Ziggy Marley and the Melody Makers
Free Like We Want 2 B
Winning a Grammy is the artistic equivalent of contracting a venereal disease. The Melody Makers have two. Grammies, that is. But there's no confusing these reggae revolutionaries with the soulless dregs found "entertaining" industry hotshots on awards night. Ziggy and siblings stir it up with a blend of roots reggae and contemporary urban-guerrilla beats potent enough to set the most villainous downpressor straight.
As kids, the band members hung out at their father Bob Marley's Tuff Gong studios, where they also recorded this latest effort. Besides enjoying what must have been the world's biggest contact high, the Marley brood picked up some serious chops. Its musical ability is evident everywhere on Free, one of the group's more strident albums. While the Melody Makers never seem preachy, neither do they pull any punches in their search for liberation.
If, instead of writing Das Kapital, Karl Marx had been able to hook up a groove as phat as "Tipsy Dazy," the Western world would have long ago embraced Communism. Considering the political agenda of legitimate reggae--the kind not used as jingles to sell cars or cola--theories of economic oppression showing up on "Free Like We Want 2 B" and "G 7" isn't surprising. Ziggy's lyrics proclaiming "Power to the workers/More power" may make Rush Limbaugh tremble in his corporate pinstripes, but those on the justice trip won't have any trouble shaking it to "Hand to Mouth." Or to the horn section that blasts the brass on "Power to Move Ya."
So, hey, Dick Clark! Give the revolution a ten 'cuz it's got a beat you can dance to.--Matt Golosinski
Give Up the Funk: The Best of Parliament
The third hits collection from George Clinton's pioneering funk posse Parliament is a solid introduction to the psychedelic bebop that transfixed a nation of groovers, and to the beats still felt beneath many hip-hop tracks. No one has had a greater influence on black music in this decade than Clinton--and that would still be true if he had stopped recording 15 years ago, when the last song on this package was cut.
This latest PolyGram collection arrives surfing a wave of archival funk reissues, with the best tracks in PolyGram's Funk Essentials series and Rhino's In Yo Face! compilation. Neither set is imaginable without Clinton. Aided by Parliament-Funkadelic playmates and former James Brown sidemen Bootsy Collins (who typically hit stage in feathers and a diaper), Fred Wesley and Maceo Parker, Clinton took the hint from Sly Stone and smeared soul all over rock, until there was no way the old names sufficed. In the process, he made some of the most intricate and dizzying music of the '70s.
Clinton, who turns 54 this week, is a dictionary of soul. He started his working life as a barber in New Jersey, where he formed a doo-wop group, the Parliaments. The group moved to Detroit in the '60s, where Clinton worked as a Motown songwriter. The Parliaments finally cracked the charts in 1967 with "Testify," hinting at the sound their founder later described as "the Temptations on acid."
It's no coincidence that Clinton raided Brown's band to get the P-Funk sound together. Following in Mr. Superbad's pioneering footsteps, Clinton kept Parliament and Funkadelic arrangements tight and percussive. Itchy guitars and horns play on the beat, the bass usually carries the melody and the vocals are simple, chanted exhortations. It's syncopation on cloud nine.
Because of label problems, Clinton cloned himself early on, releasing his drawn-out experimental work under the Funkadelic rubric and putting the more melodic, danceable songs out as Parliament. Which is not to say the 14 tracks on Give Up the Funk are overtly commercial; the highest charting pop release in the set, 1977's "Flashlight," only made it to number 16. However, P-Funk charted 25 singles in the R&B Top 40 and were successful enough to keep going through the decade, making its name on effects-laden live shows. If the group had scored a bigger hit, it may have succumbed to the pressure to imitate itself. Instead, it percolated in a groove.
The band put out Uncut Funk . . . The Bomb, a greatest hits collection, in 1984, and followed that up a few years ago with the fine Tear the Roof Off two-disc set covering the period 1974-80. Give Up . . . has four more cuts than Bomb ("Ride On," "Agony of Defeet," "Dr. Funkenstein" and "Let's Play House"), and has been digitally remastered, although even serious audiophiles would be hard-pressed to hear any improvement over the pristine sound of the original albums. The new collection includes the original long mixes of booty-shakers like "Flash Light," "Give Up the Funk (Tear the Roof off the Sucker)" and all divine eight-plus minutes of "P. Funk Wants to Get Funked Up."
Clinton long ago announced that he had come to rescue disco, and all music, from the blahs. Give Up the Funk makes the hottest disco sound hollow. If you're thinking about throwing a party anytime in the next two decades, you can't afford not to own some Parliament, and this collection is the best place to start.
The last time I saw the P-Funk gang, in New York in 1992 with Clinton and Collins in one of their frequent reunions, the crowd was so far gone bouncing to "Bop Gun" that the floor broke--a gaping hole just opened up. Until then, I didn't even know you could break a floor. Now that's funk power.--Robert Meyerowitz
Deep Space/Virgin Sky
Recorded Live on Earth at the House of Blues, Hollywood
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Mama, don't let your babies grow up to be neohippies! Nip that shit in the bud the first time they come home in a tie-dye, or you'll have to watch them linger decades past their prime, writing crappy "Let's get together" anthems like Marty Balin's "Ganja of Love" ("Come, come, oh brothers and sisters/All who wanna smoke the ganja of love") and sappy, politically charged manifestoes like Paul Kantner's "I'm on Fire" ("This is for Kennedy, this is for love, this is for Tiananmen Square, this is for America").
Spin this recording and you'll feel like a Hell's Angel at Altamont, ready to smash Marty Balin's face in after you hear his tedious tribute to the late Papa John Creach ("They don't make 'em like that anymore/After Papa John, they broke the mold/Rock on! Papa John"). First-grade readers have more subtlety, for cryin' out loud. See Jefferson Starship. Suck, Jefferson Starship, suck!
This tragically hipless project also managed to ensnare Jack Casady and a guest performance by Grace Slick, who took time off from her cop-shooting activities to sing a song called "Lawman" about that infamous incident. In respect for her memory as a composer of note, just play the preceding track "Intro to Lawman," where she merely talks about her scuffle with Johnny Law. But you wonder: while Slick's singing this tune and "White Rabbit," do they send Darby Gould (the Slick sound-a-like employed to sing all her parts on the rest of the album) out for sandwiches? Who knows.
The scariest thing about this live set is that the former Jefferson Airplane/Starship/Airplane again/Starship again can sing this line in "Crown of Creation" with a collective straight face: "Soon you'll attain the stability you strive for/In the only way it's granted/In a place among the fossils of our time." Who could have said it better?--Serene Dominic