Friday, 26 April 2019

Bread



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The albums covered here are:-

Bread (1969)
On The Waters (1970)
Manna (1971)
Baby Im A Want You (1972)
and The Sound Of Bread

Scroll down to read the reviews.

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BREAD (1969)

1. Dismal Day
2. London Bridge
3. Could I
4. Look At Me
5. The Last Time
6. Any Way You Want Me
7. Move Over
8. Don't Shut Me Out
9. You Can't Measure The Cost
10. Family Doctor
11. It Don't Matter To Me
12. Friends And Lovers      

This album was a real surprise to me, as, for many years, I had (misguidedly) viewed Bread as a somewhat wishy-washy student bedroom band, full of gentle melodies and earnest, lovelorn lyrics. This album, from the very late sixties, sort of contradicts that, showing first of all that they could certainly play (the musicianship and sound quality is uniformly excellent), and secondly that they had considerable rock sensibilities in there. The album was a veritable pioneer in Californian country/folk-ish soft rock. The Byrds were heading this way, and Crosby, Stills and Nash too, of course. In the wake of these artists would come the excellent America and the genre would spread out to include some aspects of the music of The Doobie Brothers and the early Eagles.

Bread also were quite Beatles-influenced, in their McCartney-ish lyrics and melodies at times and in the Ringo Starr-esque drumming. Their vocals are wonderfully harmonious, often falsetto from David Gates, and the acoustic guitars clear and sharp. The electric guitar is subtly riffy and the bass beautifully subtle.

There are no well-known Bread songs on here in the Baby I'm A Want You/I Want To Make It With You category, but there is some beautiful, laid-back material and some deceptively rocking fare too, admittedly very much in a breezy late sixties style.

                      
Dismal Day features a strange high-pitched vocal from David Gates, but is also an appealing, lively hippy-ish track. London Bridge is very Beatles-esque, with that instantly recognisable Ringo Starr-style drumming. Could I has a great piano and percussion intro and a very late sixties vocal feel to it. It sounds very representative of its era. The electric guitar on it is superb. Look At Me is a very hippy, dreamy acoustic number. This was very much the period of the "serious", contemplative song. This is a fine example of it.

The rocky The Last Time shows a distinct sixties inventiveness borrowed from psychedelia, slightly. Anyway You Want Me is pleasantly driven by its electric guitar riffs and upbeat drums. Its vocal is stronger, more direct, too. Lovely guitar/drum interplay in the middle as well. Move Over is one of the album's rockiest, powerful numbers, driven along by some great drums and fuzzy electric guitar. Great stuff. Most underrated and misjudged. Turn this up and you can feel the band's power. This is Bread, remember. The rock continues on the cowbell-driven rhythm of the catchy Don't Shut Me Out .

You Can't Measure the Cost is an airy, acoustic and harmonious America-style ballad that moves on to include a deliciously heavy bass line. Family Doctor has strong echoes of The Band all over it, and Crosby, Stills & Nash too. Check out those harmonies on It Don't Matter To Me. Beautiful. Add to those the freaky, buzzy electric guitar interjections and you have a great song. Friends And Lovers is a pleasantly enigmatic and infectiously catchy folky rock number. There is no way that this album should be dismissed as romantic, drippy pop (Bread were, it seems, very unfairly labelled in that respect). This is a highly credible, truly worthy late sixties album full of songs and musicianship of the highest quality. I really like this album.



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ON THE WATERS (1970)

1. Why Do You Keep Me Waiting
2. Make It With You
3. Blue Satin Pillow
4. Look What You've Done
5. I Am That I Am
6. Been Too Long On The Road
7. I Want You With Me
8. Coming Apart
9. Easy Love
10. In The Afterglow
11. Call On Me
12. The Other Side Of Life               

Bread became instantly more well-known with this, their second album, due to the huge hit Make It With You, although this album is one that provides many different sounding tracks to that one. It is quite a rock album, in its hippy Californian warm but airy sound and vague psychedelic influences appearing here and there. It is very Crosby, Stills and Nash-influenced and laid foundations for groups like America to follow. I should imagine many who bought the album on the back of Make It With You may have been slightly disappointed in its hippy rock earnestness and, at times, quite heavy passages. Not me, though, I think it's great. A most underrated gem. It is, though, quite a dense,  serious album, despite its West Coast inherent sunny disposition. Personally, I prefer the group's debut album. It is Bread's equivalent of The DoorsWaiting For The Sun, quite experimental and uncommercial in places. Of course, this is not a full-on rock record, but it is certainly not an album of slushy, acoustic ballads. Far from it.
            
Why Do You Keep Me Waiting is an upbeat, rocking number to begin with, with hints of Neil Diamond's early material in its vaguely Latin strummed riff. Its changes of pace and rock rhythms are redolent of Crosby, Stills and NashMake It With You is, of course, the song that really made it big for Bread and tended to make people pigeonhole them. You can't deny its laid-back, hot Californian summery sound is completely intoxicating. A classic of its type. Blue Satin Pillow has a big, heavy rock riff and a typically early seventies rock feel, with airs of Cat Stevens in its vocal, for me. Beatles harmonies are in there too.

  

Look What You've Done had a riff that sounded like a prototype of the later Guitar Man at the beginning. When it breaks out into its "rock" passages, its is truly uplifting. It almost goes a bit proggy in its organ sound. I Am That I Am also continues that proggy, pace-changing sound. It reminds me slightly of Ringo Starr's It Don't Come Easy at times.

Been Too Long On The Road has that Marrakesh Express breezy, harmonious feel to it and features some killer electric guitar over a quirky, staccato beat. I Want You With Me has a haunting air to its beguiling, gentle vocal, over its gently melodic bass line. This is something approaching what The Beach Boys were trying to achieve during the same period, and sometimes coming up short. This album gets it right, in my opinion, anyway.

Coming Apart is a very CSN-style appealing, tuneful rocker. Like lots of the material it is very typical of its era. Easy Love begins with a Byrds-style jangly guitar and has a lovely vocal and drum sound. In The Afterglow is a very McCartney-esque song, with those Beatles drums again. Call On Me has Bread going a little blues rock-ish. It has hints of The BeatlesCome Together and is very Lennon-influenced. The album ends with the low-key, gentle The Other Side Of Life. This is an album that deserves more than a few listens. It has hidden depths.



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MANNA (1971)

1. Let Your Love Go
2. Take Comfort
3. Too Much Love
4. If
5. Be Kind To Me
6. He's A Good Lad
7. She Was My Lady
8. Live In Your Love
9. What A Change
10. I Say Again
11. Come Again
12. Truckin'              

It is popularly thought that Bread were a slow, acoustic-based band that delivered slushy romantic songs. Sure, they did a few of those, but it is often forgotten that they could actually rock quite hard. Their brand of country-ish rock packed a harder punch than their notable contemporaries CSN, CSNY, The Byrds and America. There was a fair amount of solid riffing, and muscular drums around on many of their tracks. In my opinion, Bread have always been a bit unfairly maligned and pigeonholed. This is largely an upbeat album of quite strident country-influenced, typically early seventies rock. It is quality easy listening rock.
                              
Let Your Love Go is an upfront, rocking number to begin with, while Take Comfort starts with some solid guitar riffing and thumping drums. It moves into a dreamy, hippy-ish slow part in the middle, before returning to the buzzy guitar. Like much of their material at the time, there are vague proggy aspects to it. Too Much Love is a laid-back country-ish rocker with a delicious bass line and a distinct Beatles influence in places.

  

If is the archetypal Bread track that many know them for - a gentle melody, a sensitive lyric and David Gates' melodic, almost angelic voice soaring high above it. Rhythmic rock is back for the next one, however, with the appealing, bluesy groove of Be Kind To MeHe's A Good Lad is a very CSNY-esque plaintive number. She Was My Lady rocks gently, tunefully and captivatingly. It features some excellent guitar soloing. Unfortunately it ends too soon. Live In Your Love is a McCartney-esque rock ballad that just reminds me of Wings.

What A Change has those airy, sweet uplifting CSNY harmonies once more. I Say Again is another one in that style too. The Ringo Starr-influenced drums and their interplay with the bass is lovely. Come Again continues the sensitive, thoughtful balladry. It has some beautiful piano and strings in its backing, underpinned by some subtle electric guitar. Just at the tempo had slowed down a bit we end the album with the roadhouse rollicking of Truckin', as Bread go all Doobie Brothers/early Eagles.

This is a beautifully even-tempered warm wind of an album that cannot help but relax you while lifting your spirits at the same time.



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BABY I'M A WANT YOU (1972)

1. Mother Freedom
2. Baby I'm A Want You
3. Down On My Knees
4. Everything I Own
5. Nobody Like You
6. Diary
7. Dream Lady
8. Daughter
9. Games Of Magic
10. This Isn't What The Governmeant
11. Just Like Yesterday
12. I Don't Love You        

For many, this was Bread's best album, containing two of their biggest hits and successfully merging sensitive ballads with some deceptively hard rocking cuts. It shows that they were more than just slushy pop balladeers, despite the perfection of their tracks that fit that particular bill. This is an eminently listenable example of early seventies Californian rock.
                          
Mother Freedom is a powerful rocker with some killer buzzsaw guitar. Baby I'm A Want You is known to many, it's great. Lovely vocal, lovely atmosphere, lovely bass line. Just a perfect easy rock song. So wonderfully early seventies. A Byrds-esque jangly guitar riff introduces Down On My Knees. The track rocks from beginning to end in a seventies-era Fleetwood Mac style. Everything I Own is, of course, beautiful. As a reggae fan, I always associate this song with the Ken Boothe 1974 cover that hit number one in the UK, but this is the original. It is moving, sensitive and timeless. When that chorus kicks in - oh yes.

 

Nobody Like You is an Elton John-esque piano-driven rock/blues rousing rocker. Yes, Bread could do bar-room rock too and sing about "having a fight" without sounding strange. Diary is thoughtful and moving. Dream Lady has some of Bread's regular prog-rock influences as a swirling organ, heavy guitar and drums interplay dramatically. Daughter is another deceptively heavy rock ballad, with power chords and pounding piano, together with a convincingly strong, harmonious set of vocals.

Games Of Magic is a gentle, acoustic, sleepy and sensitive number. Now, up next Bread get all political, for the first time, on This Isn't What The Governmeant, a rousing country style questioning of the rule-makers of the time. Just Like Yesterday is a lovely, stately and inspiring song. The gruff, mid-pace rock of I Don't Love You is a surprisingly acidic end to the album. There is more Elton John about this, for me.

If you like West Coast early seventies rock mixed with some classic rock ballads played with seriously good musicianship then you can't go far wrong with this. A classic of its genre.



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THE SOUND OF BREAD

1. Make It With You
2. Dismal Day
3. London Bridge
4. Anyway You Want Me
5. Look What You've Done
6. It Don't Matter To Me
7. The Last Time
8. Let Your Love Go
9. Truckin'
10. If
11. Baby I'm A Want You
12. Everything I Own
13. Down On My Knees
14. Just Like Yesterday
15. Diary
16. Sweet Surrender
17. Guitar Man
18. Fancy Dancer
19. She's The Only One
20. Lost Without Your Love

In the seventies I was never into Bread like many were (usually girls). I saw this as very much wishy-washy student (usually members of the Christian Union) bedroom fare. As many, many years have passed by, my attitudes have matured, thankfully, and I view their music in a totally different light.

It is all very typically early seventies stuff - clear, airy, breezy vocals (in the style of America and many other country rock groups), razor sharp, melodic acoustic guitars, gentle bass rhythms, tuneful lead guitar and rhythmic but understated drums. The sound quality on this atmospheric, nostalgic collection does the group's excellent musicianship justice. There are hints of CSNY swirling around and some Beatles influence also. Many of the tracks are surprisingly upbeat and rhythmic, gently rocking. It is not all contemplative romantic material. The cover is pretty uninspiring, though, isn't it?

Everyone knows the beguiling opener, Make It With You, with its entrancing, evocative vocal. It is a timeless classic. Dismal Day features a strange high-pitched vocal from David Gates, but is also an appealing, lively hippy-ish track. London Bridge is very Beatles-esque, with Ringo Starr-style drumming. Anyway You Want Me is pleasantly driven by its electric guitar riffs and upbeat drums. Its vocal is stronger, more direct, too. Lovely guitar/drum interplay in the middle as well. The bass on Look What You've Done is just beautiful and when the song breaks out into the "rock" bit, it is quite gloriously uplifting. Check out those harmonies on It Don't Matter To Me. Beautiful.

There are so many (for me) undiscovered gems on here, apart from the well-known hits. Another one is the harmonious and rocky The Last TimeLet Your Love Go rocks more than I ever thought Bread could. It is sort of Doobie Brothers meets America with even a touch of Status Quo in the riff and the vocals. The percussion is absolutely sublime. The rock continues on the infectious country rock of Truckin'. I love this one. These have been some surprising rockers.

If is a plaintive track most people know. This is the original, not the awful version Telly Savalas took to number one in the mid seventies. The America-esque and totally gorgeous Baby I'm A Want You was as big a hit as it totally deserved to be. Then we get the sublime Everything I Own, although as a long-time reggae fan, I always associate it with Ken Boothe. It is a true classic, either way. Time to rock again, with the Fleetwood Mac-ish Down On My KneesJust Like Yesterday has some excellent instrumentation. Bread could play, something that is often forgotten. This may sound completely bonkers, but this has all the ingredients of an Ian Hunter/Mott The Hoople ballad. No? Just one of my strange ideas. It also reminds me of Clifford T. Ward's Wherewithal. Is that more like it?

Diary is a gentle, acoustic, bedsit-ish sensitive number, in a sort of Al Stewart (early seventies era) way. Sweet Surrender is a lovely mid-tempo laid-back number with some great guitar. Guitar Man was another huge hit, again quite rightly, it is packed with both instrumental and vocal hooks. Fancy Dancer is a surprisingly funky-ish groover. She's The Only One is a delightful country-ish number with an Eagles feel to it. Lost Without Your Love is what I imagined an archetypal Bread song was, actually, listening to this, I realise I was completely wrong. I really enjoyed this. Who would have thought it?



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Thursday, 25 April 2019

Lee "Scratch" Perry




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The albums covered here are:-

The Return Of Django (1969)
Clint Eastwood/Many Moods Of The Upsetters (1970)
Africa's Blood (1972)
Super Ape (1976)
Rainford (2019)
The Best Of Lee "Scratch" Perry (Trojan)
and Arkology Box Set 

Scroll down the read the reviews.

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RETURN OF DJANGO (1969)

1. Return Of Django
2. Touch Of Fire
3. Cold Sweat
4. Drugs And Poison
5. Soulful I
6. Night Doctor
7. One Punch
8. Eight For Eight
9. A Live Injection
10. Man From MI5
11. Ten To Twelve
12. Medical Operation

Before the embryonic roots/Rasta sounds that producer Lee "Scratch" Perry introduced on 1970's Clint Eastwood, and the jaunty organ-driven skinhead skanking of The Many Moods Of The Upsetters from the same year, we had this, one of the first reggae "albums", (although it was more collection of singles). The sound showed a fair few signs of the skinhead sound, although the influence of the previous decades' ska sound is still there in places. Unlike those two albums, this one is all instrumental, with only occasional vocal interjections.

Despite its being recorded in 1969 in no doubt pretty rudimentary studios, the remastered sound on this, although mono, is probably as good as you could expect it to be, and at times is pretty good, better in fact than on the next two albums.

This album laid down the foundations of the skinhead/boss reggae stomping sound that would dominate much of reggae's output between here and 1972, before roots and Rasta consciousness started to fully take over.

  
                                
Return Of Django is the most obviously ska-influenced cut, full of melodic ska brass and a toe-tapping beat. The organ sound that would become so popular in the early seventies is to the fore on the excellent Touch Of Fire (which has a surprisingly good sound quality) and the lively Cold Sweat, with its expressive organ flourishes. Drugs And Poison is a fine slice of late sixties reggae, full of organ but also saxophone and a solid stomping beat - get those boots on.



Soulful I sounds like something from a late fifties/early sixties British fairground with its Telstar-style keyboard sound. The same applies to Night Doctor. A slightly different sound is found on the mysterious, deeper bassy tones of One Punch although it is punctuated by some swirling, trilling organ breaks. Eight For Eight features some absolutely killer organ and some growling early "toasting" from Perry. A Live Injection features the best of keyboardist Glen Adams, who is given free rein to swirl and swoop. He certainly does that, too, with much dexterity.

Man From MI5 was an introduction to a slightly deeper, bassier sound complete with sonorous, menacing vocal intro. It features some excellent guitar and a lovely big, rumbling bass sound. That big, booming sound system bass groove started on tracks like this. Ten To Twelve is almost rock 'n' roll in its lively beat. Perry also uses cock crowing noises, something he would do a lot over the years. Medical Operation is another enthusiastic skinhead stomp. You simply can't beat the sheer vitality of these early reggae recordings, can you? As I said, nice remastering on this too, some the best I have heard from the period.

Also, check out the new extended release of the album for some really early dub rhythms on Love Me Baby (Take 1).

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CLINT EASTWOOD/MANY MOODS OF THE UPSETTERS (1970)

  

Both these albums were released in 1970 and are now being issued together as one package which is understandable as they are, to an extent, indistinguishable from each other, it would seem. Actually there are clear differences, however, that are more than worthy of mention as we progress. What is for sure is that they both contain fast-paced, largely instrumental, organ-driven "skinhead" or "boss" reggae - stomping drum beats behind trilling, parping fairground organ sounds and often punchy brass. Vocals appear occasionally on the odd fully-fledged song, but more often than not, when vocals are added they are improvised "huhs", "haaahs, "pick it ups" and "work its" thrown in to provide almost an extra instrument. To a certain extent, that organ sound was "cheesy", but also it was so very representative of reggae at the time and has an important chronological and developmental status. It is the sound of 1969-1972 reggae. The organ was king and was the essence of the skinhead sound.

The sound is mono and, as most of these tracks were cut in rudimentary studios it is certainly not audiophile. The recordings have been cleaned up as much as possible but there are still variations in quality in the recordings. However, in this lo-fi sound lies much of the music's home-grown, raw appeal.

CLINT EASTWOOD - (by The Upsetters unless stated)

1. Return Of The Ugly
2. For A Few Dollars More
3. Prisoner Of Love - Dave Barker
4. Dry Acid
5. Rightful Ruler
6. Clint Eastwood
7. Taste Of Killing
8. Selassie
9. What It This (Ba Ba) - The Reggae Boys
10. Ain't No Love - Jimmy & The Inspirations
11. My Mob
12. I've Caught You                                                   

Now for those differences. Clint Eastwood is by far the earthier of the two albums, though. We get embryonic "toasting" on For A Few Dollars More, Perry growls vocals over a frantic skank and Return Of The Ugly also has a quirky, upbeat appeal. Its organ breaks are almost rock 'n' roll in places. Dry Acid is an excellent early toaster with croaked vocals demanding "mercy" and "pick it up, pick it up" over a full-on organ and drum-driven stomp. It is one of the album's most important cuts, its vocal enhancements providing a sign of the future. Actually, equally important, if not more, is Rightful Ruler, when we hear Rastafarian conciousness expressed for one of the first times on a reggae record, with U-Roy making an early appearance rapping righteousness and praise of Haile Selassie over a Rasta drum backing. Make no mistake this one of the very first roots reggae records.

On Clint Eastwood, the track, Perry gruffly informs us that "Clint Eastwood tougher than Lee Van Cleef..". This cowboy/gunslinger fixation was extremely popular in reggae at the time. Taste Of Killing is an instrumental, but it is much less "cheesy" than some of those on Many Moods Of The UpsettersSelassie sees the Rasta devotion return on a classic early slice of blood and fire piety. There is certainly nothing like this on the album's sibling release, nothing at all. This is the birth of roots reggae.

Prisoner Of Love is a classic full; vocal skinhead stomp, with Dave (Dave & Ansil Collins) Barker on convincing lead vocals. What Is This (Ba Ba) is also is fine serving of skinhead fare. Ain't No Love is a fast track with an almost soulful groove and vocal. Both My Mob and the initially slightly rootsier I've Caught You are organ-powered, infectious instrumentals in the style of the material on its partner album.

****

MANY MOODS OF THE UPSETTERS - (by The Upsetters unless stated)

1. Exray Vision
2. Can't Take It Anymore - David Isaacs
3. Soul Stew 
4. Low Lights
5. Cloud Nine - Carl Dawkins
6. Beware
7. Serious Joke
8. Goosy - Pat Satchmo
9. Prove It
10. Boss Society - Pat Satchmo
11. Mean And Dangerous
12. Games People Play                                                                    

Many Moods Of The Upsetters features a vocal track in the melodic Can't Take It Anymore with (I think) David Isaacs on lead vocals. It is one of the album's catchiest numbers. Another full vocal is found on their grainy, muffled cover of The TemptationsCloud Nine, this time wth Carl Dawkins singing. Pat Satchmo provides gruff, growling vocals on the catchy, saxophone-driven Goosy and Boss Society.

The rest of the album is instrumental, with a positively sixties, almost easy listening sound on Low Lights and some prototype seventies skanking in Beware, the cookin' groove of Exray Vision and Soul StewSerious Joke has a fine, clear organ sound, I must say, while Prove It gets almost funky in places. The album ends with a couple of gems in the appealing saxophone sounds of Mean And Dangerous and the joyous, carnival steel band skank of the soul song Games People Play.

Overall, the cuts on this album sound earlier than on Clint Eastwood. There is no early roots vibe and certainly no Rasta references or grooves. It makes this a far more inessential album than its partner. Also, the sound is better on Eastwood too.

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AFRICA'S BLOOD (1972)

(all by The Upsetters unless stated)

1. Do Your Thing - Dave Barker
2. Dream Land
3. Long Sentence
4. Not Guilty
5. Cool And Easy
6. Well Dread Version 3 - Addis Ababa Children
7. My Girl
8. Saw Dust
9. Place Called Africa Version 3 - Winston Prince
10. Isn't It Wrong - The Hurricanes
11. Go Slow
12. Bad Luck
13. Move Me
14. Surplus      

From the end of the sixties into the early seventies, slowly but surely, reggae artists started releasing proper albums, as opposed to merely a procession of singles. The now legendary Upsetter Lee "Scratch" Perry had released a few before this one, but they were now coming thick and fast. The unmistakable dub sound that Perry made his own in his iconic Black Ark Studios in KingstonJamaica had not quite started to fully take shape as yet and the sound is still very much in that Dave & Ansil Collins-style organ-driven skanking vein, all trilling organ bleeps over a fast, steady beat. In fact Dave Barker ("Dave") features on the first track. Each track has that typical Upsetter sound that gets the feet moving. Most of the tracks are instrumentals with only incidental vocals. Most of the music still bore the influence of ska and the deep, reverberating dub of the mid-seventies and beyond is still a few years away.

The sound quality is surprisingly good, although it seems to be in mono, it is a good, solid, warm and bass mono with no distortion.
                                                                  

Dave Barker's Do Your Thing sets the tone for the album - a fine slice of skinhead-style organ-powered stomping, enhanced by lots of "huhs", "haaahs" and "work its". Try keeping still while this is on - classic early seventies reggae skanking. Dream Land slows down the pace to a slow groove, driven along by a fairground-style organ. this stuff is like Booker T & The Mgs with a reggae backing. The material is like a whole set of backing tracks for the hits that populated the Reggae Chartbusters and Tighten Up compilations of the time. Long Sentence skanks along at a faster pace again dominated by the organ, although Not Guilty starts to sound a bit more like the sort of reggae you would expect from 1973-74 with a mid-pace, solid skank whose organ is less "parping" if you know what I mean.



Cool And Easy the introduction of the brass sounds that would feature in so many reggae backing tracks of the period. A very early piece of roots is notably found on Addis Ababa Children's Well Dread Version with an introductory vocal in praise of "Jah Rastafari", something pretty unusual in 1972. The drum sound is pure Rastafarian drumming too. The skank is very similar to the backing of Eric Donaldson's Cherry Oh Baby, though. The Upsetters instrumental take on The TemptationsMy Girl speeds the tune up a lot. Saw Dust is a cut typical of the reggae of the time, this time with less of the organ, more of the drum, bass and electric piano. The album's second roots track is Winston Prince's Place Called Africa and on this track we really do get an example of the roots sub-genre in its infancy, complete with "toasting" vocals and the use of the "I and I" pronoun, again this was pretty unusual for the time.

The HurricanesIsn't It Wrong is the album's only "proper" song, with full verses and choruses. Go Slow is an example of how it is the bass and guitar, together with piano, which is becoming more important, to an extent, than the fairground organ by the end of this album. The organ is back, however, on the brassy Bad LuckMove Me is a nice, lively skank, as is the jaunty Surplus.

This is an interesting album in the development of the remarkable talent that is Lee "Scratch" Perry, and of reggae itself, but it is not really an essential one.

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SUPER APE (1976)

1. Zion's Blood
2. Croaking Lizard
3. Black Vest
4. Underground
5. Curly Dub
6. Dread Lion
7. Three In One
8. Patience
9. Dub Along
10. Super Ape 

As well as producing Max Romeo's iconic roots reggae album War Ina Babylon in 1976, already legendary producer Lee "Scratch" Perry recycled some of the "riddims" and ones from other productions of his for this solo album, credited to him. It is largely a dub album, the tracks containing only occasional vocals, all sort of sound effects, repeated horn breaks, melodica, infectious, deep bass lines and that archetypal Perry percussion sound. It was, like his other classic recordings from the period, recorded at Black Ark Studios in Jamaica and has that trademark heavy and murky, slightly mysterious sound - check out Underground as a prime example.
                            
As you listen to it, all sorts of other musical refrains from various Perry-produced songs will pop into your head. Some you will recognise, like the bass line to War Ina Babylon that underpins Black Vest. Others will frustrate you, like the beguiling Croaking Lizard does for me. For ages, I could not place it, then I found out it was a re-imagining of Max Romeo's Chase The Devil. Then it all started to fit into place. Max Romeo's vocals are replaced by some DJ-style "toasting". Curly Dub, if you ask me, has echoes of The BeatlesThe Things We Said Today in its horn breaks. Maybe that's just how I hear it though.

  

The album's only really fully vocal track is Zion's Blood, I am not sure who it is on vocals. The track, despite its deep dub riddims has a cool feel of Third World about it in its melodic vocal. Three To One, to be fair has a fair amount of vocals too, and is packed full of roots atmosphere. The instrumental Patience brings to mind another song's backing but I can't place it.

Dread Lion is a marvellous piece of deep, melodica-drenched dub. It positively drips with addictive dub heaviness. Dub Along has some beguiling female vocals giving it an infectious irresistibility. Super Ape has flute lines swirling all around it, highlighting just how inventive Perry could be. This is a short album, only just over half an hour or so, but it is up there as one of the best dub albums, particularly as it is not a compilation, as many dub releases are. This was part of the soundtrack to the "punky reggae crossover" years of 1977-79.



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RAINFORD (2019)

1. Cricket On The Moon
2. Run Evil Spirit
3. Let It Rain
4. House Of Angels
5. Makumba Rock
6. African Starship
7. Kill Them Dreams Money Worshippers
8. Children Of The Light

9. Autobiography Of The Upsetter  

83 year old legendary dub producer and self-styled “dub shepherd” Lee “Scratch” Perry returns with this remarkably innovative and inventive dub reggae offering. There is a wide variety of instrumentation used on the album and various sound effects as well as the obligatory deep, rumbling dub bass rhythms. It really is a slightly different dub album, full of interesting soundscapes. Perry is not quite as bonkers as his legend (and himself) would often have you believe. He is (and always was) in total control of his work. Don’t let his crazy approach fool you.
                             
Cricket On The Moon is sort of staccato, funky dub with Perry growling his vocals gruffly, as you would expect, over an intoxicating, bassy beat. A fervent Perry tells us all to repent before an addictive wah-wah style guitar comes in. Despite its heavy bass thump, there is a sort of looseness here that is continued throughout the album.

Of all the many Dub artists, Perry has always had one of the keenest ear for a melody, and nowhere is this better exemplified than on the catchy rhythms of Run Evil Spirit, which is brought alight by some excellent saxophone, somewhat unusual for dub. Let It Rain finds the octogenarian Perry croaking over another really attractive beat, this time enhanced by some deep strings. Nobody can croak quite like Perry, apart from maybe Prince Far I. The track has a lively, dancehall “stepping” beat to it. Producer Adrian Sherwood assists Perry on all these tracks to give us a bit more than the traditional thumping dub sound popularised in the late seventies. This is dub for 2019 and very appealing it is too. The usual vows to “wipe out Babylon and drown Satan” mean that it hasn’t strayed too far from dub traditions, however.



House Of Angels uses an infectious brass backing, lots of backing vocals and a somewhat mournful vocal from Perry. He sounds old, but he sounds reassuringly wise, despite his madcap persona. It is a track absolutely overflowing with atmosphere. Makumba Rock is packed full of African-inspired rhythms and multiple animal noises (something Perry has also used in the past). It has echoes of Manu Dibango and those Cameroonian sounds that often emanate these days from the banlieues of Paris. Perry starts crying manically at a few points and the whole thing gets more than a little disconcerting. Perry for some reasons tells us that Prince Charles will be King of the United Kingdom - true, of course, but bizarrely irrelevant.

African Starship is a more traditional sounding dub with echoes of Prince Far I in the deep “chanting” style vocals. The scratchy sound is more seventies-influenced than anything else on the album. Kill Them Dreams Money Worshippers is an anti-capitalist rant, something Perry has always enjoyed delivering. It is enhanced by appealing echo and tuneful backing vocals as well as all sorts of sound effects and a lilting slow guitar skank. Children Of The Light is a brassy dub that once again uses the backing vocals strongly. Its guitar and drum interplay is superb. The old Augustus Pablo-inspired melodica is used on here too.

Autobiography Of The Upsetter is a most evocative narration by Perry of the events of his own life from his birth and upbringing in Jamaica to producing records. He references Bob MarleySusan Cadogan and Max Romeo. He also tells us of Island Records founder Chris Blackwell drinking chicken's blood, perpetuating his own mythology. Incidentally, Rainford is Perry's birth name. If this is to be Perry's final album, what a fine way to bow out.

This is a highly recommended album if you like dub, but be prepared for some fascinating and slightly different sounds. It is dub in a modern day style.



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THE BEST OF LEE "SCRATCH" PERRY (TROJAN)

  

This is quite an impressive compilation from Trojan Records covering the output of legendary, supposedly madcap, producer and studio knob twiddler Lee "Scratch" Perry, king of the Black Ark studios in Kingston, Jamaica. It differs from collections such as Arkology or Sipple Out Deh, in that, good as those ones are, they only cover the deep dub roots years from 1975-79. This one, as well as obviously including lots of stuff from that period, also features Perry's pop reggae productions for artists such as Susan Cadogan (Hurt So Good), early ska-influenced fare from The Upsetters (The Return Of DjangoDollar In The Teeth) and lighter, skanking "sweet sing" reggae from Gregory Isaacs (Mr. Cop). Perry certainly knew a poppy tune as well as he did a roots one. Junior Byles certainly falls into a similar category too. His tracks here, exemplified by The Long Way are seductive skanks. Byles had a rootsiness beneath his melody as well, though.

It is dubby roots that Perry is best known for, though, and this is here by the bucketload in crucial cuts like the atmospheric Bushweed Corntrash from Third World's Bunny Rugs, Perry's own evocative Roast Fish And Cornbread and the conscious Black Man Time. He could do lively roots too, like the upbeat, punchy Stay DreadThe HeptonesMistry Babylon is a cool, rhythmic but Rasta-motivated track. All of these differing styles within the same basic reggae format show just what a versatile producer Perry is. Check out the congas on The Meditations' intoxicating Think So or that typical Perry jangly percussion on his own Big Neck Policeman. Then you have the original, irresistible ska of Tighten Up by The Inspirations. Cool roots are here too in The GatherersWords Of My Mouth. Jazzy, soulful reggae too with Susan Cadogan's cover of FeverNeville Grant's Sick And Tired also has swing/jazz/rock'n'roll influences. No deep roots on this early and lively, good-time number.



Some of Perry's notable artists are obviously here too in Junior Murvin (Bad Weed) and Max Romeo (Sipple Out Deh/War Ina Babylon) . The Congos also appear with the typically harmonious but devout and Biblical Neckodeemus. We also get the mysterious Augustus Pablo on the strangely spooky Vibrate On (Jamaican Mix). Perry's own Soul Fire is a superb, grinding piece of heavy roots too. Junior BylesCurly Locks is just typical Perry in its backing but deliciously light in its vocal delivery. Byles really does have an appealing voice.

A track like Ital Corner by Prince Jazzbo and Max Romeo is probably archetypal roots Perry, but this collection is certainly not all material in that fashion. There are a whole host of different reggae styles present on here. It is the deep roots and infectious riddims that take most of the attention, however, unsurprisingly, but there are also some different, earlier tracks too, as mentioned, and this is what makes this one of the most truly career-covering Lee Perry compilations around.

* tracks by Lee "Scratch" Perry unless indicated otherwise

1. Return Of Django - The Upsetters
2. Hurt So Good - Susan Cadogan
3. Beat Down Babylon - Junior Byles
4. Enter The Dragon - The Upsetters
5. Tighten Up - The Inspirations
6. Words Of My Mouth - The Gatherers
7. Fever - Susan Cadogan
8. Roast Fish & Corn Bread
9. Bushweed Corntrash - Bunny Rugs & Ricky Storm
10. Mr. Cop - Gregory Isaacs
11. The Long Way - Junior Byles
12. Stay Dread
13. Mistry Babylon - The Heptones
14. Ital Corner - Prince Jazzbo & Max Romeo
15. Big Neck Policeman
16. Think So - The Meditations
17. Disco Devil - The Full Experience
18. Bad Weed - Junior Murvin
19. Sipple Out Deh - Max Romeo
20. Free Up The Prisoners
21. People Funny Boy
22. Dollar In The Teeth - The Upsetters
23. Shocks Of Mighty - Dave Barker & The Upsetters
24. A Place Called Africa - Junior Byles
25. Black Man Time
26. Three Blind Mice  Max Romeo & The Upsetters
27. Do It Baby - Susan Cadogan
28. Rejoice Jah Jah Children - The Silvertones
29. White Belly Rat
30. Bad Food  - Seke Molenga & Kalo Kawangolo
31. Ethiopia Land - Peter Lewis & Paul Lewis
32. Neckodeemus - The Congos
33. City Too Hot
34. Sons Of Slaves - Junior Delgado
35. Cross Over - Junior Murvin
36. Bionic Rats
37. Vibrate On - Augustus Pablo & The Upsetters
38. Soul Fire
39. Curly Locks - Junior Byles
40. Sick And Tired - Neville Grant

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ARKOLOGY BOX SET 

 

This is a 3CD compilation of roots reggae tracks produced by the legendary Lee "Scratch" Perry and recorded at his own Black Ark Studios in Jamaica.

DISC ONE: THE DUB ORGANISER

1. Dub Revolution Part One - Lee Perry & The Upsetters
2. One Step Forward - Max Romeo
3. One Step Dub - The Upsetters
4. Vampire - Devon Irons
5. Vamp A Dub - The Upsetters
6. Sufferer's Time - The Heptones
7. Sufferer's Dub - The Upsetters
8. Sufferer's Heights - Junior Dread
9. Don't Blame On I - The Congos
10. Much Smarter - The Meditations
11. Much Smarter Dub - The Upsetters
12. Life Is Not Easy - The Meditations
13. Life Is Not Easy Dub - The Upsetters
14. Tedious - Junior Murvin
15. War Ina Babylon - Max Romeo
16. Revelation Dub - The Upsetters
17. Mr. President - The Heptones & Jah Lion
18. Chase The Devil - Max Romeo

DISC TWO: DUB SHEPHERD 

1. Dreadlocks In Moonlight - Lee Perry

2. Dread At The Mantrols - Mikey Dread
3. In These Times - Errol Walker
4. In These Times Dub - The Upsetters
5. Norman - Max Romeo
6. Police And Thieves - Junior Murvin
7. Magic Touch - Glen DaCosta
8. Soldier And Police War - Jah Lion
9. Grumblin' Dub - The Upsetters
10. Bad Weed - Junior Murvin
11. John Public - Errol Walker
12. John Public (Version) - Errol Walker & Enos Barnes
13. Roots Train - Junior Murvin
14. No Peace - The Meditations
15. No Peace Dub - The Upsetters
16. Rasta Train - Raphael Green
17. Party Time Part 2 - The Upsetters

DISC THREE: DUB ADVENTURER

1. Vibrate On - Augustus Pablo

2. Vibrator - The Upsetters
3. Bird In Hand - The Upsetters
4. Congoman - The Congos
5. Dyon Anasawa - The Upsetters
6. Rastaman Shuffle - The Upsetters
7. Why Must I - The Heptones
8. Make Up Your Mind - The Heptones
9. Closer Together - The Upsetter Review
10. Groovy Situation - Keith Rowe
11. Groovy Dub - The Upsetters
12. To Be A Lover (Have Some Mercy) - George Faith
13. Soul Fire - Lee Perry
14. Curly Locks - Lee Perry
15. The Feast Of The Passover - The Congos
16. Roast Fish & Cornbread - Lee Perry
17. Corn Fish Dub - The Upsetters

Although it purports to be a career-spanning anthology, it is not quite so. Most of the material is drawn from the classic roots reggae/punk crossover period of 1975-1979.  Perry produced a lot of stuff before those dates, but a lot of that would have been in the vein of Susan Cadogan's Hurt So Good - classic 70s reggae singles. The emphasis on here is definitely on the roots - Rasta consciousness material railing against Babylon, praising Jah and warning of "weepin', wailin' and a gnashin' of teet' ..", as exemplified on Rasta Train" by Raphael Green & Dr. Alimantado. That is not a bad thing as that is the period which probably saw the "dub" side of Perry, the master of studio experimentation, at its finest. If you think of Scratch, you think of him as a master of dub and roots cuts - big, bassy, pounding, speaker thumping, echoey, with that jangling percussion sound and innovative instrumentation such as the use of the melodica. Vibrator by The Upsetters definitely falls into this category. Notting Hill Carnival material, just as darkness is falling and those speakers start to vibrate under the Westway and the atmosphere gets just a little menacing. Another in this vein is the mesmerising Vibrate On which features Augustus Pablo on melodica. Life Is Not Easy Dub by The Vibrators is an example of a full, powerful, bassy dub, with weird animal noises and some "toasting" style vocals over a skanking guitar and thumping drum rhythm.

The rootsy classics on here are many - Max Romeo's iconic War Ina Babylon with its "Sipple Out Deh" refrain and One Step Forward, also Errol Walker's John Public. Then there are the several different incarnations of Junior Murvin's Police And Thieves riddim - the track itself, plus Soldier And Police War; the dub of Grumblin' Dub and Glen Da Costa's alluring saxophone version Magic Touch. Perry's Soul Fire, Curly Locks and the wonderfully atmospheric Dreadlocks In Moonlight are excellent contributions from the man himself, as also is the delightful Roast Fish & Cornbread. Then there is the classic Congoman by The Congos, Junior Murvin's Tedious and, in case all the roots and Rasta vibe is becoming too much then there is the marvellous, romantic almost "Lovers' Rock" of George Faith's To Be A Lover(Have Some Mercy). Do not forget The Heptones' uplifting, almost anthemic Sufferer's Time either.

A lot of the tracks are dubby versions of vocal tracks from the album, such as Revelation Dub which is the dub version of War Ina Babylon. Rather than plough through all of the compilation, a good thing to do is put it on "shuffle" and play half an hours' worth of righteous roots reggae.

 

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Tuesday, 16 April 2019

Curtis Mayfield



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The albums covered here are:-

Curtis (1970)
Roots (1971)
Superfly (1972)
Back To The World (1973)
Sweet Exorcist (1974)
Got To Find A Way (1974)
There's No Place Like America Today (1975)
Give, Get, Take & Have (1976)
Never Say You Can't Survive (1977)
and Do It All Night (1978)

Scroll down to read the reviews.

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CURTIS (1970)

1. (Don't Worry) If There's A Hell Below, We're All Gonna Go
2. The Other Side Of Town
3. The Makings Of You
4. We The People Who Are Darker Than Blue
5. Move On Up
6. Miss Black America
7. Wild And Free
8. Give It Up   

Along with Sly & The Family Stone and the "psychedelic" era Temptations, up there at the very forefront of black social consciousness artists was Curtis Mayfield. Before Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On", this album really shouted it out - loud and proud. Curtis knew somethin' bad was goin' down, brothers and sisters, and he used his exhilarating falsetto and supa-funky backing to let us know.
                                                  
The opener (Don't Worry) If There's A Hell Below, We're All Gonna Go is an eight minute remarkable piece of melodious, funky protest music. It cooks, big time. "We're gonna go..Lord what we gonna do..."

The Other Side Of Town may have a nice string-dominated backing, but it is a dark song about depression and living on the wrong side of the tracks. The future is bleak. Against the backdrop of such a beautiful, soulful backing, Curtis gets his bitter message across. The Makings Of You sees Curtis in a more relaxed frame of mind, a romantic, beautifully orchestrated ballad.

We The People Who Are Darker Than Blue is another in the dark vein, but the spirits are also lifted by the well-known and much-covered strains of Move On Up. Miss Black America is a touching song about the aspirations of his young daughter to be seen as black and beautiful. Sounds awful that she would even have to think that today, but it represented real progress in the early 1970s to have such a competition. Wild And Free is not the best track on here, over-orchestrated, to be honest. It does, however contain the memorable line "respect for the steeple, power to the people". Give It Up is a horn-driven soul number to finish and raises the mood a bit. Nice bass underpinning it.

 

One can't help but think that the cornerstones of HellThe Other Side Of Town and Darker Than Blue are the ones upon which this album and its message rests.

A seminal album in the history of black music, but not one that always gets mentioned.

This remastered release has the best sound I have heard so far for this album. It has always been a bit tinny, what with all the orchestration. This redresses the balance and brings a subtle bass into the sound, thankfully.



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ROOTS (1971)

1. Get Down
2. Keep On Keeping On
3. Underground
4. We Got To Have Peace
5. Beautiful Brother Of Mine
6. Now You're Gone
7. Love To Keep You In My Mind                    
After an excellent debut album in 1970's CurtisCurtis Mayfield followed it up with an album that many consider is his What's Going On - a visionary mixture of sweet soul, funky rhythm and social message. It was one of a fine batch of similar, conscious soul albums of the period. It is not all political sensibility, however, as Mayfield always liked a pure love song too. The album is up there with the afore-mentioned Marvin Gaye album and the contemporary output from The TemptationsThe Undisputed Truth and Bill Withers in the ranks of the great early seventies "aware" soul albums.

Mayfield looks marvellously incongruous on the cover, posing in a typically seventies suit by what appears to be a mock-up of an African hut. Maybe it is a real one. The back cover shows him on modern stone steps outside a modern house, so the message he is trying to convey is clear and a pertinent one, however.

Get Down is a full on piece of funky groove to open the album with, Mayfield's typical congas providing an infectious backing, together with a rumbling bass, panting female vocals and funky guitar over Mayfield's slightly deeper voice that he uses for the funkier numbers. It has echoes of Marvin Gaye's What's Going On about it in its backing, although it is funkier and faster. Keep On Keeping On carries an inspirational message from an artist who never went too long on his albums without giving out solid wisdom for life. It is a beautiful song, both lyrically and musically. It is a fine piece of early seventies credible soul. Check out the superbly funky ending part too. Wonderful wah-wah guitar sounds that almost sound like native Australian music.

 

Underground is a marvellous slice of urban funk, similar to Don't Worry If There's a Hell Below..., packed full of portent and preacher-like sermonising about what will happen if we get it wrong. All this backed by some searing, rock-influenced electric guitar, those congas once more and a pounding, fatback drum funky beat. We Got To Have Peace is just glorious - upbeat, soulful but poppy, energetic and inspirational. One of Curtis's best ever tracks, for me. Beautiful Brother Of Mine brings back the funk big time on a cookin', insistent number with some great bass, drums and backing vocals. Solid, pumping stuff. Lush strings merge with serious funk to help achieve Mayfield's  intention of taking soul music to a different level. Once again, the electric guitar on the track is sublime.

Now You're Gone is the first of two more laid-back love-inspired numbers. It is full of sweeping strings over a constant bass line and punchy horns. Killer electric guitar enhances the song again too. Love To Keep You In My Mind is a lush, romantic slice of sweet soul to end the album with. Backed by luscious strings, intoxicating congas and melodic bass, it is certainly not a socially-conscious number, it is a full-on love song. Mayfield's falsetto vocal is at its soulful, soaring best.

Despite many moments of brilliance, the album doesn't quite have the cohesion of What's Going On, which plays better as one complete concept. It is probably Mayfield's finest creation though and is well up there, no doubt about that. This was seriously good soul music.



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SUPERFLY (1972)

1. Little Child Runnin' Wild
2. Pusherman
3. Freddie's Dead
4. Junkie Chase
5. Give Me Your Love
6. Eddie You Should Know Better
7. No Thing On Me
8. Think
9. Superfly     

This is a ground-breaking "blaxploitation" movie soundtrack album that, along with Isaac HayesShaft is up there as one of the finest representatives of its genre. While Shaft was a musical masterpiece of an album, this one contained more full songs and stands up as a straight-up soul album in its own right, irrespective of being a movie soundtrack. The theme was one of social deprivation leading to drug abuse and tells stories from the perspective of both the users and the dealers. It builds on issues dealt with by The Temptations, The Undisputed Truth, Bill Withers and Marvin Gaye and it goes even further. There is a convincing argument that this is the best "aware" soul album of the early seventies, if not of all time. Also, although both Curtis and Roots were great albums, this really takes some beating. The sound on it is full, deep and funky, with less string orchestration than on those two albums. It is certainly Mayfield's grittiest, funkiest offering.
                                             
Little Child Running Wild is a hard-hitting, funky percussion-driven magnificent opener, with apparent similarities, lyrically, it would seem, to The TemptationsRunaway Child Running Wild. However, Mayfield's song is autobiographical (for the movie's character), speaking of his deprived upbringing, whereas The Temptations' one is a narrative take of a young child on the streets. Pusherman is a sublime, beautiful piece of rhythmic, bassy funk with Mayfield's iconic falsetto giving us an uncompromising first-person description of the life of a "pusherman", hustling drugs on the streets - himself a "victim of ghetto demands". Mayfield takes a depressingly realistic view of things and, to an extent, the wonderful, atmospheric funk of the song's melody almost glorifies the pusherman, simply because the music describing him is so damn good. Mayfield views the issues from the point of view of the criminal which was a unique thing to do in 1972. Socially aware material had only been around in soul music for four years or so and for Mayfield to sing and compose from this perspective was certainly adventurous and risk-taking in the extreme. The balance is restored, however, in the sad tale that is Freddie's Dead, about a life snuffed out but not by drugs, but run over by a car. It is all linked though, but you get the impression that the song just shrugs its shoulders at another death on these mean streets. The music is once again excellent - funky flute, shuffling drums, sweeping strings and "chicka-chicka" wah-wah guitars.

 

After these three stonking openers, we are reminded that this is a movie soundtrack album with the brief funky wah-wah and horns groove of Junkie Chase. Very Blaxploitation. Give Me Your Love once more features some totally delicious instrumentation. Man, those wah-wahs. The sound is so good as well. Fantastically clear yet deep and warm too. Mayfield's vocal takes a while to arrive and because the music is so good, you don't notice. When it comes it just makes it all even better.

Eddie You Should Know Better is a short, soulful song clearly written for the movie. It is excellent, however, full of atmosphere. No Thing On Me is a sumptuous piece of funky soul with Mayfield's character in a positive mood, claiming now to lead a clean life - "you don't have to be no junkie....my life's a natural high..." is the admirable sentiment - "sure is funky, I ain't no junkie...". Things seem to be looking up, thankfully. A bit of redemption. That positivity continues in the beautiful instrumental groove of Think. This features some lovely saxophone near the end.

Finally, we get the barnstorming brassy funk of Superfly, a true blaxploitation classic, that appears on every compilation of the genre. Although the album is only thirty-seven minutes in length, every second is dripping with atmosphere. Truly one of the best soul/funk albums of all time. Essential.



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BACK TO THE WORLD (1973)

1. Back In The World
2. Future Shock
3. Right On For The Darkness
4. Future Song
5. If I Only Were A Child Again
6. Can't Say Nothin'
7. Keep On Trippin'            

After the huge, and somewhat unexpected success of the ultra-funky blaxploitation soundtrack, Superfly, this album reverted to the heavily-orchestrated, lush, brassy soul sounds of Mayfield's first two solo albums, Curtis and Roots. There is still some solid funk around, but it is less gritty and pounding than on Superfly, which is a shame, to be honest. Mayfield's message is still one of concern for the contemporary world, both societal and environmental. The album is only seven tracks long, and is decidedly uncommercial. In that respect, it is considered something of a failure, which is unfair, as it contains some credible songs, just no catchy Superfly-style numbers. Mayfield was certainly not going to let up on his message, and indeed, didn't until 1977, when he started to dabble in disco. It was hard-hitting, urban, conscious funk/soul all the way.
                            
Back In The World is a typical pice of smooth, falsetto-dominated lush Mayfield soul, similar to some of the material on Curtis and RootsFuture Shock features some delicious funky wah-wah guitar and some punchy horns. It is one of the album's tracks that is most similar to the Superfly material. This time though, Mayfield is saying "we got to stop the man from messing up the land...". Inspired by Alvin Toffler's 1970 book, the song contains warnings for more than just drug dealers, but for the whole world. Right On For The Darkness is a deep, industrial strength funky chugger, lightened only by some sweeping strings. Personally, I would have preferred it without the strings, just keeping the funk, which is heavy.

 

Future Song is  religious-themed, laid-back slice of sweet soul that a probably a minute or so too long. The tempo is upped, however, with the Move On Up-ish fast groove of If I Only Were A Child Again. The horns and the percussion rhythm are great on this one. Can't Say Nothin'  is a wonderful helping of brassy funk, with an almost swamp-blues style riff underpinning it. Mayfield's vocals are only incidental on what is essentially an excellent instrumental. A few more vocals arrive at the end, however, but it is still largely a musical outing. Keep On Trippin' ends the album with a melodic and soulful number that sees Mayfield's falsetto hitting those top notes once more. There is a hint of Motown in the song's verse structure.

While this is not a Curtis Mayfield essential, it is certainly not inessential either, if that doesn't sound too silly. It is not a poppy album, but, as with all his early/mid seventies offerings, it has serious credibility.



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SWEET EXORCIST (1974)

1. Ain't Got Time
2. Sweet Exorcist
3. To Be Invisible
4. Power To The People
5. Kung Fu
6. Suffer
7. Make Me Believe In You    

By 1974, you knew what you were going to get from Curtis Mayfield - six or seven tracks on an album, a mixture of orchestrated sweet soul and wah-wah guitar, horn-driven urban funk. The social message was launched in 1970 and it is still strongly there. Unfortunately, the fact that seven similar albums were released between 1970 and 1975 tends to dilute the effect somewhat and some of these albums have ended up slightly overlooked, which is a bit of a pity, as they are all impressive.

This one is a bit more soulful and laid-back and the consciousness is ever so slightly downplayed in favour of a more romantic approach.
                
Ain't Got Time is a superb, deep, funky opener. Full of atmosphere, wah-wah, solid drums and Curtis's sweet vocal dishing out the wise advice. There is a Temptations feel to the track in many ways. Mayfield's voice is just a little deeper than on some of his songs, and it lends the song more gravitas. Sweet Exorcist starts as a lush soul number before it morphs into a deep, heavy funk chug on its chorus.

To Be Invisible is a sensitive, slow burning sweet soul number, one of Mayfield's smoothest numbers for quite a while. As with all his songs, a deep wisdom underpins the lyrics, even on the love songs. Curtis was a serious, deep-thinking man.

  

Power To The People has a slight Staple Singers gospel-influenced feel to it. The interplay between the horns, drums and Mayfield's voice is instinctively effortless. Kung Fu is a delicious slice of appetising, tasty funk in the Superfly style. Suffer is a soul ballad in the O'Jays/Harold Melvin style. There is not much that can be said to analyse material like this, other than it sounds great, facile as that sounds. If you like soul music you will like it, simple as that. Make Me Believe In You sees the sublime funk return on another infectious groove.

As I said at the beginning, you know what you're going to get by now. If you like it, these are good albums, all of them, in their own right. You an't go wrong with any of them. If you just want to dabble in Curtis Mayfield, then Superfly and Roots would be good places to start.



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GOT TO FIND A WAY (1974)

1. Love Me (Right In The Pocket)
2. So You Don't Love Me
3. A Prayer
4. Mother's Son
5. Cannot Find A Way
6. Ain't No Love Lost     

This was Curtis Mayfield's second album of 1974 and, on this one, even more than on its predecessor, Sweet Exorcist, he abandons his hard-hitting "message" numbers and replaces them with his take on love. Unsurprisingly, it is both a wise and downtrodden one. Curtis was never really comfortable with pure pop or pure "I love you, girl" sentiments. It is always more like "you used to love me girl, what went wrong?" There is far less funk on here too, more strings and sweet soul sounds than Superfly-style gritty funk. For that reason, for me, this is a somewhat unremarkable album and one that just sort of washes over you, although, at certain times, there is nothing wrong with that. The album has been virtually forgotten in Mayfield's canon, it has to be said, however.
                                
Love Me (Right In The Pocket) is typical Mayfield funk/soul to open the album with, although this time the funk is aimed at a girl Mayfield is after, as opposed to warning about pushermen or future shock. So You Don't Love Me is a strings-dominated, lush smoocher of a tune that still has Mayfield's cynical-about-love lyrics, however. A Prayer is a smooth, falsetto-driven soul number. Is it time for some copper-bottomed Mayfield funk? Of course it is, and, thankfully, it hasn't been abandoned completely, as Mother's Son, with its heavy, thumping funk intro proves. It is probably the best cut on the album, full of atmosphere and deep funk. Killer guitar too. The bass/drum/lead guitar interplay near the end is sublime.

Cannot Find A Way has a message to it over its slow burning light funk beat, although the vocal is a bit low down in the mix. Ain't No Love Lost confirms that the old side two is funkier than side one, but it ends too soon and is is somewhat unremarkable.

Curtis would return in 1975, channelling his Superfly/Roots socially aware thing once more on the excellent, uncompromising There's No Place Like America Today. This album trod water just a little. It is not a bad one, by any means, but there are better ones either side of it.

 

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THERE'S NO PLACE LIKE AMERICA TODAY (1975)

1. Billy Jack
2. When Seasons Change
3. So In Love
4. Jesus
5. Blue Monday People
6. Hard Times
7. Love To The People         
                                
This is definitely one of the great, underrated “social comment” albums of the 70s. It probably doesn’t have as clearly delineated a social message as say earlier albums like Curtis and Roots did, but the songs are all mature, thoughtful compositions and observations on contemporary urban society are never far away, particularly in the gun violence of the funky opener, Billy Jack, or the poverty an unfair taxation of When Seasons ChangeHard Times, with its hypnotic, slow burning funk backing, and the mellifluous Blue Monday People are similar in approach and conviction. There is a case for Hard Times being one of Mayfield’s finest ever tracks.

The single release, the soulful So In Love lifts the sombre, reflective mood a little. Mayfield’s beautiful falsetto soars over a crystal clear backing. Indeed, the sound on this album is outstanding throughout. Sharp, clear cymbals, rich, rumbling bass and undistorted horns. Nowhere is this better exemplified than on this track.

The spiritual is never far from Mayfield’s thinking, and the gospelly Jesus provides this. Again, some great cymbal work on this and some inspiring guitar parts too. Lovely bass line as the song builds up half way through.

Just seven tracks on this album, the tracks are all substantial and one is not left feeling hard done by. An under appreciated piece of work.



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GIVE, GET, TAKE & HAVE (1976)

1. In Your Arms Again (Shake It)
2. This Love Is Sweet
3. PS (I Love You)
4. Party Night
5. Get A Little Bit 
6. Soul Music
7. Only You Babe
8. Mr. Welfare Man     

After the potent socio-political run of albums in Curtis, Roots, Superfly, Back To The World and the previous year’s There’s No Place Like America TodayCurtis Mayfield went all soulful with this predominantly laid-back collection of loved-up tributes to his new love.
           
Mr. Welfare Man is the only “comment” song that acts as an antidote to all the saccharine on show, but no matter, it is a pleasant late-night album. Immaculately played with excellent sound quality. Tracks like PS I Love YouIn Your Arms Again, the falsetto of Only You Babe and the disco groove of Party Night offer a lighter alternative to all that urban decay as expressed on previous works. In a way, it is nice to hear Mayfield in a more relaxed vein, just for a change.

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NEVER SAY YOU CAN'T SURVIVE (1977)

1. Show Me Love
2. I Just Want To Be With You
3. When We're Alone
4. Never Say You Can't Survive
5. I'm Gonna Win Your Love
6. All Night Long
7. When You Used To Be Mine
8. Sparkle       

This was the last proper soul album Curtis Mayfield would release for a while, before taking the disco dollar for a while, and it is a really good one. While the hard-hitting social comment of the early seventies had unfortunately been left behind, his venture into melodic, lush, sweet soul was an appealing one. The sound quality on the album is excellent too.
                                            
Show Me Love is a delicious serving of Al Green-esque, horn-driven sweet soul, with Mayfield's trademark falsetto to the fore. It benefits from a sumptuous saxophone solo at the end. Nice track. I Just Want To Be With You is a beautiful and rhythmic slow soul groove.

When We're Alone is even more appetising, perfect easy listening soul. As I said, it is a bit of a shame that Curtis was no longer putting the world to rights, but taken for what it is, this luscious soul fare is top quality.

  

Never Say You Can't Survive is a slow-paced but punchy horn-powered up beat soul ballad. We get our first taste of funk with the intro to I'm Gonna Win Your Love. The song continues as a merging of sweet soul and gentle brassy funk, with some harmonious backing vocals. All Night Long is more a straight-ahead soul ballad, with those sublime horns once more. They are even more powerful in When You Used To Be MineSparkle is a late-night, laid-back slowie to end the album on.

While all the tracks are most pleasant, forty minutes of them is more than enough. You eventually long for a bit of Mayfield's earlier power or funk. I prefer the albums from the early seventies, but as an example of peaceful, unthreatening, quality smoochy soul, this does just fine.



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DO IT ALL NIGHT (1978)

1. Do It All Night Long
2. No Goodbyes
3. Party Party
4. Keep Me Loving You
5. In Love In Love In Love
6. You Are You Are    

Curtis Mayfield totally abandoned his "message" based, socially-aware urban funk/soul and went full-on disco for this album, released in the middle of the 1977-79 disco boom. Yes, there are still a few funky guitar parts here and there and Mayfield's falsetto hasn't changed, but the album's six tracks are largely heavily orchestrated disco stompers of lush soul ballads. The Isley Brothers went the same way at the same time too. Not a Pusherman, Billy Jack or Superfly in earshot of this one. Those early/mid seventies characters are long gone, in jail or drugged-out, no doubt. It is the hedonistic disco groove that matters now, and the energy to do it all night. It is a bit of a shame that Mayfield ended up by the end of the decade doing stuff like this, but as he was still Curtis Mayfield, it was certainly classy disco. You can't help but think, however, that Mayfield would never, ever have recorded anything like this between 1970 and 1976, he would have rejected it outright. The album duly alienated Mayfield's long-time fan base and, significantly, failed to win him many new ones either.
                  
Do It All Night Long is over eight minutes of typical disco string orchestration, rhythmic percussion, pounding drums, female backing vocals trading off against Mayfield and some funky guitar lines. No Goodbyes has that archetypal, sweeping disco backing that featured on so many songs and movie soundtracks. The rhythm is infectious, however, with those backing vocals again dominating. Mayfield's vocal is almost incidental to the groove of the track. The problem with Mayfield is that he wasn't poppy enough to construct perfect three minute Disco Inferno- type floor shakers, he was still far too sincere and serious an artist to go completely pop. What you get, then, is a strange hybrid of material that wants to be disco pop but still retains that desire to be viewed as credible. I referred to The Isley Brothers earlier, and they suffered from the same problem. No Goodbyes could never be a hit single. It duly wasn't.

The lively, danceable Party Party is virtually sung by the backing singers and is barely comprehensible as being a Curtis Mayfield track. The guitar line is decidedly upbeat and funky, though. As well-crafted disco goes, I cannot help but like it, taken in isolation. It has an addictive Chic-esque percussion and bass interplay near the end. Mayfield returns to tell us that "all we need is funk". Never mind what is wrong with America today for Curtis now, unfortunately.

The old "side two" sees the mood get a bit more laid-back and soulful with firstly, Keep Me Loving You and then In Love In Love In Love, which is a bit of a throwback to Mayfield's previous romantic numbers, albeit here with even more lush orchestration and a nice piano in there too. You Are You Are is a slight return to the disco groove, reminiscent of Harold Melvin & The Blue NotesThe Love I Lost in its refrain and there you go, the album is over in the flash of a glitterball. It was pleasant enough, but most people accept that this was not representative of Mayfield's best work.



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                            CURTIS MAYFIELD

                                   1942-1999

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