Wrapping Up 2010 V. Blues, Soul and Funk

Buddy Guy
Living Proof
Janelle Monae
The ArchAndroid
Trombone Shorty
Janiva Magness
The Devil Is An Angel Too
Karen Lovely
Still the Rain
Otis Grove
The Runk
Pinetop Perkins &
Willie Big Eyes Smith
Joined at the Hip
Mavis Staples
You Are Not Alone
The Haggis Horns
Keep On Movin’
Carolina Chocolate Drops
Genuine Negro Jig
Betty LaVette
British Rock Songbook
Little Axe
Bought For a Dollar,
Sold For a Dime
Aretha Franklin-King Curtis
Live at the Fillmore
Junior Wells & the Aces
Live in Boston 1966

Last in my year-end accounting come blues, soul, and funk. Funk serves as a catch-all. In important respects the umbrella class is rhythm and blues. In recent years this class doesn’t get enough attention. The main reason for this is that I tend reach for old classic Chicago blues and southern soul when I want to scratch my itch. For funk my habit is to pull out Fela, The Meters, James Brown, and others. These predilections do not imply my global value judgment about recent rhythm and blues. I have to narrow my attention simply as matter of time, and, I’m as enthusiastic about the gems here and deeper on my list, as I am about anything else I’ve put my ears to this year.

The fact of the matter is that in this summary sits the one record I’d dare to elevate to be my record of the year. We’ll get to this honor shortly.

Buddy Guy is 74 years old. He originally was a leading light of the second wave of Chicago electric bluesmen, establishing his signature sound starting in 1965 with his debut for Delmark and the classic six sides made with Junior Wells for producer Sam Charters, forever enshrined on volume one of Chicago/The Blues/Today, (Vanguard Records.) It’s fitting the two most thrilling records of electric blues I heard last year came from the elder statesman Guy, Living Proof, and his off-and-on partner, Junior Wells, Live in Boston 1966.

The latter record captures a working band on a working night. The recording is serviceable, the playing sturdy and locked in. The music provides a time machine back to a time when this was how blues drummers drummed and blues bass players played. We are here talking about Dave Myers and Fred Below. Louis Myers is on guitar. Wells, thirty-one at the time of this club date had been plying his trade for 15 years by this night. He, and a handful of others, were about to enjoy a brief enlightening run through college town clubs, hippie ballrooms and main stages, such as the two Fillmores. Here, we’re on the cusp of the Chicago blues coming to town. Rock and roll would never be the same.

Buddy Guy is without any doubt the preeminent guitarist of the Chicago blues sound. He is also a survivor, whose long recording career has demonstrated his keen ability to evolve his artistry with the currents of change in Black popular music. A confident player, sometimes he can seem to coast while cranking out the tried-and-true. He’s always been a terrific singer, and my hope with each outing over the years is that it go beyond mere everything falling into place. No problem with Living Proof: Guy goes right for the heart of the matter with the first track, etching slashing, psychedelic blues lines as only he can do. From there, he’s so on that cameos by B.B.King and Carlos Santana are as frosting–sweet augmentation. Greatly advantaged by the arrangements and recording, this strikes me as the most invigorating blues record of the new century, so far.

New Orleans R&B has equal standing with Chicago blues in my funked-up world. Trombone Shorty, I’m sure, means to amuse on Backtown, a record preceded by a reputation somehow gathered up and delivered on the ethers. He’s good to this advance world. Although the NOLA brass band is central to a number of big easy ritual musics, here various conventions get stretched and hammered into bottom heavy funk only Shorty is thumping out. Backtown is razor sharp in execution and smile-inducing in its borrowings from the Caribbean, urban funk, Wonderesque soul, and fusion jazz. Crazy good.

I’d like to offer a concoction: a bit of Peggy Lee, a bit more David Bowie, and a liberal helping ofThe Fugees. Hmmm, you’re shaking your head? Let me adjust this mix then. Sprinkle some Queen and David Axelrod into the pot. Huh, you don’t know who Axelrod is? Okay, sounds unappetizing, but just take a sip.

Janelle Monáe. The ArchAndroid, Ms. Monáe’s second record, and one which continues her suite, Metropolis, is one of those musical moments I wouldn’t of thought possible. Her earlier record didn’t trip my triggers and then she signed on Bad Boy, and joined Diddy‘s stable of has-beens and wannabees.

So what happens? She forges the most ingenious and extravagant and utterly unique slab of neo-everything since Prince’s heyday.

Here’s an excerpt from Pitchfork’s review.

The songs zip gleefully from genre to genre, mostly grounded in R&B and funk, but spinning out into rap, pastoral British folk, psychedelic rock, disco, cabaret, cinematic scores, and whatever else strikes her fancy. It’s about as bold as mainstream music gets, marrying the world-building possibilities of the concept album to the big tent genre-mutating pop of Michael Jackson and Prince in their prime. Monáe describes The ArchAndroid as an “emotion picture,” an album with a story arc intended to be experienced in one sitting, like a movie. It most certainly works in this way, but at first blush, it’s almost too much to take in all at once. The first listen is mostly about being wowed by the very existence of this fabulously talented young singer and her over-the-top record; every subsequent spin reveals the depths of her achievement.

Here, I’ll poor you a full glass.

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