Album Reviews

Syreeta “Stevie Wonder Presents Syreeta” (Motown, 1974)

Syreeta Wright (1946-2004) was a fantastic soul/funk vocalist respected for her releases on Motown and its MoWest subsidiary. Blessed with a dulcet and expressive voice, she worked with her genius ex-husband Stevie Wonder on her best albums: 1972’s Syreeta, 1974’s Stevie Wonder Presents Syreeta, and 1977’s One To One. She also contributed to Stevie’s Where I’m Coming From and Music Of My Mind LPs and to jazz saxophonist Gary Bartz’s Juju Man and Music Is My Sanctuary. Syreeta later worked with Beatles/Rolling Stones auxiliary member Billy Preston on a grip of albums in the late ’70s and ’80s.

Ms. Wright was in the running to replace Diana Ross in the Supremes, but Berry Gordy ultimately went with Jean Terrell. Gordy allegedly changed his mind about this decision, but Supreme Mary Wilson miraculously overruled him. I humbly submit that Syreeta would’ve been a fabulous Supreme.

Anyway, Stevie Wonder was on such a creative hot streak in the first half of the ’70s, he could bestow multiple high-quality albums’ worth of tunes to his former main squeeze and still regularly pop out classics under his own name. Stevie Wonder Presents Syreeta showcases the Motown legend’s ex-partner in spectacular form as both singer and lyricist.

“I’m Goin’ Left” is a wonderful way to start an album, its action-packed R&B buoyed to bubbly panache by drummer Ollie Brown and bassist Reggie McBride’s chemistry and Syreeta’s defiant and saucy vocals. Background vocalists Minnie Riperton, Denice Williams, Lani Groves, Shirley Brewer, and Anita Sherman all shine hard, and Stevie had them in seriously tight formation behind the LP’s main character. The love-drunk orchestral soul ballad “Spinnin’ And Spinnin'” gets vertiginous, thanks to Paul Riser’s swoon-worthy arrangement. “Come And Get This Stuff” showcases the singer’s sexy and funky side, with fab backing-vocal ballast and an intricately nimble McBride bass line to die for.

“Your Kiss Is Sweet” ranks as one of Wonder’s greatest, most joyous creations. It’s an upful quasi-reggae strut that elevates with phantom festive steel drums, jabbing bass, and singing that flaunts Wright’s expansive range and sparkling personality. There’s a good reason Fatboy Slim put it in his LateNightTales mix. If you don’t experience love at first listen, you need to see a doctor. Hell, I may need to go to one to get this super-infectious song out of my head…

The rest of the album can’t live up to “Sweet,” and side 2 dips into the maudlin-ballad bag too often for my taste, including “I Wanna Be By Your Side,” a collab with former Spinners vocalist G.C. Cameron. However, “Cause We’ve Ended As Lovers” attains a tender, rueful sublimity in a saga about remaining friends after a romantic breakup. (Written from bittersweet experience, it seems safe to say.) Syreeta’s at her most Riperton-esque here.

Stevie Wonder Presents Syreeta should’ve made the gifted singer a star, but alas, it only peaked at #116 on the US album chart—though hip-hop producers sure love to sample it. But at least Björk covered it in Icelandic on her 1977 debut album. -Buckley Mayfield

Located in Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood, Jive Time is always looking to buy your unwanted records (provided they are in good condition) or offer credit for trade. We also buy record collections.

Keith LeBlanc “Major Malfunction” (World, 1986)

The music world suffered a serious loss when Keith LeBlanc, the powerful and influential drummer for Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five, Mark Stewart And The Maffia, and many others, passed away on April 4 at age 69. The eulogies for his work behind the kit were effusive and widespread. Understandable, as LeBlanc had lent his rhythmic prowess to two major movements in the 1980s, recording several sessions for artists on the pioneering hip-hop label Sugar Hill and for the innovative UK dub imprint On-U Sound.

Beyond those important contributions, LeBlanc sat in on studio dates for popular artists such as R.E.M., Tina Turner, and Nine Inch Nails. He also maintained an interesting, uncompromising solo career, marked by the galvanizing 1986 debut LP, Major Malfunction. This followed the 1983 underground-club sensation “No Sell Out,” in which LeBlanc spliced snippets of fiery Malcolm X speeches into a rock-ribbed electro/hip-hop jam.

With On-U boss Adrian Sherwood at the controls for Major Malfunction, LeBlanc led a group featuring fellow Sugar Hill/Tackhead badasses Doug Wimbish (bass, guitar) and Skip McDonald (guitar, keyboards, engineer). (The title refers to the description of the Space Shuttle Challenger exploding shortly after liftoff in early 1986.) Finally free to do their own thing, LeBlanc and crew let loose with a sampladelic banger built more for the concrete bunker than for the dance floor.

“Get This” launches the record with sick keyboard warpage that’s like a virulent bug moving through an intestinal tract. Soon, LeBlanc’s huge beats pound through a disorienting miasma of disturbingly slurred vocals and fried guitar riffs. On the brutal industrial funk of “Major Malfunction,” LeBlanc threads samples of broadcasters, then-President Reagan talking about the tragedy mentioned in the previous paragraph, with bonus commentary from the Beat author William S. Burroughs, e.g., “Your planet has been invaded.” More jagged, pugilistic electro funk caroms forth on “Heaven On Earth.” “There ain’t no heaven on Earth nowhere,” growls an angry Black man amid sampled yells of the damned. Clearly, LeBlanc’s m.o. was to overwhelm the listener with spoken-word samples and equilibrium-subverting production techniques applied to militant, club-wrecking tracks.

Reputedly, “M.O.V.E.” was a Ministry song that LeBlanc repurposed for his own record; Keith had worked on that band’s 1986 LP, Twitch. It’s a rugged, polyrhythmic shuffle on which African Head Charge member Bonjo’s bongos really slap the track into overdrive. The funkiest and most psychedelic cut here, “Technology Works Dub” is laced with eerie chants and distorted whooshes, with a robotic voice intoning, “Technology works. Technology delivers. Technology is a modern quasi religion.” LeBlanc obviously was skewering the blind faith corporations put in tech while simultaneously using sonic gear designed with it to prove its value in other fields. The chaotic piece “You Drummers Listen Good” closes the album strangely, as a gravel-voiced preacher rants about young women falling for drummers, before it eases back into a slab of exotic funk rock.

The stilted quality of Major Malfunction‘s rhythms was endemic to a lot of vanguard electronic music and hip-hop in the ’80s. While working within those technological limitations, though, LeBlanc found a way to make his beats funky and timbrally exciting—they hit with the exaggerated THWACK of fists hitting faces in Hollywood blockbusters. There were good reasons why so many musicians—both experimental and mainstream—wanted him to supply beats. RIP, Keith LeBlanc. -Buckley Mayfield

Located in Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood, Jive Time is always looking to buy your unwanted records (provided they are in good condition) or offer credit for trade. We also buy record collections.

Sadistic Mika Band “Sadistic Mika Band” (Doughnut/Harvest, 1973)

Led by the wife/husband team of vocalist Mika and guitarist/composer Kazuhiko Katō, Sadistic Mika Band released three very good albums in the ’70s (this one, Black Ship, Hot! Menu) that peddled an over-the-top strain of glam rock, with surprising undercurrents of funk. That funk mainly came from bassist Rey Ohara and drummer Yukihiro Takahashi, the latter of whom later played with electro-pop legends Yellow Magic Orchestra.

Sadistic Mika Band often have been called the Roxy Music of Japan, and for good reason: their chops and production values were impeccable and their songwriting teemed with invention and personality. While SMB presented as goofier than Bryan Ferry and company and didn’t attain the popularity of their British counterparts, they did open for them on the UK leg of their 1975 Siren Tour and accrued a fervent cult status among collectors.

This album bursts into vivid life with “Dance Is Over,” full-on glam with flashbacks to ’50s rock & roll, as was common in the first half of the ’70s. Being Japanese musicians, though, SMB imbue the homage with a flamboyant excessiveness and surplus adrenaline. Now that they have our attention, SMB deliver the killer funk bomb that is “Silver Child.” Mika giggles, gasps, screams, and belts over a fathoms-deep groove and absurdly oscillating wah-wah guitar pyrotechnics. The song makes Parliament-Funkadelic at their most extravagant sound buttoned up. Drop “Silver Child” in a DJ set and watch the floor explode.

Nothing else on Sadistic Mika Band quite matches that peak, but a few inspirational flashes occur. “Galaxy Way” offers truly odd tropical funk with marimba and synth while “Milky Way”‘s pseudo-reggae rock foreshadows Patti Smith Group’s “Redondo Beach,” and is accidentally funky, to boot. “Picnic Boogie” is at once a parody of American rock and doo-wop and an apotheosis of it. Mika’s charming sassiness here makes one wonder why she didn’t get more time on the mic for this record. “Arienu Republic” is peak freewheeling glam that would make Marc Bolan, David Bowie, and Gary Glitter stomp their hands and clap their feet. Have Asian musicians ever sounded more British, even while singing in Japanese? Doubtful.

A few songs on Sadistic Mika Band tilt too heavily into sentimental-ballad territory for my taste, but they’re executed with serious panache. This was a common trait in Far East Asian pop music of the mid 20th century and it has its devotees, but maudlin singing has always disagreed with me. Hearing how much sheer glee went into SMB’s music, you can’t help feeling shocked that the band’s catalyst, Kazuhiko Katō, hanged himself in 2009.

Sadistic Mika Band has been oop on vinyl since 1975, though Universal Music Japan re-released it in on CD in 2018. Suffice it to say, a major reissue campaign for SMB’s ’70s LPs is overdue. -Buckley Mayfield

Located in Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood, Jive Time is always looking to buy your unwanted records (provided they are in good condition) or offer credit for trade. We also buy record collections.

Eugene McDaniels “Outlaw” (Atlantic, 1970)

Eugene McDaniels’ outré political-protest-album era was short, but yielded two classics: 1970’s Outlaw and 1971’s Headless Heroes Of The Apocalypse. These records deviated from his previous output as a relatively conventional R&B singer, becoming treasure troves of samples for hip-hop producers and earning love from counter-culture types, too. His rabble-rousing 1969 anthem “Compared To What” was turned into a hit by Les McCann and Eddie Harris, and it somewhat foreshadowed Outlaw. By 1975, though, McDaniels was in full-on loverman mode with Natural Juices. While Headless Heroes has been sampled more and garnered more critical accolades, Outlaw is just as powerful an artistic statement.

To achieve this lofty work, McDaniels enlisted elite session players Ron Carter (bass), Hugh McCracken (guitar), Eric Weissberg (guitar), Ray Lucas (drums), and Buck Clarke (percussion), plus musical director Williams S. Fischer. This team served as exceptional facilitators of soulful, rock-oriented ballads and occasional forays into funk and gospel. Eugene threaded the needle with songs that double as fascinating character studies and trenchant sociopolitical commentary.

“Outlaw” portrays rebellious women who don’t wear bras nor fry their hair, but rather live with nature and not with the law. Surprisingly, “Outlaw” sounds like one of those elegantly stumbling, blues-rock gems from the Rolling Stones’ Beggars Banquet. “Sagittarius Red” offers more Stones-like balladry, flaunting McDaniels’ vast range and emotional depth as a singer, a rich combo of soulfulness and rock bravado.

“Welfare City” is an absolutely joyous ode to flouting convention, hanging out with the kids in Washington Park, and smoking joints. It’s powered by a total earworm of a melody that moves in huge, sugary loops and possesses some of the most infectious “yeah yeah yeah”s and “la la la”s. The gospel intro of “Silent Majority” gives way to a lean, staunch protest song that gathers strength with each passing bar. The guitar interplay between McCracken and Weissberg glints and coils with glorious tension in a tune that’s a perfect merger of Shuggie Otis and Phil Ochs. The song segues seamlessly into “Love Letter To America,” a devastating condemnation of the USA. “Hey, America, you could’ve been a real democracy/You could’ve been free/You could have had me for your friend and not your enemy/The only thing you can respect is violence now/You lost the gift of love, don’t ask me how.” McDaniels renders this brilliant concept with tough tenderness.

In “Unspoken Dreams Of Light,” McDaniels loquaciously castigates the genocide of indigenous peoples (called “Indians,” in the parlance of the time) to a backing in which heartfelt balladry and incisive jazz-funk alternate. It’s a fantastic roller-coaster ride. With its über-funky opening drum break, “Cherrystones” unspools into a low-lit, laid-back charmer in which McDaniels sarcastically lambastes greedy, apolitical assholes. Reminiscent of the sidewinding seductiveness of the Rolling Stones’ “Stray Cat Blues,” “Reverend Lee” relates a tale about a clergyman who succumbs to the fleshly temptations of “Satan’s daughter.” The album closes with “Black Boy,” a trembling ballad in which McDaniels shows the rare ability to simultaneously project vulnerability and strength.

On the record’s back cover, McDaniels wrote, “under conditions of national emergency, like now, there are only two kinds of people—those who work for freedom and those who do not… the good guys vs. the bad guys.” Evergreen truth. -Buckley Mayfield

Located in Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood, Jive Time is always looking to buy your unwanted records (provided they are in good condition) or offer credit for trade. We also buy record collections.

The Doors “Waiting For The Sun” (Elektra, 1968)

Waiting For The Sun is the Goats Head Soup of the Doors’ catalog. It followed their two most beloved albums—The Doors and Strange Days—and was considered a letdown by most critics and fans upon its 1968 release. Nevertheless, it reached the top of Billboard‘s LP chart. But, as with Goats Head Soup (which had the difficult task of following Sticky Fingers and Exile On Main St.), time has been kind to Waiting For The Sun. Over the decades, the deep tracks on both records have risen in esteem and they’ve proved to be some of the best work by both groups. (Read our review of Goats Head Soup here.)

You can’t say that Waiting For The Sun lacks range. This album contains “Love Street”‘s feathery, filigreed, and quaint romantic pop that threatens to float right off the grooves and “Five To One,” perhaps the toughest and most ominous Doors song—which is saying something in a catalog that boasts “The End” and “Horse Latitudes.” Hip-hop stars J Dilla and Jay-Z and Plunderphonics prankster John Oswald all sampled “Five To One,” which provides a helluva climax for Waiting For The Sun.

Waiting For The Sun also possesses the Robby Krieger-dominated “Spanish Caravan,” in which the guitarist flexes his considerable flamenco chops. The melody eventually gets as convoluted and bombastic as anything ELP or Yes would do a few years later. Then you have “My Wild Love,” which is constructed like a work song, with backing chants, claps, and stomps. Like it or not, there were very few tracks that sounded like this on rock records of the time—especially on those released by major labels.

You got “Yes, The River Knows,” an intimate jazz-pop beauty, not unlike Tim Buckley ca. Blue Afternoon. and also the relentless earworm of big hit “Hello, I Love You.” Bizarrely, the Doors may have unknowingly blueprinted a strain of synth-pop on “Hello, I Love You,” with its sassy automaton shuffle. Yes, the rhythm resembles that of the Kinks’ “All Day And All Of The Night,” but Manzarek’s keyboard drives it instead of distorted guitars and it’s stiffer in the joints, and that makes all the difference. This development was concurrent with Silver Apples’ first LP, which also foreshadowed synth-pop, but in a more blatant manner. “Hello, I Love You” also possess the coolest sound on any Doors record—those three seconds of futuristic, spaced-dusted keyboard wizardry at 1:16.

I have a fondness for the maligned “Summer’s Almost Gone,” because of how it foreshadows Opal‘s “Happy Nightmare Baby.” A swaying, wistful ballad about romantic doubt and confusion, “Summer’s Almost Gone” features Krieger’s bottleneck-guitar sighs sailing over Manzarek’s Ramsey Lewis-esque keyboard curlicues. Less successful is “Wintertime Love”‘s baroque, waltz-time puffery that’s somewhat similar to Love’s “Stepanie Knows Who,” but with much less thrust and excitement.

If you dig sophisticated, multi-part anti-war tunes, “The Unknown Soldier”—which peaked at #39 with a bullet—is the bomb. “Not To Touch The Earth” stands as one of the Doors’ eeriest, most suspenseful, and psychedelic tracks. Krieger forges a mesmerizing guitar motif while Manzarek creates a proto-Suicide throb that intensifies throughout the song. Despite reports of him being a drunken mess for these sessions, Jim Morrison roars at his most portentous and croons at his most suave. The coda is almost as nerve-shattering as that of King Crimson’s “21st Century Schizoid Man.” When people diss the Doors, I like to counter with “But have you heard ‘Not To Touch The Earth'”? If that doesn’t convince ’em of the Doors’ worth, nothing probably will.

I get it: some listeners have trouble with Morrison’s try-hard “poetic” lyrics and self-serious demeanor. But I filter out most of that noise and enjoy Mr. Mojo Risin strictly as a disruptive performance artist who’s competing for attention with the exceptional music behind him. More often than not, Jimbo rises to the occasion and—bonus!—sometimes delivers unintentional humor. -Buckley Mayfield

Located in Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood, Jive Time is always looking to buy your unwanted records (provided they are in good condition) or offer credit for trade. We also buy record collections.

Sugarloaf “Sugarloaf” (Liberty, 1970)

Cheap-heat alert! You’ve probably passed over this ubiquitous bargain-bin dweller by Denver band Sugarloaf more times than you care to count. But please reconsider. I copped mine for a buck years ago, and I’m happy to report that I got way more than expected from these two-hit wonders.

Sugarloaf’s debut album peaked at #24 in the US, thanks largely to its hit single, “Green-Eyed Lady,” which reached #3 in the singles chart. After an instantly magnetic intro featuring Bob Webber’s luminous guitar wails and Bob Raymond’s bubbly, bulbous bass line, things excitingly change for the duration of the song’s 6:50. Allegedly, the suspenseful main riff derived from a scale exercise in a music-theory book. Works for me. As paeans to emerald-orbed girlfriends go, this is unsurpassable. It’s a minor miracle that radio lavished so much love on such a non-LCD, unconventionally structured jazz-rock opus—although the Doors kind of, uh, opened the door for such airplay largesse. Whatever the case, those were different times.

Next, Sugarloaf turn in a suitably turbulent cover of the Yardbirds potent blues-rock warhorse, “The Train Kept A-Rollin’ (Stroll On).” Another zenith occurs on “Bach Doors Man/Chest Fever.” It opens with a momentous classical-music overture that will curl the toes of Iron Butterfly fans. This then segues smoothly into a grandiose rendition of the Band’s greatest song, “Chest Fever” (nobody can compete with Richard Manuel on the mic, so the decision to go instrumental makes sense.) Sugarloaf transform the original’s propulsive, proto-house rhythm into a staccato blues-rock behemoth full of swirling organ, trenchant guitar stabs, and wicked bass ostinatos, while drummer Myron Pollock gets baroquely funky. It’s a complex banger, for damn certain.

Now, a lot of critics have dismissed side two of Sugarloaf, but “West Of Tomorrow” is a striking bit of musicianship. The track boasts the sky-punching air of a Guess Who hit (partially due to singer Veeder van Dorn’s vocal resemblance to Burton Cummings), but it’s more progtastic than those Canadians, with its intricate beats and dynamic interplay among Webber’s guitar, Jerry Corbetta’s keys, and Raymond’s bass.

After this song, though, the record flags. “Gold And The Blues” is trudging (not walking) blues with plenty of guitar fireworks, but ultimately it sounds like flashy filler. There’s no good reason for it to last more than seven minutes. Last comes “Things Gonna Change Some,” middling waltz-time rock with fruity vocals by van Dorn. There’s an urgency here, but overall the effect is not gripping, although Corbetta breaks off a vibrant piano solo in the last minute.

Sugarloaf‘s hit/miss ratio is 66.6%, which is higher than that of many pricier albums. Stop riffling past this one. -Buckley Mayfield

Located in Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood, Jive Time is always looking to buy your unwanted records (provided they are in good condition) or offer credit for trade. We also buy record collections.

Timmy Thomas “Why Can’t We Live Together” (Glades, 1972)

If you only know Why Can’t We Live Together for its stirring, racial-harmony-desiring title track (which peaked at #3 in the singles chart in early 1973), you’re in for a treat. This is a damn strong album all the way through—and reputedly the first record to prominently feature a rhythm machine instead of a drummer. A session musician for Miami’s T.K. Records, Timmy Thomas played and sang every damn thing on Why Can’t We Live Together, and he deserves way more respect for this LP than he’s received. (The gifted soul singer and multi-instrumentalist passed away in 2022 at age 77.)

“Why Cant We Live Together” was Thomas’ only pop hit, although he earned several R&B chart placings. Recorded in mono, this track cut through the commercial-radio clutter with its stark production, the plaintive soulfulness of Thomas’ vocals, the distinctive timbres of the Maestro Rhythm Master drum machine and Lowrey organ, and the simple power of TT’s peace-mongering lyrics. Throughout the LP, Thomas plays bass lines with his organ’s foot pedals, and he creates an incisive one for this all-time classic. For what it’s worth, “Why Can’t We Live Together” has racked up more than 31 million plays on $p0tify—with the album’s next most popular track clocking only 725k. In other trivia, the song’s been covered by Sade, Santana, and Steve Winwood, among others, and was sampled by Drake for his “Hotline Bling” hit. Putting money in Thomas’ bank account is the best thing that that Canadian hip-hop mediocrity’s ever done.

“Rainbow Power” follows with a low-slung paean to ethnic diversity, calling for Americans to “love… your brother,” no matter one’s race; its message remains evergreen. “Cold Cold People” soulfully excoriates soulless ghouls over a drum-machine pattern that ticks methodically and ominously while Thomas gets rococo on the organ. “Dizzy Dizzy World” is a wistful ballad about status-climbers while “Opportunity” comes over like a pep talk given by the most soulful and funky striver you’ve ever heard. By far the most uptempo track here is “Funky Me,” an instrumental that has an almost proto-techno propulsion and swiftness. I recommend it to DJs who urgently need to get the crowd moving.

The LP’s two covers are phenomenal. Inspired after hearing it in the movie Play Misty For Me, Thomas turns Roberta Flack’s awesome interpretation of Ewan McColl’s “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” into a low-lit, instrumental with fibrillating, vibrant organ tones carrying the weight of the heartbreaking melody. A mournful tour de force! Thomas follows it with a rendition of the Chi-Lites’ “The Coldest Days Of My Life,” one of the saddest ballads ever conceived; he inhabits its rueful doldrums with natural panache. Thomas’ minimalism wrings maximal sympathy and he equals the original masterpiece—something most listeners would’ve thought improbable.

One drawback to Why Can’t We Live Together is the relative similarity and lack of spontaneity of the beat patterns, but Thomas’ yearning vocals and moving melodies more than compensate for that. -Buckley Mayfield

Located in Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood, Jive Time is always looking to buy your unwanted records (provided they are in good condition) or offer credit for trade. We also buy record collections.

Can “Ege Bamyasi” (United Artists, 1972)

The recent passing of vocalist/lyricist Damo Suzuki (may he rest in peace) reminded us that his short run with krautrock gods Can (1970-1973) constituted the peak for the greatest rock group ever, if consensus opinion holds any water—and I think it does, for a change. Tago Mago, Ege Bamyasi, and Future Days—what an unfuckwithable triumvirate of albums! Each one is phenomenal in different ways, exemplifying Damo’s incredible ability to adapt and catalyze. (Suzuki’s crucial contributions to songs on the Soundtracks and Unlimited Edition collections should not be overlooked, either.)

As much as I love Tago Mago and Future Days, I have to pick Ege Bamyasi as my favorite of the Damo era. It captures Can at their most concise and funky and, at times, downright catchy. How many times have you caught yourself bellowing along to Suzuki’s “Hey you! You’re losing, you’re losing your vitamin C”? Too many times to count, no doubt.

Ege Bamyasi begins seemingly in mid jam, as “Pinch” instantly plunges the listener into a vertiginous vortex of torqued funk rock. Talk about an exciting welcome into the closest thing I can think of to a perfect album… Suzuki is in rare tough-guy mode on the mic on this tensile, rugged track, with everyone in the band at the absolute pinnacle of their powers. It’s hard to imagine any other drummer than Jaki Liebezeit executing this kind of complexity and controlled power while keeping the funk bumpin’. In a 180º turn from “Pinch,” the subtly suspenseful “Sing Swan Song” bubbles into life, its aquatic tranquility foreshadowing 1973’s Future Days, but its loping funkiness belongs exclusively to this LP. The seductive cha-cha funk of “One More Night” represents some of the most understated party music ever created, with Irmin Schmidt’s obliquely pinging keyboard motif elevating the song into rarefied status. Suzuki’s sotto voce intonations are a blessing for stressed-out heads, even if toward the end he clenches up.

The record’s best-known song by far, “Vitamin C” is the staccato funk bomb that’s detonated a million acrobatic breakdance moves. This track possesses a strange anti-gravitational pull; it seems to hover five feet off the floor and also contains a passage of oddly moving, old-world melancholy. And then comes a bizarre coda featuring a chorus of crickets and a piercing keyboard drone that bleeds into the album’s longest cut, “Soup,” which eventually breaks into a jagged funk juggernaut not unlike “Halleluwah.” “Soup” goes off on tantalizing tangents, including an agonizing noise interlude that sounds like a pitched-up cement mixer. Then it gets even weirder, with Damo seemingly trying to speak Italian without knowing how, while the rest of the band go on a stridently abstract bender that could break the spirit of the staunchest avant-gardist.

A huge contrast ensues with “I’m So Green,” whose featherlight funk makes you feel as if you’re levitating. Liebezeit’s beats are at once militarily precise and designed for hedonism, while Michael Karoli’s guitar carries a surprising Hawaiian sway and sigh. As for Suzuki, he’s in supplest form. This is one of my go-to Can tracks in DJ sets. Ege ends with the paradoxical “Spoon”: so light yet so ominous, so spooky yet so funky. Schmidt’s head-spinning keyboard swirls entwine with Karoli’s spidery spangles while bassist Holger Czukay and Liebezeit lay down an earthy, girthy rhythm. Thus ends one of the most spellbinding albums ever, one whose pleasures are infinitely renewable. -Buckley Mayfield

Located in Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood, Jive Time is always looking to buy your unwanted records (provided they are in good condition) or offer credit for trade. We also buy record collections.

Mel Brown “Chicken Fat” (Impulse!, 1967)

Impulse! Records, of course, is revered as one of the world’s preeminent jazz labels, with a roster boasting Alice and John Coltrane, Pharoah Sanders, Albert Ayler, Charlie Haden, Archie Shepp, and many other legends. However, Impulse! is less celebrated as a champion of blues and funk (and funky blues). But with Mel Brown’s dynamite 1967 LP, Chicken Fat, the company proved it could hold its own with the best in those fields.

Born in Mississippi and based in LA, Brown—who passed away in 2009—was an in-demand session musician throughout the ’60s, playing with Brenda Lee, Nancy Wilson, T-Bone Walker, the Olympics, and B*ll C*sby. Impulse! must have been looking to branch out stylistically when it signed Brown for his debut album. Whatever the case, they got a doozy with Chicken Fat.

The record begins with “Chicken Fat,” which is as gritty and funky as the title is gross. The guitar interplay between Brown and Herb Ellis is complex and soulful and full of fowl squawks, and the groove is absolutely raunchy. I’ll be spinning this in DJ sets for years to come. Written by Brown, Ellis, drummer Paul Humphrey, and bassist Ron Brown (no relation), “Greasy Spoon” follows with some fleet and elite blues-funk, distinguished by a killer descending bass line by Ron Brown. Mel is in scintillating form on guitar, spraying brilliant glinting chords over the sexily torqued groove. Here and elsewhere, maniacal instrumental prowess abounds. “Slalom”—written by popular session trumpeter Jules Chaikin—brings a staccato, churning strain of funk that foreshadows Medeski, Martin + Wood by over 20 years. “Shanty” is careering blues funk of exceptional fluidity and action-film-soundtrack wizardry.

On the bluesier end of the spectrum, “Home, James” is a lackadaisical, louche number laced with flashy Brown soloing. This tune would segue well into David Lynch’s “The Pink Room,” although Gerald Wiggins’ curiously dinky electric-organ sound is almost comical. The Oliver Nelson composition “Hobo Flats” features either Brown or fellow guitarist Arthur Wright going buck-wild on the wah-wah pedal over a languidly libidinous blues saunter. Such a sick display of virtuosity—it gave my ears vertigo. Chicken Fat ends strongly with “Blues For Big Bob,” a choppy, Booker T. & The MGs-like head-nodder with an unstoppable groove, a loopy organ solo by Wiggins, and a guitar solo of head-spinning intricacy.

Portland’s Jackpot Records reissued Chicken Fat in 2023, so it should be relatively easy to find and affordable. -Buckley Mayfield

Located in Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood, Jive Time is always looking to buy your unwanted records (provided they are in good condition) or offer credit for trade. We also buy record collections.

MC5 “Back In The USA” (Atlantic, 1970)

When MC5’s Wayne Kramer passed away on February 2 at age 75, it reminded me of Jeff Beck’s death last year at a seemingly too-young 78. Both masterly, septuagenarian guitarists exuded vitality and appeared to have a lot of creativity left in the tank when they shuffled off this mortal coil. It’s a sad state of affairs, but the treasure trove of life-enhancing music both made softens the blows.

As part of Detroit’s MC5, Kramer helped to draw the blueprint for both metal and punk with their cataclysmic 1969 debut, Kick Out The Jams. Their bombastic sonic attack combined with lyrics of personal and political revolution (plus explosive covers of Sun Ra, John Lee Hooker, and Ted Taylor tunes) resulted in one of the most dynamic first LPs in rock history. Elektra Records had a real monster on its hands.

But trouble ensued with vocalist Rob Tyner’s exhortation on the title track to “Kick out the jams, motherfuckers!” which some dweebs in high places simply could not tolerate. When MC5 placed a newspaper ad displaying Elektra’s logo that profanely admonished Detroit department store Hudson’s for not carrying Kick Out The Jams, the label dropped the band.

Picked up by Atlantic Records and working with producer/Rolling Stone writer Jon Landau, MC5 cut the much cleaner-sounding and more streamlined Back In The USA. Landau was a proponent of back-to-basics rock & roll, and he likely abhorred Kick Out The Jams‘ chaotic noisiness and freewheeling fervor, its striving for revolutionary sonic and lyrical content. Despite seeming like a poor fit for MC5, Landau tightened up the group’s songwriting and playing and many great songs spilled forth, albeit not without some corniness, too.

Back In The USA is bookended by enthusiastic covers of Little Richard’s “Tutti-Frutti” and Chuck Berry’s “Back In The USA.” Both are good, important songs, of course, but we don’t go to MC5 for R&R revivalism, do we? No. However, Landau and/or Atlantic seemingly demanded this return-to-roots concession. Similarly, the peppy, preppy MC5 original “High School” sounds out of character for the hell-raisers who a year earlier wrote and performed “Rocket Reducer No. 62 (Rama Lama Fa Fa Fa).” I like it anyway, but it’s sort of square for members of the White Panthers, you know. “Let Me Try” is a rare MC5 ballad with the same downer vibe and laggard tempo as Love’s “Signed D.C.” “Tonight” kicks off with Rob Tyner imploring, “All right, kids/let’s get together and have a ball,” before the band grinds out some rowdy, good-time rock that celebrates getting down in the USA—not tomorrow or in a week, but tonight, damn it.

“Looking At You” is where MC5 finally relocate their balls and blast out one of the most potent hooks in garage-rock history. Kramer’s wild, high-pitched, filigreed guitar solos lift this classic to godly heights. “Call Me Animal” is gnarly and ominous garage rock that Alice Cooper Group surely dug, while the proggy “The Human Being Lawnmower” could segue well into an Iron Butterfly deep cut.

“The American Ruse” stands as one of MC5’s peaks, using old-school rock & roll machinations to comment on US government scams and hypocrisy, of which they had first-hand knowledge, thanks in part to their presence at the 1968 Democratic National Convention, where they joined in the Vietnam War protests and were the only band to play. Notable for Rob Tyner’s mispronunciation of “stasis” to rhyme with “molasses,” “The American Ruse” pairs poorly with the title track’s chorus of “I’m so glad I’m living in the USA.” “Shakin’ Street” remains a zenith of cruising, masculine rock energy; it’s one of those tightly constructed, hooky songs that do everything you want in under two-and-a-half minutes. That “Shakin’ Street” didn’t top the charts is a damning indictment against Atlantic Records.

MC5 would loosen up and jam more freely and fiery on their swan song, High Time, but for a perceived “sell out” move, Back In The USA mostly holds up very well. Rest in power, Wayne Kramer.

Located in Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood, Jive Time is always looking to buy your unwanted records (provided they are in good condition) or offer credit for trade. We also buy record collections.

Marlena Shaw “The Spice Of Life” (Cadet, 1969)

Jazz and soul singer Marlena Shaw—who passed away on January 19 at age 81—was a true American musical treasure whose abundant vocal charms and moving lyrical skills peaked on The Spice Of Life. Produced and arranged by Cadet Records geniuses Charles Stepney and Richard Evans, The Spice Of Life boasts two of Shaw’s greatest and best-known songs, “Woman Of The Ghetto” and “California Soul.” The album would be worth the price of admission just for these two classics, but it contains some other lesser-celebrated gems, too.

But first, “Woman Of The Ghetto.” Talk about putting your best foot forward… This street-level, soul-funk classic has been sampled 204 times, and that makes sense. A tense, riveting song that can stand shoulder to shoulder with Curtis Mayfield’s “Freddie’s Dead,” “Woman Of The Ghetto” finds Shaw relating a tale of woe in wrenching detail: “How do you raise your kids in the ghetto/Feed one child and starve another.” The female backing vocals scat in vibrant consolation with Shaw while kalimba accents reminiscent of those early Earth, Wind & Fire LPs, a memorably trenchant bass line, and eerie, hysterical harmonica interjections multiply the drama. Damn, this cuts deep.

As for the cover of Ashford & Simpson’s “California Soul,” it’s simply one of the most uplifting orchestral-soul masterpieces ever waxed, with Stepney and Evans’ deft fingertips all over it. If you aren’t smiling and floating to this within the first 10 seconds of this billowing beauty, go see a shrink. It’s not hard to hear why this rendition’s been sampled 35 times. “Liberation Conversation”—co-written by Shaw and Bobby Miller—is a feisty, funky highlight in the Marva Whitney vein, featuring more of that delightfully buoyant ga-ganga scatting that Shaw also emitted on “Ghetto.” “Blues ain’t nothing but a good woman gone bad,” she declares, as if speaking from bitter experience.

T-Bone Walker’s “Call It Stormy Monday” gets transformed into swanky jazz blues with gorgeously anguished guitar and harmonica parts while “Where Can I Go?” is a languidly funky ballad in which Shaw’s voice effortlessly evinces subtle shades of pride, melancholy, and regret. The loping gospel funk of “I’m Satisfied” would appeal to fans of Pastor T.L. Barrett—a very great thing, indeed. Similarly, the freewheeling paean to liberation, “I Wish I Knew (How It Would Feel To Be Free),” peddles rollicking gospelized soul. Credits are damnably scant on this LP, but that rococo, quicksilver guitar solo sure sounds like Phil Upchurch and whoever’s on organ just blazes.

A few schmaltzy cuts penned by the celebrated songwriters Goffin & King, Mann & Weil, and Johnny Marks don’t hit with this critic, but they don’t detract much from The Spice Of Life‘s overall greatness. This album shouldn’t be too hard to find nor should it be very expensive; Verve did the last official vinyl reissue in 2018. -Buckley Mayfield

Located in Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood, Jive Time is always looking to buy your unwanted records (provided they are in good condition) or offer credit for trade. We also buy record collections.

Odetta “Odetta Sings” (Polydor, 1970)

Polydor valiantly tried to make vocalist/guitarist/civil rights activist Odetta Holmes (1930-2008) a crossover star with Odetta Sings. And while that didn’t quite pan out, the album has yielded many spicy samples and very interesting cover versions.

The label roped in some of the era’s top session musicians for “the queen of American folk music” (as deemed by Martin Luther King Jr.), including drummers Russ Kunkel and Roger Hawkins, pianists Carole King and Barry Beckett, guitarists Eddie Hinton and Bernie Leadon, bassist David Hood, and backing singers Merry Clayton and Clydie King. The sessions happened at Muscle Shoals Sound Studios in Alabama and Larabee Sound in LA, and you can hear the premium quality in every minute. Overall, Odetta Sings was a stark departure from the ‘bama-born Renaissance woman’s usual repertoire of folk, jazz, blues, and spirituals, and it’s a cool curio in her large discography.

Few Odetta fans could’ve anticipated her doing Elton John’s “Take Me To The Pilot,” but she takes this rousing rocker to church, bolstered by her crack crew of backing vocalists. Randy Newwman’s sleazy, sly rock classic “Mama Told Me Not To Come” is not really a good fit for upstanding citizen Odetta, but I’m always down to hear this tune interpreted, no matter the outcome. And while I’m not sure we needed to hear Odetta lend her warm, soulful pipes to the minor Paul McCartney ballad “Every Night,” surely the former Beatle appreciated the royalties.

The rendition of Spanky And Our Gang’s “Give A Damn” enables Odetta to express righteous sympathy for “your fellow man” over serviceable folk-rock. She returns to familiar territory with a bombastic run through John Buck Wilkin’s “My God And I,” though this agnostic remains unmoved. James Taylor’s “Lo & Behold” easily transforms into a gospel arm-waver in Odetta & co.’s hands, with shocking bonus sitar accompaniment. Don Cooper’s “Bless The Children” is a spring-legged delight that would segue well into Dusty Springfield’s “Son Of A Preacher Man.” Covering the Rolling Stones’ “No Expectations” seems like a solid choice, but ain’t no way anyone’s gonna top the OG. (See also the Dirtbombs’ attempt.) Odetta’s drags where it should soar.

Ms. Odetta really shines on her two original compositions. “Movin’ It On” is inspirational rock with sublime organ swells and crackin’ beats. Speaking of which, the über-funky opening break from “Hit Or Miss” has been sampled over three dozen times, and rightly so. (It’s also been streamed over 17 million times on $p0t1fy, far outstripping every other track on the album.) A slab of swampy Muscle Shoals funk, “Hit Or Miss” sets the scene for Odetta to stress the importance of representing her authentic self, no matter what. I, for one, will never stop playing this jam in DJ sets.

The time is overdue—it’s been 54 years!—for a US company to reissue this sporadically brilliant record on vinyl. -Buckley Mayfield

Located in Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood, Jive Time is always looking to buy your unwanted records (provided they are in good condition) or offer credit for trade. We also buy record collections.