After an epic game of phone tag, I finally got my old friend Aldo on the phone the other day for a little catch up. In addition to running down the fortunes of some of our high school classmates, he hit me up with the inevitable “What’ve you been listening to lately?” We spiraled off onto some other tangents before we got to my recent playlist, and the question ended up unanswered. So Aldo, if you’re out there reading this, here are five funky albums I’ve been playing way too much lately:
Dennis Coffey * Big City Funk: Original Old School Breaks & Heavy Guitar Soul - Coffey recorded four albums for the Sussex label between 1971 and ’74, and his layered guitars, wah-wah’ed to inifinity, are the musical equivalent of a 70’s cop show – all uptempo adrenaline and funky vamping. This is gritty, bad-ass instrumental funk that constantly threatens to jump the shark, but redeems itself through wicked grooves. Big City Funk collects Coffey’s best tracks, which have naturally been sampled endlessly by hip-hop artists such as Public Enemy and the Beastie Boys.
Various Artists * Love’s A Real Thing: The Funky Fuzzy Sounds Of West Africa - The brief liner notes paint an inviting picture of West Africans huddled around their transistor radios, digging the sounds of Jimi Hendrix and James Brown, and then flipping what they’ve heard into their own take on psychedelic funk. The music here – mostly recorded in the mid-70’s – is the byproduct of that scene, and it’s a treasure trove of irresistible funk that sounds like it’s been beamed to Africa, refracted off the moon and sent back. Ten thumbs up.
Clarence Carter * Testifyin’ - This is funk that grooves with the heavy, smooth consistency of buttermilk. Carter’s honeyed voice comes with a wink, making lines like “Everybody knows I’m bad news everywhere I go” seem like play-acting. A squadron of saxophones and trumpets round out the band’s sound and punctate Carter’s bold vocal proclomations of love and fealty. I bought it mainly because of the amazing cover art, but lucked into one of the best examples of the Muscle Shoals sound. Interesting note: longtime great Sports Illustrated photographer Walter Iooss, Jr shot the photos on the back of the album jacket.
Various Artists * El Barrio: Gangsters, Latin Soul & The Birth Of Salsa 1967-75 - Fania Records – the latin funk label that was founded in the mid-60’s and more or less cornered the market on salsa music – has reissued a staggering number of incredible albums over the last year. The best way to dip into this potentially overwhelming wealth of funk is through one of the many great Fania compliations released last year. Three standouts are Gilles Peterson’s Fania DJ Series compilation, as well asThe Bad Boogaloo, and El Barrio. Muy mucho gusto!
Black Sugar * Black Sugar - These 70’s Peruvian funkateers sound like an indigenous version of Santana or War. Their 1971 debut was a best-seller in South America, but was only released in the US through a small Miami label, and didn’t make much of an impact here. But it’s full of chunky, percussive beats and Carlos Mejia’s impassioned vocal stylings. “Stay with me” he pleads over and over, his voice rasped out to the edge of coherence and reason. Little has been written about this group, but they are worthy of more scupulous attention, as well as repeated listenings.