Tag Archives: James Brown

495. Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears – “Tell ’em what your name is!”

One of my three readers mentioned she was missing my reviews, so here I am back again…

Our stay in New York saw us pick up a variety of new CDs from the A-L section.  This here is one of two from an Austin band I’d never heard of before, but can’t seem to stop recommending.

This soul-funk collection takes a fresh, modern approach to some very familiar sounds.  It’s all horns, funky bass, call and responses, shouted choruses and a big, raw vibe.

We caught these guys on stage in NYC and they are absolute crowd-pleasers. It’s not surprising they are becoming festival regulars down under (and elsewhere).  The work is super approachable.  Energy levels are high and happy.

This is the sort of work you could imagine a young James Brown pumping out (there’s even a track with the “please, please…” chorus!), with a little Wilson Pickett thrown in for good measure.

I love the humour and playfulness of this CD, and the swings between slower grooves and the more frenetic.  Here are my two favourite tracks:

File under: Climb onboard this soultrain

485. Terence Trent D’Arby – “Introducing The Hardline According To Terence Trent D’Arby”

I’m breaking up the (very long) run of Lucksmiths albums with my usual ‘back catalogue’ reviews.

Here’s another CD from my generous reader/friend Andy.

I presume he gifted me this in recollection that I once taped (!) a copy of this off his vinyl (!) version.

For an album I wouldn’t have heard in more than twenty years, this sounded scarily familiar.

For the young’uns out there unfamiliar with TTD, this skinny bloke burst onto the scene with the hubris of James Brown and on overt love for 60s soul/funk.

He has a falsetto that is surprisingly masculine and a good pop ear. He does focus a little too much on the affectation and histrionics side of this genre (i.e. he often seems like his play-acting rather than truly soulful, but who am I to judge?).

I prefer TTD when he get’s up on his toes and funky. So Dance Little Sister and the middle ground of Wishing Well outrank the soppier Sign Your Name for me:

It turns out TTD has gone all Prince-like and changed his name (to Sananda Maitreya), which is a bit of a coincidence, in that I once declared my DJ name to be Terence Trent T’Owling…It never caught on.

File under: You call that hard?

419. Syl Johnson – “The Complete Syl Johnson On Hi Records”

On Valentines Night 2009 I tagged along to a gig by a man I’d embarrassingly never heard of.

All I knew was that he was some soul/funk demi-god. 72-year Syl Johnson was an astounding bundle of energy, playing tracks I’d never clicked were in his back catalogue and raising the bar for the physical state I’d like to be in late 2043. The gig was good enough to crack my top 5 for the year.

The next day I jumped online and purchased this double-disc set. It’s actually four entire albums from 1973-79 plus a raft of bonus tracks.  At 44 tunes in total, that’s great value.

This is a great mix of soul (a la Al Green), with occasionals forays into Brown-ish Funk.

Johnson’s voice has that ability to sound like he’s on the edge of tears, coupled with the roughness necessary to get down and dirty and growl out a command.

The musicianship is superb, especially the horns, and the arrangements are such that many standards become his own.

Now Syl didn’t look quite this good in 2010, but he sounded almost this fresh:

And while I’m bombarding you with vids, here’s the best cover ever of Syl’s cover (it was originally an Al Green track):

File under: Don’t be a dill, embrace Syl

324. Funkadelic – “Ultimate Funkadelic”

The complex world of George Clinton’s P-Funk collective can be tricky to delineate. I own more from the Parliament side of the coin than from Funkadelic, but have always struggled to distinguish the real difference between the two entities.

This here is one of many greatest hits collections from these funk icons. It contains some of the greatest recorded sounds you will ever here.  These guys took what James Brown was doing (and many of his band members) and added an absurdity and lack of restraint he was never quite willing to embrace.

The basslines are contagious, the vocals primal (and regularly silly).  How can you resist grooves (and stage garb) like this?:

Freak of the Week, One Nation…, and the astounding Who Says A Funk Band Can’t Play Rock? make this album (or any album with said tracks a ‘must own’).

The rest of the album doesn’t ever hit those heights (although it is fun to play ‘spot the sample’). The adventures into psychedelia have never quite grabbed me. I thus play my Parliament collections much more regularly.

I do wish I’d been there for their 1970s live extravaganzas however.

File under: Get some funk in your trunk

303. Fishbone – “The Reality of My Surroundings”

I doubt there is an album in my collection which so regularly gets thrown in the CD tray for only two songs .

Album Cover CD Fishbone the Reality of my Surroundings reviewFishbone deliver two classic funk-rock tracks here, covering off on each end of the weather spectrum: Everyday Sunshine and Sunless Saturday

Both are horn-heavy jams, with fantastic rhythms and an energy that is uplifting and contagious.

I should play the whole album more regularly as it is a very cohesive set of power-funk. These guys bridge the world of Parliament and James Brown with punk-ska. As with Parliament, they are not afraid to get out the squealy rock guitar, and the riffs are even more metal-audience-friendly.

They nail anthems, with Fight the Youth and Pray to the Junkie Maker joining the aforementioned duo of gems as the sort of tracks you pray to hear in the live context.

A good mate still rates seeing them on their 1991 or 1992 Aussie tour among his best gigs here. I did eventually catch these guys live, but well after the career peak which was the masterpiece.  They still had sufficient mojo to have me querying why their fellow-LA-sters Red Hot Chilli Peppers made it big while these guys didn’t:

File under: This reality doesn’t bite

104. James Brown – “Star Time Disk Four”

The last disc from the box set gets a spin.

I travelled north a few years (2004) back to see James Brown live at Byron Bay’s Bluesfest (As an aside, my missus was very surprised to see him on the bill. She thought he was dead!). We endured some seriously rib-impinging crowd crush up close to the stage in anticipation (as well as a pretty lame Max Merritt set).

james-brown-startime-box-set-album-coverIt was well worth the wait. At 70 years plus, he was still able to belt out some grunts and wiggle his hips. In the end, of course, much of his appeal lies in the groove laid down by his ever-growing band and choristers. I suspect he could have phoned in the vocals with out much complaint from the crowd.

To some extent that is what is going on with this final disc in the box set. JB is going through the motions on the majority of tracks. He also seems less confident in the material on occassions and more prone to imitation of new contenders.

This is most noticeable on Public Enemy #1, which sounds like an attempt to match Wonder, Hayes and Gaye. There is still some killer (e.g. the two versions of The Payback – the latter with Afrika Bambaataa), but it is clear the best was behind him.

I hate to end on a negative, so instead will leave you with a great dance lesson from Soul Brother Number One:

RIP James.

File under: I don’t know karate, but I do know ka-razy

103. James Brown – “Star Time Disk Three”

Sorry for silence – I was interstate for work (and with James Brown for company).

By CD number three, JB has got almost too funky for his own good.

james-brown-startime-box-set-album-cover2This album is a fiesta of multi-movement pieces. Five out of the 14 tracks clock in at over 5 mins, 4 at over 7 mins. The man has moved beyond normal pop song constraints into a world of musical mastery. This is the foundations on which the lunacy and other worldness of Parliament and Funkadelic (I guess that’s the Bootsy Collins connection).

His band is just outstanding, responding to his commands, understanding his various grunts and signals, and laying down grooves that rise and full and bubble along in such a timeless fashion. The horns are sharp, fast and sexy. Again, this is rich pickings for samplers wanting an infectious hook.

Sorry Andy, I do think Get Up (I Feel Like Being A) Sex Machine is Brown’s true masterpiece, and it sits perfectly here between Funky Drummer and Super Bad (Parts 1 & 2). But let’s have some dialogue here. Which do you all prefer?

Cold Sweat

Get Up (I Feel Like Being A) Sex Machine

In a race I would back Disc 2 as slightly more diverse than this volume, but you won’t find too much to complain about here.

File under: Jump back and kiss yourself

102. James Brown – “Star Time Disk Two”

Our journey through the Brown box set continues…

When we left James he was busy editing down Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag. This album kicks off with the 2.08 min single version, which is hard to fault. Then into I Got You (I Feel Good). Can it get any better?

james-brown-startime-box-set-album-cover1Not for a little while… but it doesn’t drop off too much. Money Wont Change You shows how much the underlying music is now dominating relative to (ad-libbed) vocals. The “huh!!” is becoming more and more prevalent and the band is getting funkier every song…

As the vocals become less important, it can become harder to remember which tune is which. But each of these tracks is a dancefloor winner. The back-t0-back pairing of Cold Sweat and Get It Together is about the best 16 minutes of jamming you are likely to ever hear.

The pace and fun is relentless. This is even better than Disk 1 and James seems unstoppable. Say It Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud stands as a testament to read the market and mood perfectly too. Give It Up or Turn It a Loose demonstrates that lyrics have almost passed their use-by date.

Just keep playing this CD til you can dance no more…

File under: Get down with your bad self

101. James Brown – “Star Time Disk One”

Oh, another reviewing protocol dilemma. This box set showcasing James Brown’s career could be reviewed as a single item, but it is effectively 4 distinct CDs, so I’m treating them as such…

I chased up this collection after reading about in a fantastic history of Funk book. It was heralded as the definitive collection from the Godfather of Soul.And it is pure gold.

james-brown-startime-box-set-album-coverThe box set is pretty much in chronological order, so you can see the evolution of Brown’s sound. Disk 1 encompasses the most substantial transformation. On the early tracks he is very much in the soul world, with sweet singing, do-wops and the like. The tunes could just as easily come from anyone across the Motown, Chess etc world.

It’s all cute and catchy, but it only gives a hint of the huge leap Brown was about to make. By I’ll Go Crazy, the beats and bass are starting to take over, and Brown’s vocals are taking on a more rhythmic role. Think sees us well and truly in the new world of funk. We start to hear basslines, horn riffs and the like that sound very, very familar. That’s because they would later become the most sampled sounds in hip-hop.

This is wonderful and captivating stuff. The CD closes out with a great 6:56 minute long 3-part version of Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag which was edited down to make his classic single. This version is better and even groovier.

Brown was a true icon and this CD starts to show us why.

File under: Get some funk in your trunk