Saturday, December 18, 2010

The Brothers Johnson - Look Out For #1

It's hard to imagine pop funk music without Quincy Jones. For all who do not know the man he was responsible for launching Michael Jackson into the stratosphere. Quincy's knowledge of producing music is unmatched. Being nominated for 79 Grammy's and winning 27 it is hard to argue. Quincy was familiar with the jazz scene of the 1970's and realized that Louis Johnson had massive potential for bridging the gap between jazz and pop music. Louis played with such legends as Herbie Hancock on his "Man Child" album along with Grover Washington Jr. Louis along with Larry Graham of San Francisco's own Sly and the Family Stone were pioneers with the now popular slap bass technique. Louis took what Larry started and built on it becoming the front man for the new technique giving him the nickname "Thunder Thumbs".

Quincy realized the potential to turn The Brothers Johnson into a huge success and quickly put them into the recording studio to record their first album, which would be come to be "Look Out For #1." It contains both hard funk groove tracks in songs like "Thunder Thumbs and Lightning Licks" and "Get the Funk out Ma Face" along with more soothing ballads such as my personal favorite track on the album "I'll Be Good to You," which is a slower tempo than the other tracks but still keeps the groove fresh and funky.

Another great track on the album is an intense dark cover of "Come Together" by The Beatles. So many artists have covered Beatles songs in their career, but The Brothers Johnson managed to take a classic song such as Come Together and totally revamp every element of the song to make it an soulful track. Check out the song near the end to notice some greatly timed hits over the verse.

All in all though this album remains The Brothers Johnson most consistent work. From start to finish it doesn't slow down once and aside from the dud track "Land of Ladies," which is almost comical in nature Look Out For #1 is arguably their finest work. 

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Soulive at the Independent

One of my most beloved bands Soulive is playing at the Independent in San Francisco this Friday and Saturday. Accompanying them will be Karl Denson, best known for being the band leader of the Greyboy Allstars. Be there or be square. Soulive will be promoting their newest album "Rubber Soulive," which is a Beatles tribute album.

Word around the campfire is that they might be hitting Boom Boom Room after hours for a jam session. I'll keep my fingers crossed.

The Independent is at 628 Divisadero, between Grove and Hayes.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Engine No. 9, Wilson Pickett's In Philadelphia

When trying to comprehend how expansive and influential Wilson Pickett's career has been one usually thinks of such classic hits as "Midnight Hour," or "634-5789". As much as we all love those classic songs Wilson also had an amazing career post Stax/Fame (1965-1967) that many enthusiasts have never heard. I could go on for a while about Stax recording studio, so let's just say they were responsible for such artists as Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding, Booker T. & the MGs (house band), Sam and Dave and Issac Hayes. I should point out though that Pickett also recorded at Muscle Shoals along with Stax during those years.

Stax had an interesting relationship with Atlantic before 1965. Atlantic pretty much gave Stax unlimited artistic freedom over recordings during their golden era, since Stax produced so many #1 hits Atlantic could not disagree. A major shakeup was about to happen at Stax, after 1965 Stax's owner Jim Stewart banned all artists not signed with Stax from using their facilities in an attempt to jump start his own record label. After this Pickett left for Fame studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. During this time he would go on to record "Midnight Hour," "Land of 1000 Dances" and "Mustang Sally," which would prove to be huge hits and become the most famous of Pickett's career. My intentions for this post were to reintroduce some of my favorite Pickett recordings that came after Pickett's explosion onto the soul circuit with Stax and Fame.

Moving on to what I was originally posting about is the album "In Philadelphia." Co-Writing and producing much of the album is the famed songwriting duo Gamble and Huff, who were responsible for most of the O'Jay's hits throughout their career along with other prominent artists during much of the 1970's. Vastly different than the laid back vibe of Stax and Muscle Shoals Gable and Huff's studio in Philadelphia created a more funky energetic atmosphere, which is apparent on this album since it is so different than his other records.

Gamble and Huff were responsible for the track "Don't Let The Green Grass Fool You," which is an upbeat song with a great swing tempo. It's apparent that Gamble and Huff were trying to feature Pickett's vocal range in this short (2:49), but sweet song about a Man trying to convince his lover not to leave him for another Man. Typical in the fashion of soul songs from the 1960's and 70's the guitar remains in the back, while the bass drives the song along with a catchy horn hook that most listeners will remember.

Pickett does a does a complete reversal with the first track on side two in "Get Me Back On Time Engine No. 9," which is a pure funk drop sticking to the formula the James Brown made famous by using limited repetitive vocals, hard driving rhythm with few chord changes and a bridge. Sticking out around halfway through the song is a bizarre guitar solo that sounds like it should be in a Jefferson Airplane song as opposed to something featured in a Pickett song before. Coming in at over six minutes this song is quite the anomaly on the album, but also my favorite. "Engine No. 9" is a recording that stands up even today as being a hot funk track with an excellent groove that should be sampled in a modern hip-hop beat.

Some of the not so memorable tracks on the album include "Days Go By", which is an uninspiring love song and "Help The Needy." In all though "In Philadelphia" is a classic gem that is often overlooked in terms of Pickett's overall catalogue, featuring several excellent tracks that transcend time including "International Playboy," "Don't Let The Green Grass Fool You," "Engine No. 9," and "Run Joey Run." (sampled by Jurassic 5 on the track "J-Resume" off the album "Feedback") If you are a fan of 1960's soul music and don't already have this album do yourself a favor and give it a try, you will be surprised how different and diverse it is from Pickett's earlier recordings.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Old School Vibes From Teen Inc.

It shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone that has heard Teen Inc.'s current single "Fountains" that this group is destined for greatness. The two tracks on the current single are raw and lo-fi, but the ideas are there and the light at the end of the tunnel for this Los Angeles based band is starting to get brighter.

Teen Inc. manages to keep the old school genre alive with their two current throwback tracks. "Fountains" screams classic Prince, while also throwing in a mix of classic 70's jazz-fusion. Rhythmically the studio tracks leave something to be desired. Drum and Bass tracks seem a little watered down compared to their live set. Not a criticism by any means of their ability, because the drum and bass tracks work well for what they are trying to accomplish, which is bridging the gap between rock and R&B.

"Friend Of The Night" is the B-side off their 7" and it distances itself from "Fountains" as being a slower more rock-orientated track. Vocals have heavy delay, which reminds me of some classic Flaming Lipps. Also heavy in the mix are bass and synth giving me the impression that they were still striving towards that old school fusion vibe, which they nail perfectly in "Fountains."

What really shine though for Teen Inc. are their live shows. Plenty of energy with vibrant guitar solos is a trademark for this band. Live songs scream jam feel, but don't take away from the catchy hooks that entices the listener in the first place. Teen Inc. does a fantastic job of taking the original song off the recording and throws it on its head making a unique experience for the listener every time. This is the sign of a great live band and gives Teen Inc. lasting appeal and a music world full of one hit wonders and narcissistic goofballs.

It seems that Los Angeles talent agencies have taken note and feel that Teen Inc. has earning potential, expect to see more from them in the near future. If so inclined you can check out their single's on iTunes or order the 7" straight from their website.