THERE MUST be some crap music coming out of the States, or is it me? Can’t I discern between the good, the bad and the indifferent. I’m talking about Black Music, or, as it used to be called, R&B or Soul or, as John Sinclair has dubbed it, ethnic folk dance music. Really? Whatever you call it the session men are not satisfied with sitting in on all the million sellers and now make their own albums like Soul Makossa.
We have here three examples of the basic types of Black Music — the funky instrumentals, the ethereal high-flying vocal group, and the gospel influence. Afrique aren’t a real group (should it read “A Freak”?) but the cream of the West Coast session men, including David T. Walker (currently fronting Carole King’s live band) Chuck Rainey and drummer extraordinaire Paul Humphrey.
Their ‘Soul Makossa’, although a hit in the States, isn’t the original version; that belongs to African Manu Dibango. Their version is great and although not standing up completely to the original, holds its own with fine early ’50s honking sax. Theres a wah-wah version of Bill Withers ‘Kissin’ My Love’ and an intriguing ‘Duelling Guitars’ (!). The high standard of playing tends to put the album firmly in the ‘product’ category; faceless musicians and instrumental workouts of well-known numbers, just a party disc basically. It’s nice to have around for parties but not essential; the cover is rubbish by the way.
The funky instrumental album is almost as big a cliché as the many vocal group albums that are available in the States. The situation is very nearly as it was in the ’50s with groups, but luckily the tracks that make it over here are generally the cream, like the Independents, who can take their place along with the Detroit Emeralds, Stylistics, Spinners, O’Jays, Bluenotes and Persuaders in having one the best albums in the genre this year.
Most of the aforementioned groups lean heavily on the falsetto. The Independent go one better by featuring a girl in the line-up. This gives them the modern sound without the pain. The group operate out of Jerry Butler’s writers workshop in Chicago, along with the Dells and Butler himself. The lead singer Chuck Jackson (a new one, not the ‘Any Day Now’ man) is a writer of some fame and the brother of Rev. Jesse Jackson of the King Foundation. The album features the three million sellers of the last twelve months or so, the beautiful two-part ‘Just As Long As You Need Me’ and the current ‘Leaving Me’. The standard of writing from black artists is very much higher than it’s ever been and all the cuts, even the uptempo ones where many groups fail to come across, are highly listenable.
One veteran R&B writer has moved back into recording after a lengthy lay-off. Still rocking like a see-saw, Don Covay gives out with his best ever album. Most of the numbers deal with cheating men and women. If you believed all the soul lyrics you hear, you’d wonder why black people bother to marry at all.
The classics of R&B usually stem from a lyrical catch in the song and Covay delivers this year’s stone standard with “I was checkin’ out, she was checkin in” which sums up the whole track. That squeaky voice from ‘See Saw’, Horace Ott, turns up on a marathon, tortuous ballad ‘Leave Him’ answering Covay’s tormented vocal with falsetto echoings. In the hands of a lesser talent the whole thing could have been excrutiatingly embarrassing, but it makes it completely Covay also includes a killer version of ‘Memphis’ in straight reggae style, which also works.
This album could well be the trendies’ answer to their lost heroes, like Capt. Beefheart. So get yours now. There’s so much good stuff around this year it’s amazing that this one can slip in so high. A natural contender for album of the year, make sure you hear it. With cats like Covay around, black music won’t slip from its new pedestal for some time.
© Bob Fisher, Cream, September 1973