Many adjectives have been used to describe James Brown: “dynamic”, “fabulous”, “energetic”, “soulful” and of course “funky”. The nicknames were plentiful as well: “The Hardest Working Man In Show Business”, “The King Of The One Nighters”, “Mr. Dynamite”, “Mr. Please, Please, Please”, “The Minister Of New Super Heavy Funk” and of course ; “The Godfather Of Soul”.
The James Brown experience is not so much a musical one as it is a spiritual one. Having singlehandedly invented funk and damn near hip-hop as well, Brown was a “pioneer” in every sense of the word. But for this thing known as “the James Brown experience” one had to have experienced the man in concert.
Don’t me wrong, The Godfather has released some incredible studio albums such as “There It Is”, “Get On The Good Foot”, “Cold Sweat”, “It’s Hell” … hell even 1988’s Full Force produced “I’m Real”.
But as great as the records, the studio was too confining for James Brown. He had to, as he sang on “Get On The Good Foot”; “let it all hang out”.
So when he released the groundbreaking “Live At The Apollo” in 1963, he was doing something that was never heard of previously in the music industry. Nobody released records of their live show on wax. Albums were made in the studio and to catch an artist’s live show, you just had to plain out, be there. The album was excerpts from two back-to-back shows performed at the famed Apollo Theater in Harlem, New York.
This idea was so outrageous that even Syd Nathan, the owner of King Records, the label that the Godfather was signed to at the time, only green lighted the project because Brown was financing it himself.
“Live At The Apollo” was an astonishing success , staying on the charts for over a year, with radio djs playing an entire side at a time, breaking only for commercials before hitting side two.
In 1968, King Records released “Live At The Apollo – Vol. II” as a double album with Brown working his band through new songs that were blueprints of funk: “There Was A Time”, “Let Yourself Go”, “Out Of Sight” and of course; “Cold Sweat”.
In 1971, Brown switched labels and went to Polydor. After a few classic studio albums, Polydor decided to try and duplicate the success of the first “Apollo” album and to a large extent they did with the awesome two-record set “Revolution Of The Mind” – Live At The Apollo – Vol.3.
Not only was James’ music better, his voice was better, his band was better and the post civil rights era was ripe for Brown’s more aggressive music they dubbed “funk”.
The only problem with “Revolution Of The Mind,” it only captures the James portion of the show.
When this writer at age three attended James’ ’73 tour in Montreal, there was entire review before The Godfather even hit the stage late into the night, somewhere close to midnight.
“Live At The Apollo” – Vol. IV , which was just released through Universal Music, under the Polydor imprint gives you the whole James Brown Experience, supporting cast and all.
The album kicks off with an introduction by long-time Brown emcee Danny Ray of James’ crack tight band: The J.B.’s, which at the time included trombonist/band director Fred Wesley (who also did time with P-Funk), guitarist extraordinaire Jimmy Nolan, saxophonist St. Claire Pinckney and drummer Jabo Starks quickly breaks into the sizzling “Hot Pants Road”, which was sampled by Public Enemy on their 1989 Black Power anthem “Fight The Power“.
The J.B`s follow up with two more instrumentals; “From The Back Side“ and “Wine Spot“.
Fred Wesley then introduces Brown who joins the band on Hammond B3 organ for a few instrumentals: Bill Doggett`s classic “Honky Tonk“, J.B.`s classic “Pass The Peas“ and even a cover of The Jackson 5 classic “Never Can Say Goodbye“, composed by actor Clifton Davis, where Brown even shouts out Michael and his brothers.
Brown even breaks down science about Black stereotypes in Hollywood over the Jackson 5 groove and even gives props to Isaac Hayes on his recent Oscar and Grammy award for the “Shaft“ theme.
Then away goes James until the “real show“ Danny Ray introduces long-time Brown homie, collaborator and recording artist in his own right Bobby Byrd, who launches into his own smash, “I Know You Got Soul“, which was produced by Brown.
Byrd then sings a cover version of the 1972 Luther Ingram classic ‘If Loving You Is Wrong – I Don`t Want To Be Right,’ followed by another one of his hits, the Brown co-penned “Keep On Doin`What You Doin“`.
Ray then introduces The Female Preacher (and J.B.`s girlfriend), Lyn Collins, who breaks into the soul sister anthem “Think“(About It), the most sampled song ever in hip-hop, first immortalized on “It Takes Two“ by Rob Base & D.J. E-Z Rock.
Collins even does a sizzling cover of “I`ll Take You There“ by The Staple Singers.
Then came time for the man of the hour. Danny Ray takes to the mic one last time to introduce The Godfather, who breaks into “Gimme Some More“ from the “Slaughter`s Big Rip-Off“ soundtrack, which Brown scored. Then “There It Is“, one of James` most under-rated tunes.
The band is in full swing and fire on this one with a horn section rivaled by none.
Brown at his best !
Rating = 10/10
“Catch Me If You Can”
– The Carson Downey Band – Zeb Productions Records
Hailing from the North Preston section of Halifax, Nova Scotia, The Carson Downey Band earned respect the whole fashioned way, they earned it.
Singer and guitarist extraordinaire Carson Downey played in funks bands in the 80’s and was introduced to the blues by friend via the music of Johnny Winter.
Not being able to get booked for any shows in Halifax being a Black blues band while other white blues out-fits played regularly locally, Downey took to the road to build his rep on his own.
And that he did, eventually opening for legends like Buddy Guy and B.B. King and then becoming a Canadian blues festival favourite in his own rights.
After a couple of albums, The Carson Downey Band which includes Carson’s brother Brady on drums and Bruce Dixson on bass, offers this latest offering, which sizzles.
After opening the album with two bland uneventful funk numbers: “State Of Mind” and “Why Do It”, the set really gets into gear three songs in with “What’s The Matter With You” showcasing Carson’s soulful vox and guitar solos reminiscent of Albert Collins and B.B. King.
“Hurt Me Down So Deep” is funky and jazzy all at once with chicken scratch guitar chops interwoven with fuzzy fills and lyrics of love-in-vain.
The swing of “Sweet Angel Of Mine” rocks as does “Fire” as the gentlemen pick up the tempo with blues/funk workouts with some Stevie Wonder undertones.
The low-down dirty “Bad Luck Trouble” finally drops the pace a bit with a Texas blues style that recalls Albert King and Stevie Ray Vaughn.
The Carson Downey Band is keeping the “real” spirit of the blues alive.
Rating = 7/10