Saturday, 23 November 2019

Chaka Khan



Chaka (1978)


I’m Every Woman/Love Has Fallen On Me/Roll Me Through The Rushes/Sleep On It/Life Is Dance/We Got The Love/Some Love/A Woman In A Man’s World/The Message In The Middle Of The Bottom/I Was Made To Love Him          

Full of respect from many due to her sterling work with funkers RufusChaka Khan took the soul world by storm with this excellent debut solo album of chunky, muscular soul/funk led off by the now iconic, vibrant disco soul of I’m Every Woman. Other highlights are the brassy funk of Life Is A Dance and Sleep On It. The backing is superb throughout - check out some of those bass runs and it goes without saying that Chaka’s soaring voice dominates throughout. 

Her performance in the towering Andrew Lloyd Webber song Love Has Fallen On Me is stunning. There are also some well-known musicians on here - drummer Steve Ferrone, guitarist Phil Upchurch and brass exponents the Brecker Brothers, Michael and Randy. 
                            
Roll Me Through The Rushes is warm, moving and beautifully soulful. It is the album's tenderest moment. We Got The Love is a perfect slice of late seventies late night disco-ish funky soul. Once more, just let that bass boom into your consciousness.

Listen to the intro on Some Love, together with that intoxicating funky wah-wah guitar and what sounds like a squawking saxophone (looking on the credits, it is a flugelhorn) - great stuff. It has to be said that on all the tracks, brass, drums, bass, keyboards and Chaka’s voice are in faultless sync.



A Woman In A Man’s World is catchy and poppy, very enjoyable but obviously carries a serious message with it too. This sister was keen to let us know she was doing it for herself. It may sound trite now, but in 1978 it was pertinent and culturally relevant.

The strangely-titled The Message In The Middle Of The Bottom is a nice, deep piece of atmospheric, rumbling, shuffling funk with Chaka’s voice deeper and more sensual. 

I Was Made To Love Him is Chaka’s gender-appropriate, funked-up interpretation of Stevie Wonder’s sixties hit.

There are not huge paragraphs one can write about albums like this, as I might with a David Bowie album, for example, other than it is packed full of jazzy, funky soul of the highest quality. It serves as nice evening music, either as background or cranked up.


Naughty (1980)


Clouds/Get Ready, Get Set/Move Me No Mountain/Nothing's Gonna Take You Away/So Naughty/Too Much Love/All Night's All Right/What You Did/Papillon (Hot Butterfly)/Our Love's Danger 
      
This was Chaka Khan's second solo album and it continues with the same large group of quality musicians that had made her debut solo work so successful. It is another helping of sublime soul, some of it disco-oriented, some of it jazzy, some of it funky and some sweet. The one constant, of course, is Chaka's soaring voice. It doesn't pull up any trees but it is what it is - quality soul from a consummate artist.
                          
Clouds is a steady, upbeat pop/funk opener with a disco-ish groove and solid backing and Chaka's voice doing the now expected vocal gymnastics. Less harshly brassy and more laid-back and bassy is the late night soul of Get Ready Get Set. From its title you might imagine it to be a fast number but it is a slow smoocher. Move Me No Mountain has a nice, warm soft funk backing and a sensual, jazzy vocal.

 

Nothing's Gonna Take You Away is mid-pace soul with a slight funky feel and a nice slap-bass bit near the end plus some saxophone which fades out too soon, merging into the jazz funk of So Naughty. Songs like this wrote the blueprint for 1980s laid-back, sensual funky soul. So many groups and artists followed suit for a good ten years. The song also features some impressive saxophone. 

Too Much Love is pretty standard upbeat jazz-funk fare while All Night's All Right features some killer funky bass lines. There is some excellent drum/bass interplay half way through. For me this is definitely the album's best track.



As with the first album, albums like this do not give a huge bunch of opportunities for writing about them, a bit like dub reggae albums. You know what you are going to get and for its forty minutes it does its job. There are not obvious differences between the tracks to inspire comments on each one. The album functions more as one complete whole of pleasant relaxing soul, nothing more, nothing less. It is not a soul album in the style of, say, Stevie Wonder's Innervisions, or an earthy funker like The Eliminators' Loving Explosion, it is an exercise in soulful funk rhythms, both fast and slow, but mainly upbeat. It reminds me a bit of when Curtis Mayfield "went disco", what he put out then was certainly no Roots or There's No Place Like America Today. The album also lacks the vibrant female consciousness of I'm Every Woman and for me it is slightly the lesser album of the first two. The title of "Naughty" is something of a misnomer, too, as there is no Millie Jackson-style raunch to be found. As I said, though, take it for what is and have an enjoyable, but unchallenging forty minutes.


Wat'cha Gonna Do For Me (1981)


We Can Work It Out/What'cha Gonna Do For Me/I Know You, I Live You/Any Old Sunday/We Got Each Other/And The Melody Still Lingers On (Night In Tunisia)/Night Moods/Heed The Warning/Father He Said/Fate/I Know You, I Live You (Reprise)      

This was the third of the impressive first three Arif Mardin produced solo albums of brassy and funky disco soul from Yvette Stevens (otherwise known as Chaka Khan). In my opinion, it is probably the best of the three. The album has a mainly slowish-pace, subtly funky, smooth and slick groove dominating most of it. It is dim the lights music and very redolent of its period. It is her last album of typical seventies jazzy funk before the electronic "r'n'b" sounds of the mid-eighties took over. In that respect, it is a very good example of its genre.
              
After a slow, soulful beginning, The BeatlesWe Can Work It Out breaks out into a big, brassy version that is similar to Stevie Wonder's cover of the same song, but with Chaka giving it the full funky range on her vocals. If anything it betters Wonder's version. The rubbery bass line is great too. 

What'cha Gonna Do For Me is credited to Chaka Khan and Rufus and is a perfect slice of jazzy soul/funk with a pounding beat to it as well.

 

I Know You, I Live You is a delicious slow-cooking gently funky number featuring some impressive bass from Anthony Jackson and drums from the experienced Steve Ferrone. It is a nice, easy piece of classy, polished disco. Chaka deals with this sort of material effortlessly, it is her trademark. It just has that feeling of something that comes on the car radio late at night in the early eighties. It just sums up that era for me. The lights on the dashboard, the street lights, the glistening wet road and Chaka's vocals.

Any Old Sunday continues the laid-back, slow tempo groove on another most enjoyable track. Some rhythmic, funky drums and guitar introduces the melodic, catchy disco funk vibe of We Got Each Other while And The Melody Still Lingers On (Night In Tunisia) is a jazzy prototype of The Jones GirlsNights Over Egypt. I am not quite sure which track came first, as both were released in 1981. Either way it taps into that whole Midnight At The Oasis thing and harks back to the 1940s and Dizzy Gillespie/Charlie Parker. The track features some nice jazzy keyboards and some seriously wailing Chaka vocals. It is the classiest track on the album and the most innovative as well.

An apt title for the album would have been Night Moods, and the track of that name is an alluring, archetypally after dark number. 

Heed The Warning ups the beat a little on an appealing smooth shuffler while Father He Said continues in the same vein, and Fate is an infectious serving of tuneful but also kick-ass funk. A brief funky, brass-driven reprise of I Know You, I Live You ends this quality album. It is very 1981 and makes me want to roll back the years to my early twenties.


Chaka Khan (1982)


Tearin’ It Up/Slow Dancin’/Best In The West/Got To Be There/Be Bop Medley/Twisted/So Not To Worry/Pass It On (A Sure Thing) (Paso Lo Esta Seguro)           

This album started to be influenced by the synthesiser-drenched eighties and there are keyboards all over the place - taking away quite a lot of the natural funk of the Chaka album, for example, which remains as her most authentic, earthy offering, by far. She is descending into the realms of disco pop  by now, although some of of her natural jazzy funk instinct still shines through. Commercial soul music was changing, though, from the lush strings or brassy sounds of the seventies to the colder electro-funk of the urban-dominated eighties. As regards my own personal taste, this was not so good. Chaka Khan, however, managed to ride the waves and remain credible.

Tearin’ It Up is a six minute plus opener, with some lively funk/brass backing and a soaring saxophone solo. It has a slick disco/soul vibe to it. 

Slow Dancin’, featuring disco artist Rick James, is a good one, with a slow burning backbeat, some sensual funk and unsurprisingly impressive vocals. It is a shame that many if the funky sounds of the late seventies have been replaced by synthesisers, however. This song would have sounded far funkier in 1978. There is still a nice, chunky riffy edge to it in places, though.

 

Best In The West is an appealing little funker with some attractive guitar and piano together with a killer harmonica solo and some gunshot sound affects to go with the “West” of the title. 

Chaka’s cover of Michael Jackson’s Got To Be There has its good points, but it doesn’t quite work for me, particularly on the over-shrieked “world” and “home” bits. Some people love these examples of vocal gymnastics, but I find them unnecessarily indulgent. The song was going fine without them.

The Be Bop Medley has Chaka re-exploring her her love for jazz and, while I am not the biggest fan of “scat” vocalising, this medley has its appeal. Chaka moves effortlessly between the several snippets of songs covered and the backing’s merging of funk with jazz is truly excellent. 

Twisted has a deep, mysterious mood to it, with some almost Ultravox-style keyboards driving it along and those accursed eighties synth drums. It is one of the album’s most atmospheric tracks, all the same.



So Not To Worry is a nice piece of late evening funky soul while Pass It On (A Sure Thing) (Paso Lo Esta Seguro) goes overboard on the brackets in the title. Musically, though, it is a solid, infectiously upbeat serving of early eighties funk with a bit more of a feel of the late seventies material about it. In conclusion, this is a good album, but one very much of its time. I still feel the Chaka album has more of a gritty, funkier sound to it. A final point worth making is that none of Chaka Khan’s albums have ever been remastered, so they all suffer somewhat from an indistinct, slightly muffled sound that is nowhere near as bright or warm as it might be. This one actually sounds better on headphones than through the main speakers. An album like this sounds very much like an eighties CDs, which is, of course, what it is - unchanged since then. Listen to The Average White Band's remasters mid seventies output as an example of how much better old albums can now sound. Sonically, they put this and the other Chaka Khan albums to shame.


I Feel For You (1984)


This Is My Night/Stronger Than Before/My Love Is Alive/Eye To Eye/La Flamme/I Feel For You/Hold Her/Through The Fire/Caught In The Act/Chinatown                                  
As I said in the previous review, soul music was changing, and by 1984, nobody wanted the sumptuous strings of Philadelphia or Detroit’s tambourines. Even gritty Blaxploitation-style funk was no longer de rigeur. It was all urban electro-funk and hip-hop. Soul artists were faced when the choice of moving with the times or getting left behind. It was a real shame, but Chaka Khan managed it and this offering is very much in that 1984 vein. It is very different from the earthy funk of her seventies Rufus days or indeed from her 1978 Chaka album. A lot of the grittiness has been sacrificed at the altar of slick polished eighties professionalism, making it feel slightly detached.

The tone is set from the dramatic keyboard surges and pounding synth drums of the opener, This Is My Night, which is just so very mid-eighties. One thing that does strike me at this point is that the sound quality is infinitely superior to that of any of the previous albums. In that way, the album claws back some of the warmth it may have lost due to its smoothness. 

Stronger Than Before is an archetypal eighties r’n’b ballad of the sort that inspired endless tracks for the next thirty years and more. Sonically impressive it may be but it doesn’t linger too long in the memory.

 

My Love Is Alive is a frantic piece of electro pop. I actually find it quirkily appealing, despite its clumsy “dance” repeated synthetic drum beats. This was Chaka attempting to keep her finger on the pulse and going contemporary. Her voice ensures she succeeds, of course. In many ways, though, I wish she had kept with old style funk. 

Eye To Eye is more of a return to the sort of thing we had come to expect and is a solid serving of slow, rhythmic soul. It is embellished by some good electric guitar, unusually for this album and some infectious “chicka chicka” funky backing guitar strums.

La Flamme has a muscular, staccato beat that makes it a lively, attractive number, as far as eighties electro-funkers go. Look, it is ok, but far too blighted by synthesisers to be anywhere near perfect for me. It features the seemingly ubiquitous contemporary trend of "scratching"

The huge hit on this album was I Feel For You, a cover of a Prince song from his second album from 1979. Beginning with some rap from Melle Mel it launches into an irresistible groove enhanced by Stevie Wonder’s instantly recognisable chromatic harmonica. It is also packed full of intoxicating, cleverly-programmed keyboard runs. It is the best track on the album, by far.

Hold Her is standard disco-ish soul from the period and Through The Fire is the same for sweet, lush soul romance. While both tracks are fine, they are nothing memorable. 

Caught In The Act has a bit of a jazzy, mysterious undercurrent to it hat makes it slightly different, a bit Parisian in style. 

Chinatown is a powerful and enjoyable electric funk stomp to end an album that was very much one of its time. Overall, it is a good album, viewed within its chronological context.




No comments:

Post a comment