-defining albums. Despite this internal strife, there is still and edgy appeal to this genre-leading post-punk album. Already, by 1979, punk was old hat and sombre, industrial post punk was de rigeur. This album was right at the vanguard.

TRACK LISTING

1. Poppy Day
2. Regal Zone
3. Placebo Effect
4. Icon
5. Premature Burial
6. Playground Twist
7. Mother /Oh Mein Papa
8. The Lord's Prayer

The opener, "Poppy Day", was inspired by The First World War and Remembrance Day. It is a short track featuring industrial, harsh guitars and some vague chant-like vocals. "Regal Zone" surely influenced U2's first album with its dense, caustic guitar sound, pounding drum beat and Siouxsie Sioux's sonorous vocals. There is a punk attitude and raw edginess to this, but it has that dark, intense post punk feeling all over it. This is music for the terminally depressive. Music for dark November evenings. There is some great, sharp guitar and drum interplay at the end. The dour, factory-inspired industrial sound continues on the haunting obscurity of "Placebo Effect". Sioux's sombre, wailing vocals give it a perversely miserable feeling that is at the same time incredibly evocative and atmospheric.

"Icon" begins slowly and almost chant-like before the drums start to roll and Sioux's stream of consciousness lyrics are relentless in their Patti Smith stylings. The drum, bass and guitar interplay is impressive. There was a real punch to this stuff despite its terminally dismal ambience meaning that I do not return to it too often. The old "side one" is closed by the primal thumping density of "Premature Burial". The guitars crash and burn, endlessly, the drums pound, the voice wails and rants. By now life is looking pretty depressing. Don't play this on a bright summer's morning. Despite all that, it still really has something. A bit like the first Joy Division album. Appealing in its sheer never-ending gloom. Siouxsie Sioux wrote all these songs. She must have been a bundle of laughs on a night out.

"Playground Twist" was a single, but it did not have the catchy appeal of "Hong Kong Garden" and only reached number 28. It is as singalong and commercial as the material on this album ever gets, with a few hooks and refrains swirling around. "Mother/Oh Mein Papa" is a spooky incantation with a musical box backing and oedipal lyrics. The final track is the controversial, fifteen minutes long "The Lord's Prayer", a Sex Pistols/Public Image-style grind that served to sum up the anti-faith nihilism of the punk movement for many people. Sioux wails out the words to The Lord's Prayer over a frantic guitar riff backing and thumping drum beat. It is a marvellously anarchic piece of anti-establishment protest. Punk meets post punk in a maelstrom of subversive negativity as the rumbling bass drills its incessant madcap rhythm into your head. Sioux starts clucking like a chicken at one stage as she goes full on Patti Smith now, spitting out God knows what invective. Horrifying, interminable, but strangely compelling, as indeed is the whole album. Siouxsie & The Banshees would never be as visceral, or as brutal, again.

B-

Bonnie Raitt - Sweet Forgiveness (1977)


  

Released April 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.

TRACK LISTING

1. About To Make Me Leave Home
2. Runaway
3. Two Lives
4. Louise
5. Gamblin' Man
6. Sweet Forgiveness
7. My Opening Farewell
8. Three Time Loser
9. Takin' My Time
10. Home

"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.

The title track 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 Time". "Home" 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.

B-

Jackson Browne - For Everyman (1973)


  

Released October 1973

This was Jackson Browne's second album and, while it still had a bit of a "work in progress" feel about it (in comparison to the more finished feel of his subsequent work), it is an album which shows his progression. He was an artist who wrote great songs and was looking for a sound to hang them on to, so to speak, and here he managed it a bit more confidently than he did on the bleak-ish debut album. It was a mixture of some catchy country, guitar-driven rock numbers and thoughtful, melodic slow ballads, plus one extended, grandiose narrative, philosophical, lyrically pertinent number to end with (something that became a tradition on future albums). He really is such a good lyricist, but on these early albums the sound is somewhat austere and tentative in places, not as confident as it would become by, say, 1976's "The Pretender". Therefore the album just doesn't quite tick all the boxes. Not quite, but almost. It is still a good album.

TRACK LISTING

1. Take It Easy
2. Our Lady Of The Well
3. Colors of The Sun
4. I Thought I Was A Child
5. These Days
6. Redneck Friend
7. The Times You've Come
8. Ready Or Not
9. Sing My Songs To Me
10. For Everyman

"Take It Easy" does not quite have the appeal and catchy country rock pizazz of 1972's Eagles hit version of the song, it seems a bit undercooked in comparison. "Our Lady Of The Well" is a mournful song, with a nice, laid-back melodic backing and that sad Browne vocal that we would be so familiar with in years to come. It is a beautiful, sensitive song. Nicely sung and nicely played with a lovely Mexican-style guitar break near the end. "Colors Of The Sun" is a brooding, bassy slow tempo number with a haunting vocal. Again, the backing is appealing. "I Thought I Was A Child" ups the pace somewhat, when it kicks in, but it is actually covered more convincingly by Bonnie Raitt on her "Takin' My Time" album. It features a delicious acoustic guitar solo followed by some bass/piano interplay though. It is a great song too, it has to be said. Typical Jackson Browne in its sensitivity and phrasing.

"These Days" is a slow, evocative and moving number with some fetching slide guitar backing. It is another lovely song. "Redneck Friend" sees Jackson really rocking for the first time on this album, something he doesn't always do enough. Whenever he does, it's always good, with a trademark high-pitched guitar sound. "The Times You've Come" is a plaintive acoustic number that gets a bit muscular half way through, but retains its intrinsic sadness throughout in Browne's vocal delivery.

"Ready Or Not" is a tongue-in-cheek, light-hearted number about Browne and his wife expecting a child. Beneath the wry humour it has a mid-pace infectious melody and an impressive mid-song guitar solo. "Sing My Songs To Me" is a laid-back, slow tempo rock ballad, with sumptuous guitar and gentle piano backing. It has airs of Paul McCartney about it, for me, just in a few places. The title track, "For Everyman" is one of those big, meaningful lengthy numbers to finish the album, like "Before The Deluge" or "The Pretender". Yes, there were better albums to come, but this one is getting there.

B-

Thursday, 27 December 2018

Bonnie Raitt - Home Plate (1975)


  

Released in 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.

TRACK LISTING

1. What Do You Want The Boy To Do
2. Good Enough
3. Run Like A Thief
4. Fool Yourself
5. My First Night Alone Without You
6. Walk Out The Front Door
7. Sugar Mama
8. Pleasin' Each Other
9. I'm Blowin' Away
10. Sweet And Shiny Eyes

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.

B-

Tower Of Power - In The Slot (1975)

   

Released September 1975

TRACK LISTING

1. Just Enough And Too Much
2. Treat Me Like Your Man
3. If I Play My Cards Right
4. As Surely As I Stand Here
5. Fanfare: Matanuska
6. On The Serious Side
7. Ebony Jam
8. You're So Wonderful, So Marvellous
9. Vuela Por Noche
10. Essence Of Innocence
11. The Soul Of A Child
12. 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 "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.

B-

The Meters - The Meters (1969)


  

Released May 1969

TRACK LISTING

1. Cissy Strut
2. Here Comes The Meter Man
3. Chug Chug A-Lug (Push And Shove)
4. Live Wire
5. Art
6. Sophisticated Cissy
7. Ease Back
8. 6V6 LA
9. Sehorn's Farm
10. Ann
11 Stormy
12. 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 cooking 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 Cissy" as a great example of languid, effortless infectious funk, or the addictive groove of "Ease Back".

B

Tower Of Power - Urban Renewal (1975)


  

Released in 1975

TRACK LISTING

1. Only So Much Oil In The Ground
2. Come Back, Baby
3. It's Not The Crime
4. I Won't Leave Unless You Want Me To
5. Maybe It'll Rub Off
6. (To Say The Least) You're The Most
7. Willing To Learn
8. Give Me The Proof
9. It Can Never Be The Same
10. I Believe In Myself
11. 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.

"There Is 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.

B-

Wednesday, 26 December 2018

The Meters




The Meters (1969)
Look-Ka-Py Py (1969)
Struttin' (1970)
Cabbage Alley (1972)
Rejuvenation (1974)
Fire On The Bayou (1975)
Trick Bag (1976)
New Directions (1977)

Tower Of Power



Bump City (1972)
Tower Of Power (1973)
Back To Oakland (1974)
Urban Renewal (1975)
In The Slot (1975)
Soul Side Of Town (2018)

Tower Of Power - Back To Oakland (1974)


  

Released May 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.

TRACK LISTING

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

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.

B-