This is crazy late but its been on my computer all year so here goes:
2014 was a crazy crazy year for The Funk -- and a fucktkup year for black people -- and you can’t separate the two, because a lot of us need that funk to get thru the drama. I believe that connection will continue to spawn more heavy music in the future to help us all take the weight, and to get over the Hump.
2014 was cool because so many funk legends represented yet again, and even managed to get some pop airplay. The two greatest albums of the year, D’Angelo’s Black Messiah and Funkadelic’s First Ya Gotta Shake the Gate both dropped in December, which pushed this review back a bit. But overall, from what I heard this past year, The Funk is alive and well.
What struck me was the split between artists working to recapture their legendary sound, and those that are moving out, way out with their funky thangs to play with. Former War keyboardist Lonnie Jordan’s impostor outfit he calls War put out a surprisingly enjoyable set Evolutionary that showed that for all the bullshit conflicts between him and the remaining War cats - now known as the Low Rider Band - Lonnie is a strong songwriter and damn if this record doesn’t bring that War feel. Cheech & Chong’s cameo on the reprise of “L.A. Sunshine” helps out too, but is isn’t needed.
Jazz fusion giant Stanley Clarke released Up that brings him back to that 70’s fusion sound – and that mix of smooth jazz, edgy spastic fusion and straight up funk that characterized his best albums. He even remakes “School Days,” and the George Duke classic “Brazillian Love Affair.” I would just download those and keep on moving. Harvey Mason also did an album, Chameleon that tried to do the same, but it is a bit too tranquilized for my taste. Good music, but I never thought of the Headhunters becoming dinner jazz.
Prince delivered a double-dose of rock and pop with two albums, Art Official Age and Phlectrumelectrum which featured his all female band 3rd Eye Girl. It is polished precision pop and rock, with a lot of the riffs and lyrics that seemed aimed at the younger crowd, so don’t look for a remake of “Darling Nikki” around here, or some of those extended, adventurous workouts like “Lady Cab Driver.” There are some brilliant tracks here like “Clouds” and “Breakdown,” but dare I say it, some filler cuts too. Nevertheless for Prince it is a shrewd way of reaching out to a new audience and keeping his long time lovers/listeners in the loop. The slightly more rock oriented 3rd Eye Girl effort Phlectrumelectrum isn’t so far off from Art Official Age, and I was hoping for more jamming workouts from the musicians here. Remember, the bass player in this group is Ida Neilsen, and her 2012 solo project Sometimes A Girl Needs Some Sugar Too is one of the hottest funk albums of the past 5 years, so I was hoping to hear more of that.
Also in terms of old school, there were some strong reissues this year. A long lost JB’s album These Are the JB’s was released – only on vinyl – that thing burns with Bootsy’s early fire. Polydor didn’t let that go by, and released the James Brown Live in Paris Love Power Peace as a 3 lp set – the look and format that James intended for the record. It is a brilliant return to form for folks that want their OG funk uncut.
Compiler and researcher Alec Palao was at it again with another killer Sly Stone reissue, this one I'm Just Like You: Sly's Stone Flower 1969-1970 unearths the Little Sister sessions and other outtakes from the short lived Stone Flower label Sly had going during his genius transition years. This is a transcendent exploration of Sly’s genius here.
The late Chuck Brown released a sweet Go Go session Beautiful Life that follows up with his recent magnificent work We’re About the Business in 2009. It is amazing that Chuck could almost see across the river with this one, musing on how good a ride he’s had, as if he was ready to move on, even though it was a horrible shock to all of us in 2012 when he died suddenly of heart failure and complications from pneumonia.
Of all the contemporary bands that relive the old school, no one does it for me like Osaka Monaurail, the Japanese groove band that holds a James Brown pocket throughout their work, and their latest release Riptide is a stellar example of what they do. I still play the hell out of “Fruit Basket,” “Ball of Fire” and “Determination.”
Two of my favorite “roots funk” bands are hard to get ahold of because their music is not yet on itunes. My man Joe Keyes has an ass-kicking horn driven outfit out of Maryland that absolutely smokes. Joe Keyes’ and the Late Bloomer Band burns with heavy horn hooks, great solos and swinging guitar riffs that gives a feel as if Eddie Hazel sat in with Side Effect. In a local news story on the Band, Joe Keyes was asked what 3 albums he would want on a desert Island, he said Agartha by Miles Davis, Thermonuclear Sweat by Defunkt, and First Minute of a New Day by Gil Scott Heron. Nuff said! Look for their EP Forever is A Long Time on Itunes soon.
One of the most bangin’ club funk bands is the United Funk Order, led by vocalist Thulani Jeffries, and Indigo Blu on multiple instruments. They have a 4 song EP called “Fried Ice Cream” on Itunes that is a helluva teaser. Their sound is that kind of soulful grown folks funk we have wanted to hear since Steve Washington put all those great vocalists onto Slave and Aurra’s records. I had to undertake a serious funk hunt to get ahold of their entire Fried Ice Cream album. My man Philip Colley played some tracks on his “Funk Bus” show and got my nose open. But like so many of our favorite funk bands, their record release situation is all muddled up and the CD is not yet on itunes. I would also like it if they could EQ those songs with more bass & volume, but hey they are unquestionably on the One!
Out of the south, great New Orleans Funk bands keep coming and coming with the good stuff. I came across Analog Son, and their debut album Analog Son has a tough grind and tight horn driven swing. A lot of these bands make a living doing covers of great Southern soul & rock. But I was really blown away by “Earphunk” and their 4th album Sweet Nasty. Yes the big, soulful funky chops are there but some of the songs are simply transcendent; “Sunup to Sundown,” “Lippy” and “Check the Pulse” are on another level, deliciously mellow and hard all at once. And out of the blue they drop a Roger/Zapp vibe on “Phine” that stands up against any Dayton thunder-funk. They are my surprise discovery of 2014.
Out of France a spicy funk outfit the HornDogz dropped a nice slice of modern R&B Funk with a lot of old school flavors. Their sound has the influence of the recent Maceo Parker funk albums, and their original spin on classic soul & funk is infectious. They do a particularly asskicking version of Aretha’s “Rock Steady” that features P-Funk guest vocalist Mary Griffin in full effect. A mean cover of Curtis Mayfield’s “Move On Up” kicks too, and the overall feel is modern but very soulful & funky.
Other funkers were good at pushing a new type thang forward in 2014. My man Maurice Richmond collaborated with a gang of L.A. Maggots and Euro-peein funkers to produce Double Dose of Funk, a street strong mash of thump. This is that satisfying underground Hump that should be on every street corner!
The Amsterdam Funk band Seven Eleven keeps getting better and better, and their Live in Uden is both a retrospective of their decades of stank and a dog’s paw pointing forward to a new era of polished, swinging smelly funkiness from them.
The P-Funk veteran players are going strong as ever. Our girl Sheila Horne, aka Amuka Kelly aka Sheila Washington aka Sheila Brody delivered a mean & lean 5 song EP Mississippi released under the name Sheila Brody that was produced by Chuck D of Public Enemy. The sound is hot and slamming soul with a modern feel and an old school theme. Chuck and Sheila even do a hip hop /blues number that kicks. At 5 songs you’re just left wanting more.
The prolific P-Funk keyboardist Danny Bedrosian was at it again with Endangered. His trademark whimsy and brilliance is on display here once again, and it is hard to imagine he can put out at least an album every year and keep up with George Clinton’s traveling circus too.
P-Funk bassist Lige Curry was in fine form as well, delivering a stomping 13 track monster with his group the Naked Funk Project: All Around The World For The Funk. The thundering set could have been called “All Around The Funk” because Lige has produced one of his most satisfying and diverse productions.
The year was going good but without a dominant funk release until December when D’Angelo dropped Black Messiah, and Funkadelic’s 3 disc monstrosity First Ya Gotta Shake The Gate hit. Each release was thrilling and challenging at the same time. D’Angelo clearly has grown, and ironically he rushed his album into a 2014 release because of all of the cop murders and Black Lives Matter protests. It was and is stunning, and I wrote back in December:
This is the album Kanye West tried to do but he had neither the consciousness nor the musicianship. It is the album Jay Z or Pharrel or the other pop rappers will never do because they must come to terms with an Awakened Black Man with a Vision for his craft. it is the album the wannabe Thicke-Timberlake-Bieber bozos can’t do because they will never understand the Rhythm it Takes to dance through what we have to live through…
I stand by that assessment.
For the first time in YEARS I was proud to be black – buying music in the record store! What a long lost feeling!
Barely a week later, the Funkadelic session dropped, and to make a long story short, it didn’t feel like a Funkadelic session at first. But George Clintons’ genius is relentless, and eventually that emerges throughout the production, and you are left in the presence of a Master, who is taking you beyond your own funktastic imagination into the realm of Post P Funk for the next P Funk generation. Then gradually it sinks in, this is the stankiest record of the year, of many years. It comes at you sideways with some Crunk and some wackiness you might not have expected, but in the end the deliverance is so wide you cant get around it, and low you can’t get under it. BAM.
It took a long time to figure out which release was heavier, D’Angelo’s pop soul juggernaut, or George Clinton’s Next Generation Funkadelic adventure. Either way it’s been a great way to wind up a funked up year in America.
Honorable mention has to go to Andre Cymone’s The Stone. That is an absolutely brilliant package of clean & hot rock and roll. It is clear to me that if he was of a lighter shade, he would be all up at the award shows raking in prizes. Les Klaypool’s nutty Primus and the Chocolate Factory spins a goofball take on the classic children’s movie and keeps the chewy funk vibe throughout. I also thoroughly enjoyed the tribute to the Sly & the Family Stone album “Stand!” produced by Undercover Presents. Nine Bay Area bands each contributed a spirited interpretation of the legendary album and the legendary band. This is what The History of Funk is all about. All in all a solid year for funksters…
MY TOP 14 OF 2014 (now 2015)
1. FUNKADELIC – FIRST YA GOTTA SHAKE THE GATE
2. D’ANGELO – BLACK MESSIAH
3. CHUCK BROWN – BEAUTIFUL LIFE
4. PRINCE – ART OFFICIAL AGE & PLECTRUMELECTRUM
5. LIGE CURRY’S NAKED FUNK – ALL AROUND THE WORLD FOR THE FUNK
6. UNITED FUNK ORDER – FRIED ICE CREAM
7. JOE KEYES & THE LATE BLOOMER BAND – FOREVER IS A LONG TIME
8. SHEILA BRODY – MISSISSIPPI
9. OSAKA MONAURAIL – RIPTIDE
10. WAR – EVOLUTIONARY
11. EARPHUNK – SWEET NASTY
12. DDOF – JUST AS FUNKY
13. HORNDOGZ - #WOOF
14. UNDERCOVER PRESENTS – STAND!