Saturday, May 28, 2011

Music Reviews-Aretha Franklin, Richard & Linda Thompson, Parliament

Aretha Franklin and King Curtis
Live at the Filmore West
Aretha Franklin needs no introduction. Many people have probably heard these songs or heard shortened versions of them. But this release is the full six set four CD recording of the Queen of Soul's three night stand at the Filmore West in San Francisco in 1971. On the third night's performance there were some audio difficulties and studio overdubs had to be done but outside of that this is completely live. King Curtis acts as Aretha's bandleader and also has sets of his own. Famously, Ray Charles drops in to guest on Spirit in the Dark.
I mean no disrespect to any modern singers but Franklin set a standard here that has yet to be reached and certainly not surpassed. If you like soul or gospel, you probably should have these recordings. No doubt to give the new audience some familiar hits, Franklin and Curtis do versions of Eleanor Rigby, Love the One You're With, Signed Sealed Delivered (I'm Yours), Ode to Billy Joe, Whole Lotta Love, and many more as well as songs like You're all I need to get by, Dr. Feelgood, Don't Play that Song. Great stuff and if you don't have this already you're really missing out.

The band included such luminaries as Billy Preston, Cornell Dupree (who just passed away RIP), Bernard Purdie, The Memphis Horns and Jerry Jemmot.
A Whiter Shade of Pale

Bridge over Troubled Water

Memphis Soul Stew

You're All I Need To Get By

Richard and Linda Thompson
I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight
Richard Thompson is a British singer, songwriter, and guitarist. He was born in post-war London. Many late sixties era British musicians were heavily influenced by blues and soul and took the popular (and lucrative) route of aping the sounds and styles of Black Americans from Chicago, Mississippi or Texas. Thompson decided that to avoid what he saw as cultural imperialism as well as to seek his own interests he would initially specialize in British folk music. He kept his own accent. Thompson also has a strong jazz (Charlie Parker) influence though this is not always immediately apparent. Although he's famously said he's not much of a blues player, in his own way he's a better blues musician than about 90% of the BB King or SRV wannabees out there today. He can certainly tear up the fretboard when he wants to. Richard Thompson is probably the best guitarist you've never heard of. He's also probably the best Sufi Muslim British musician you've never heard of.

Thompson came to prominence as a member of Fairport Convention  but left soon after to pursue a career with his wife, the singer Linda Thompson. The two were together personally and professionally from 1972 to about 1982. Although Richard has continued on to have a successful and meaningful career post-Linda (Richard being the primary songwriter in the partnership), for my money those early years contain much of his best work. Their first album together was I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight. Thompson's worldview tended to be rather bleak. He had a strong bent toward irony and sarcasm. Many of his lyrics could have been written by Douglass Adams (Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy) or the Monty Python group. This limited his appeal a bit but Thompson has never really seemed to be too caught up in the "must make lots of money" mindset. Many of his lyrics are bitterly opposed to that "money above all else" thinking.
If you like this sort of thing and I do, you may enjoy his work. Even if you don't perhaps you will like Linda's voice. I like her singing a lot. She would later have some vocal issues (hysterical dysphonia) caused by their bitter breakup but at this time she was probably the best British female singer.

I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight

Calvary Cross
The Great Valerio

(Night Comes In is actually from a later album Pour Down Like Silver but it is a favorite of mine nonetheless. Lyrically it allegorically combines the love for one's spouse with the love for God. It is typical of Richard and Linda's best work.
Night Comes In

The Early Years
Much like Aretha Franklin, Parliament-Funkadelic needs no introduction. This release features music that was recorded under the Parliament name for the Invictus label, while the same band was recording under the Funkadelic name for the Westbound label. Clinton never was too organized when it came to taking care of business. This would hurt him and his band members in later years but that's life.

Much (but not all) of this music can also be found under the album titled "Osmium" by Invictus. It was not surprising that Clinton recorded for Invictus as Invictus was started by the famed songwriters-producers Holland-Dozier-Holland when they got tired of Berry Gordy's accounting practices. Gordy told them to stop complaining or start their own company and they took the second option. Clinton had also been a songwriter at Motown. He wrote the songs (I Wanna) Testify and I Bet You among others.

This CD is EXTREMELY well recorded, much more than the Funkadelic sides at Westbound. I was really surprised by the clean, bright and yet solid bottom sound. That's not what I expected from P-Funk at this time. It is easily on a par with the best jazz or rock bands of the day and a far cry from the occasionally poorly produced work at Westbound. It's a shame that Invictus didn't last. As is normal for any sort of P-Funk release, the songs range from social commentary, classical music inspired vamps, pure sleaze, dance, to blues, hard rock and country. The song Come In Out of The Rain is still quite relevant today, unfortunately. Bernie Worrell, organist and keyboardist extraordinaire, had just joined the group and immediately altered the sound for the better. Check out his work on Oh Lord.
As far as I'm concerned P-Funk was and is one of the greatest rock and funk bands of all time. If you don't have this, why not?  Come In Out Of The Rain

Moonshine Heather
Oh Lord, Why Lord
Red Hot Mama
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