OPENING PRESENTS

end of ’03 song appreciations for ’04

1. Kanye West: All Falls Down (from College Dropout, forthcoming 2004)

Goddamn – my boy let me listen to the new Kanye LP over the weekend and seriously? It’s already an early contender for my best of 2004 list. It’s both like and unlike whatever else you’ve heard on the Roc – Kanye has a little bit of Jigga-man’s mea culpa flavor to him but he’s not really rhyming about rock, women or Rugers – he’s mostly just talking about life and this song, sampling Lauryn Hill from her infamous “Unplugged” sessions, is so melted in the cut, it’s like salt on an ice cube. Kanye isn’t lyrical godliness but he’s solid enough to not embarass himself and I think he’s going to surprise a lot of cats with this album. And oh yeah – “Jesus Walks”, the whole song (not just them mixtape snippets)? I’m confirmed agnostic and that song made me feel the Holy fucking Spirit. That’ll probably be on next week’s Song Appreciation countdown.

2. KMD: Who Me? (from Mr. Hood & Best of KMD)

I admit it – I slept on [i]Mr. Hood[/i]. I mean, I bought the album and all that when it first came out and I always had high praise for KMD but I never really LISTENED to this album overall. Partly it was b/c the engineering was kind of dirty and muddled, like the first Jungle Brothers album, just four years later…and next to De La and Tribe’s Bob Powers-engineered jawns, KMD’s album just didn’t quite appeal to me as much save for a few tracks here and there. But after getting the upcoming [i]Best of KMD[/i] in the mail, I went back and delivered a swift kick to my backside for not spending more time with this album the first time around. Subroc and Zev Love X (Onyx too) were so ahead of the gave creatively, it hurts to realize how fucked over the industry was in shitting on their second album. Why “Who Me?” – this song encapsulates everything that was genius about this album – from the way the song intros on some found-sound snippets, to the funky soul production, to the subject matter: an anti-Sambo missive. Bert still gets props.

3. Scarface: Mr. Scarface (from Mr. Scarface Is Back)

Has Scarface ever made a fiercer, funkier song than this? Home is combining gangsta braggadoccio with story-telling, showing off some serious lyrical skillage. I mean, you can just picture this guy rolling through South Park, put the fear of God (not to mention lead) into his foes like the Punisher going rampage. And that beat? They’re mixing Syl Johnson, Bo Diddley, Le Pamplemouse and whoever else – incredible. I’ll put this up against ANY song from its era – Ice Cube, NWA, BDP, whoever and ‘Face Mob will stand his ground. The funny thing, I had no idea that the repeated dialogue at the beginning was “All I have in this world” since I had yet to see the movie [i]Scarface[/i] at the time.

4. Ghostface Killah: Run (from whateverhisnextalbumiscalled, single out now)

You could drop Jada off this track. You can even drop Tony Starks off this song. What you’re left with is a song that uses a silencing firing as part of the beat. Just stop for a moment. Stop what you’re doing. Stop typing. Stop even fucking reading. Just listen to the beat and then, like the pregnant pause before all hell breaks loose, realize that Ghost is KILLING SHIT on top of that. It’s like the gold ticket inside a Willy Wonka bar.

5. Sound Providers: Throwback (feat. Maspyke) (from An Evening With the Sound Providers – forthcoming 2004)
I’m going to seem rather contradictory since I give grief about retro-new school groups like PUTS, Dilated, Ugly Duckling, Little Brother, etc. but I really, really, really like San Diego’s Sound Providers even if they are arguably part of the same trend. It’s very simple: I love their beats. They mine the kind of jazz albums that I spend way too much eBay and dirty knuckle time digging for and while they’re not necessarily way different from, say, the Procussions or whoever, I’ve yet to hear more than one or two tracks from these kids that I don’t like. “Throwback” is a perfect example – I could be wrong, but I’m pretty sure they looped up a piano cover of the “Love Story” theme and the way Soulo (I’m assuming it’s Soulo) chops it up, the track is so nice and warm and inviting, I want to lug over a bean bag chair into it and just lounge for the day. What makes it even better is that SP and guests Maspyke are actually coming with some intelligent verses that aren’t pushing some, “you ain’t as underground as me!” spiel nor some super-scientifical esoterica. I probably wouldn’t shit on the underground as much as I do if more cats were as smart and stylish and these cats. (By the way, the remix of this song is nice too).

APPRECIATIONS

More songs I appreciate…

1. Justin Timberlake: Senorita (from “Justified”)

Yeah, I know fools want to hate on him with a passion but I can’t deny – this song is so fucking butter I want to spread it on a biscuit. It’s just a great, soulful song and you don’t necessarily have to love Justin but c’mon, feel this, will you?

2. Digable Planets: The May 4th Movement (from “Blowout Comb”)

It’s no secret but this album is one of the great hip-hop LPs to come out of the ’90s but was never really given the credit when it first came out, mostly b/c Digable’s new Black Power politics seemed to alienate all the white, coffee house bohos who were jocking the first album. In any case, this song is such a great way to kick off the LP – not only is the beat beautifully smooth and jazzy but that roll call at the front? “1, time, for your mind…2 times for Mumia’s saint crew…3 times for the Brooklyn times and 7 times for pleasure.” It’s only really ruined by Doodlebug’s stumbling flow – no wonder he got left out the group.

3. Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra: Che Che Cole Makossa (12″ only)

I’ve been playing this song every week on my show for at least six weeks. Hands-down, best thing this NYC crew has ever put together and just such a fantastic track that’s club-friendly but doesn’t pander to it like a Nelly/Neptunes collabo. In my book, it’s a new funk classic.

4. Mauricio Smith: Viva Guajira (from “Bitter Acid”)

First of all, I need an OG of this LP so help a brother out! It’s Latin albums like this that make me realize that there probably is a God, or at least a God who’s down with guajira and boogaloo rhythms. This whole album is fab but “Viva Guajira” is such a perfect blend of funk, soul and Latin that if I didn’t know better, some intrepid producer put it together last week out of old King and Tico albums.

5. Al Green: I Want To Hold Your Hand (45 and on “Love Ritual”)

This was Green’s first ever single for Hi Records and unreleased on any album until ’89’s “Love Ritual.” I can’t get enough of this cover…I put it on my upcoming mixtape and have practically stuck it on repeat. It’s so goddamn funky, snapping with the kind of fervor that songs like “Hey Ya” invoke today.

Songs I’m appreciating right now…


1) Tom Scott: Today (from “Honeysuckkle Breeze”)

I know a lot of folks think this album sucks majorly and hey, they’re probably right but how can you front on “Today”? It’s beautiful, laid-back and reminds me of picnics out in the country and I ain’t never been on a picnic in the country.


2) Donny Hathaway: Jealous Guy (from “Donny Hathaway Live”)

I played this on my radio show a few weeks back and I just keep going back to it over and over. It reflects both the brilliance of the Beatles’ songwirting but also Hathaway’s incredible, emotive voice. It always makes me sad to remember how devestating his depression was but my god, could he sing.


3) Ray Barretto: Together (from “Together”)

When it comes to late ’60s Latin, Barretto was the MFin’ man. Sometimes, he makes songs like this and “Soul Drummers” that are so fucking good, it seems criminal. This song combines funky, hot boogaloo rhythms with social consciousness lyrics – unstoppable.

4) Arlean Brown: Impeach Me (45)

This combines two genres I love: female funk and funky blues. It’s not hyper-than-a-heart attack energetic but gets by on being sly, slick and wicked. I think I like it better than the Otis Redding/Carla Thomas “Tramp” call-and-response.


5) Lord Finesse w/ Big L: Yes You May Remix (12″ only)

“I bend a rapper like a fender/I’m slender/but from from tender/killing ni99as like a Klan member.” Hot damn it’s the return of the funky men.

SWEEEEEET

Sweet Smoke: How Sweet It Is (Crazy Cajun, 1978)

Peep the picture of these guys – they look like a bunch of reject extras from an episode of “Welcome Back, Kotter”, including the token brother they have in the mix. I wasn’t sure what to expect from them but I was pleasantly surprised to find that this Texas group mixed it up between some decent, funky rock tunes like “Lady Luck” but the real find is all on the B-side where these guys pull off a bunch of R&B covers including a rocked out version of the Ohio Players’ “Fire”, Stevie Wonder’s “Boogie On Reggae Woman”…which I like even though it’s nowhere near as soulful as Wonder’s original plus a fun flip on Billy Preston’s “Nothin’ From Nothin'”. Most outstanding is their slick, breakbeat laden “I Can Hear You Callin'” (I’m assuming this is a cover of the Three Dog Night song but I don’t remember what the OG sounds like). For beat heads, it opens with a nice break and brings back two breakdowns later in the song. Rock on white dudes, rock on.

A.B. Skhy: S/T (MGM, 1969)

More funky white dudes in the mix. This S.F. group was dropping that blues-rock science on this album. A lot of it is fairly standard – it’s no surprise that they were contemporaries of the Grateful Dead (their keyboardist Howard Wales did a lot of collabo work with Jerry Garcia). There’s some decent summer of love psychedelics, especially on “Of All Sad Words” but the hotness is “Came Back”, the only song off this album to make any noise. It’s a straight up mod-rock blaster, fierce as hell when it kicks off and Wales wails (get it?) on the organ all over this muthasucka. It slides more into a groove mid-way through but then brings back the heat at the end. More wicked than the Witch of the West.

Harold Johnson: Everybody Loves a Winner (Revue, 1968)

This slick little acoustic soul-jazz album comes from the hands of a 18 year old pianist already on his second album. There’s a lot to like on this album – he has really strong arrangements and a great blend of traditional jazz instrumentation with Afro-Latin elements. Parts of the album, especially cuts like “Be Quiet Man” and the super-smooth “Afro Freak” sound like they could have been recorded five years earlier though the inclusion of a cool cover of the Impressions’ “We’re a Winner” helps pin down the date. The latter is the only outwardly funky song in the mix though most of the other songs are just fantastic examples of Latin-influenced straight-ahead.

Freddie Roulette: Sweet Funky Steel (Janus 1973)

Enticing an idea as a funky steel guitar album may be, only one and a half songs really lived up to the promise. Harvey Mandel produces this album which is a mesh of rock and blues instrumentals. Roullette’s steel guitar sound is fetching enough – I like its signature whine – but most of the arrangements don’t really live up to the same of “sweet” or “funky”. The only one that does is “Million Dollar Feeling” which is a cook, smoky groover and benefits immensely from Victor Conte’s bass work. “Alleluia” is an uptempo pacer – not bad, but it’s a tad too chaotic. “Cause and Effect” could have been hot too but Don “Sugarcane” Harris’ violin ruins the song in my opinion.

7″ GRAB BAG

The Conservatives: Who Understands Pt. 1
Chicago soul group (arranged by the Pharoahs) that blends a little doo wop, a little Northern and a lot of heart on this funky soul groover. The A-side is the vocal cooker and it pulses with fantastic energy. Reminds me a little of the Impressions, just a lot dirtier. B-side (Pt. 2) is great too – it strips everything down and is more slinky…plays mostly as an instrumental except for the vocal bridge at the front and back end. What I want to know is whether or not there were any other groups on Ebonic Sound? I did a google on this Chi-town label and the Conservatives were the only group to come up on it!

Scott Bros. Orchestra: A Hunk o’ Funk b/w They All Came Back (Toddlin’ Town)

Still in Chicago… From what I can surmise, this is the group that recorded with Alvin Cash while he was at Toddlin’ Town Records, including on the infamous “Keep On Dancing” 45 that everyone and their mama has post-Brainfreeze. “A Hunk o’ Funk” is a lot better than any Alvin Cash 45 I’ve ever heard on TT however – it begins with a slide whistle, kicks in a little brass overture and then launches into absolute funk burner set off by guitar, that aforementioned horn section, and some solid bass work too. It’s just a superb instrumental – I’m surprised this hasn’t gotten comped somewhere (or is it?) B-side is ok – it has some moments but overall, the song is a little too brass heavy and it’s arranged more like a conventional pop instrumental that you’d hear on a soundtrack as “Car Chase #3”.

Odell Brown and the Organizers: The Weight b/w Think About It (Cadet)

This has long been a real favorite of mine ever since DJ Om played it for me years ago. For the life of me, I can’t figure out why more kids aren’t jocking this – “Think About It” is easily one of the best B-3 Hammond groovers I’ve ever heard. Unlike organ vamp orgies that you hear elsewhere (including on Brown’s other stuff), this is kept pretty mellow in comparison but it still cooks hard. Best of all, the arrangement is just so bright and sunny that it makes you wish everyday could feel as good as this song. I can NEVER get enough of listening to it. This is 7″ only – it was never on LP. Cop this – believe me, you won’t regret it.

Sugar Pie DeSanto: Git Back (Jasman)

Smokin’ female vocal funk on Jim Moore’s Jasman Records (of Johnny Talbot fame). I got extra special love for this since it’s an Oakland record but DeSanto f*ckin’ cooks on this like Julia Child. The track is a rollicking gem – a lot of spicy piano and heavy bass guitar rumbling through and DeSanto is tearing up over it. One of the better female funk tracks I’ve heard of late. B-side is a straight blues cut.


The Fame Gang: Soul Feud b/w Grits and Gravy (Fame)

This 45 came from the third incarnation of Fame Studio’s (i.e. Muscle Shoals) in-house rhythm section including a scorching Junior Lowe on guitar and Clayton Ivey slapping it down on organ. You got here a really nice double-sided instrumental funk cooker. I have a hard time choosing between the two of ’em – “Soul Feud” is a hard-driving funky blues tune, complete with some mean interplay between harmonica and guitar. Slaps down like shot glasses in a drinking contest. Meanwhile, “Grits and Gravy” is a more uptempo organ funk cooker – very soul jazzy in sound, with a touch of Kool and the Gang like flavor too. Like I said, a great double-sided 7″. It’s just too bad their LP wasn’t anywhere near this good.

Eddie Long: It Don’t Make Sense But It Sure Sounds Good b/w Did You Ever Dream Lucky (Skye)

Speaking of great double-sided 7″s, this Eddie Long single appars on Cal Tjader, Gabor Szabo and Gary McFarland’s rather short-lived NYC imprint, Skye. Side A opens with a cool 4 bar drum break and then winds into a slick, downtempo blues groover that invokes images of long cruises down some city southside in a droptop, easin’ into the seam with a gangsta lean. “Did You Ever Dream Lucky” picks up the pace though it’s still in the funky blues vein – all twitching guitars, tight rhythm section and just a sprinkle of organ at the beginning. I’m a big fan of the funky blues and this single’s been rocking for weeks now in my head.

AL COBINE: HANDING OUT HIKKYS

Al Cobine: Hate to See You Go (Studio P/R: 1975)

See…when I first found this LP in Indianapolis, I thought I was on some killer secret digger shizzle. This is on some local Indiana label, looking and sounding like a private press album with some dude named Peter Bankoff carressing the Rhodes all over the place. The real blaster though is the cover of “Hikky-Burr” which is pretty fierce considering this is a big band album. Move over Caesar Frazier and let Al Cobine do this thing! Dope cover – clean and funky.

Anyways, so I’m all excited and what not, talk to some folks and it sounds like the only other time someone’s heard about this is because J. Davis (no, not Q-Tip, the other J. Davis) had scouted it once. So now I know I’m sitting on some rare heat. Or not. A year later, my man J.Toro goes back to Indianapolis and turns up something like 25-30 copies of this. Now I see folks up on eBay selling it, titling it “Stage Band Jazz Funk LP”. Oh the humanity, the humanity!

I’m not bitter though. Really. I mean it.

FAT FELLOWS

Daniel Janin: Jes Vais T’Aimer (Les Treteaux Int’l: 197?)

Someone who speaks better French than me (which would be probably anybody) can translate this title for me b/c frankly, I have no idea what this is. I found it at Rooky’s in the Lower Haight for a $1 or something and the cover alone looked promising. I thought, from the looks of it, it was the French equivalent to an American pop exploitation record (think the Ventures) given the eclectic song selections which include The Rolling Stones’ “Fool To Cry”, some song called “Superbimbo” and two compositions credited to Janin himself. As it turns out, I think this is more like some weird blend between a K-Tel compilation with two original joints thrown in. The stuff not by Janin is not really worth your time – bad, strange rock and pop. But Janin’s two cuts are worth peeping. “Trip For a Trap” is a so-so funky pop instrumental but the real joint is “Fat Fat Fellow” which was featured on Dusty Fingers 8 if I’m not mistaken. Real smoky funk instrumental with pop influences but mostly just sounds like a dope library cut (dig that sax that blows in later and just the whole brass section in general). I can see why Dusty Fingers comped it – it’s right up their alley of strange but special brews.

WUNDERLICKS

Klaus Wunderlich: Hammond Fur Millionen (Helidon 1973)

Wunderlich has been nicknamed “the Super-Organ Wonder”. [Insert your own joke here].

His organ playing is pretty damn cheesy by today’s standards (actually, screw that, you’d have to think it was pretty damn cheesy by 1970s standards too…I mean, how can you do a Hammond cover of “Hey Jude” and not be a little cheesy?) This album is the Yugoslavian (yeah, you heard that right) issue of what I believe was a German album (on Telefunken, which is just a dope label name even if I have no idea what that really translate into). I first heard the main cut on this album, a cover of “Summertime”, on this mid-90s break compilation that was also the first time I heard Galt MacDermot’s “Space”. I always remembered the “Summertime” version on that comp though because it was so light and funky, like it was aspiring to some kind of heavy Hammond greatness, slipped and fell into funkiness instead. It’s some shizniz that the Beatnuts would have sampled. Or maybe they actually did? Try it. You’ll like it. Hell, one Soul Strut feature already gave it some love.

Plus, look at that picture of Wunderlich – what a MFin’ mack he was in his little tux. P.I.M.P. for real.

NEITHER COUNTRY NOR FUNK


Country Funk: S/T (Polydor 197?)

As a record dealer listed this one: “neither country nor funk”. That’s for sure. Talk about not judging a record by its title – I was hoping for some ill ass breakbeatcountryrare jawns, like Willie Nelson meets Eddie Bo. Instead, I got an album of mostly acoustic rock ballads. Frowny face time šŸ™

That said, “Poor Boy” is actually a decent, funky blues cut that made the album a keeper despite the egregiously false advertising.

ALTERFORNIA

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Jimmie Haskell: California ’99 (ABC 1971)

Ok, this record is pretty frickin’ bugged out. You really need to see it to truly appreciate how bugged but it’s like the soundtrack to an imaginary movie about an alternative future for America. The cover folds out into this huge 3 x 2 map of the United States – only that it’s not called the United States anymore, it’s called California (the whole country is renamed Calfiornia in 1980). And the map has some curious features, such as the fact that the S.F. Bay peninsula now stretches from Shasta down to Santa Barbara, and is renamed the San San Peninsula after an 11.7 earthquake floods the entire San Joaquin Valley in 1984. Oh yeah, and Florida becomes one big desert in 1987. 1992 – Moon Prisons built, prisonersĀ all transferred.

There must have been some serious blunts passed around at this session, no doubt. Reading through the alternative timeline is probably as much fun, if not more, than listening to the album itself – it’s just so bugged out. There’s actually a MUCH bigger backstory to Jimmie Haskell, an LA arranger, but I have no interest in really getting into it. This guy does much better in his review of the album.

What’s actually on the LP itself is a strange, strange mix of dramatizations, blues, jazz and rock. It’d go toe to toe with Marshall McLuhan’s “The Medium Is the Massage” LP for quirkiness (but it’s just as sample-able I suppose for that same reason). But what’s REALLY weird is that Haskell does a bunch of cover songs taken from another rock group, Millenium (their album Begin has just been re-issued by the way). He covers “To Claudia On Thursday” and “Prelude”, both of which have very cool funky elements, especially “Prelude” which mixes up what sounds like a moog or ARP and a harpsichord, rock guitar, and some bashin’ drums. (The Millenium version is actually better but who the hell would have thought of doing a cover? That’s like Tom Scott covering the Jefferson Airplane – wild!)

Seriously, this album is something else. For those out there who like some trippy ’70s rock shizzle? This one’s for you (and hell, I didn’t even mention the Sexual Gratification Machines).