Roy Buchanan – Before And After

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NO electric guitar player, not even Hendrix, played with more power than Roy Buchanan. Heart-rending, bone-crunching power. There is so much emotion in every note the music transcends categories. Labels like country, blues, soul are completely insignificant in the hands of Roy Buchanan. He used NO effects, NO pedals of any kind, just a worn Telecaster through a Fender amp — no walls of Marshalls. He said if he needed more volume in a particular room he would just mike the amp. I had the honor and privilege of seeing Roy live several times during the late 70’s and 80’s — some of the finest musical experiences of my life. I think this is his best recording — Sweet Dreams, the Messiah, and the Blues — it will make you cry. Roy could knock the bark off an oak tree at 60 yards. Albert Lee, Arlen Roth, David Grissom, Danny Gatton — all trembled at Roy’s approach.

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Funky Kingston – Reggae Dancefloor Grooves 1968-74

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American soul music was one of the formative influences on the development of ska in 1960s Jamaica, and since ska eventually slowed down and turned into rocksteady, which then slowed and thickened even further into reggae, it can be argued that soul music is one of the stylistic pillars of reggae for that reason. But, in fact, American soul continued to inform Jamaican reggae even as both styles were developing throughout the 1960s and 1970s, as this fascinating compilation makes clear. Bands like Toots & the Maytals were deeply influenced by James Brown (check out “Funky Kingston” and “Funky Funky,” which open and close this album, respectively), and reggae versions of American funk and soul hits were very common. The Chosen Few covered both “Funky Stuff” (as “Reggae Stuff”) and “Do Your Thing”; Lloyd Charmers even did a reggae version of “Shaft.” Not all of these versions were entirely successful, of course — that cover of “Shaft” is hilarious, but probably not intentionally so — but even the most ill-advised covers are lots of fun, and the best ones, such as the Pioneers’ darkly brilliant version of “Papa Was a Rolling Stone,” bring new insight to songs that were classics to begin with.

Al Kooper and Mike Bloomfield – Fillmore East ,The Lost Concert Tapes

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At first glance, you might mistake this for unused material from the same late-1968 concerts that supplied the material for The Live Adventures of Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper. But no, this was recorded about two and a half months later at a different venue, and with a different backup band (Paul Harris on piano, Jerry Jemmott on bass, and John Cresci on drums). There’s still some similarity to the repertoire, though, and a good deal of similarity to the music, which is blues-rock with a late-’60s improvisational heaviness. And to be honest, it hasn’t dated well, the undisputed instrumental talents of Bloomfield and Kooper notwithstanding. Why? Well, little original material was offered, the only song falling into that category being Bloomfield’s “(Please) Tell Me Partner,” a routine and (at ten minutes) overlong blues. The soul-pop cover “Together Till the End of Time” comes off the best, in part because of its relative (four-and-a-half-minute) economy, and the cover of Sonny Boy Williamson’s “One Way Out” isn’t bad. But the band isn’t too tight (particularly the rhythm section), the lead vocals aren’t strong, and the interpretations (including a nine-minute “Season of the Witch,” which Kooper and Bloomfield had done on their popular Super Session album) are too long and not terribly imaginative. This disc does preserve a historic moment of sorts, when Bloomfield introduces then-unknown guest guitarist Johnny Winter, who takes some of the guitar duties on “It’s My Own Fault.” This was the appearance that, according to Kooper’s liner notes, alerted Columbia to Winter, after which the label quickly offered him a contract.

Funkadelic – Cosmic Slop

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With a much more stripped-down version of the band, if the credits are to be believed (five regular members total, not counting any vocalists), Funkadelic continued its way through life with Cosmic Slop. A slightly more scattershot album than the group’s other early efforts, with generally short tracks (only two break the five-minute barrier) and some go-nowhere ballads, Cosmic Slop still has plenty to like about it, not least because of the monstrous title track. A bitter, heartbreaking portrait of a family on the edge, made all the more haunting and sad by the sweet vocal work — imagine an even more mournful “Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone” — the chorus is a killer, with the devil invited to the dance while the band collectively fires up the funk. Elsewhere, the band sounds like it’s more interested in simply hitting a good groove and enjoying it, and why not? If introductory track “Nappy Dugout” relies more on duck calls and whistles than anything else to give it identity, it’s still a clap-your-hands/stomp-your-feet experience, speeding up just a little toward the end. As for the bandmembers themselves, Bernie Worrell still takes the general lead thanks to his peerless keyboard work, but the guitar team of Gary Shider and Ron Bykowski and the rhythm duo of Tyrone Lampkin and Cordell Mosson aren’t any slouches, either. George Clinton again seems to rely on the role of ringleader more than anything else, but likely that’s him behind touches like distorted vocals. Certainly it’s a trip to hear the deep, spaced-out spoken word tale on “March to the Witch’s Castle,” a harrowing picture of vets returning from Vietnam — and then realizing that Rush ripped off that approach for a song on its Caress of Steel album a year or two later!

Willie Dixon – Hidden Charms

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Willie Dixon’s life and work was virtually an embodiment of the progress of the blues, from an accidental creation of the descendants of freed slaves to a recognized and vital part of America’s musical heritage. That Dixon was one of the first professional blues songwriters to benefit in a serious, material way — and that he had to fight to do it — from his work also made him an important symbol of the injustice that still informs the music industry, even at the end of the 20th century. A producer, songwriter, bassist, and singer, he helped Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Little Walter, and others find their most commercially successful voices.