The New James Brown Release

A half-century ago James Brown took a huge risk, self-funding his first-ever live album because the main man at Cincinnati’s own King Records, Syd Nathan, assumed it would tank. Nathan was wrong and James Brown was right, and the rest is history: Live at the Apollo became a huge success. The Godfather of Soul continued to perform and record at the Apollo, and two later releases from the historic theater chronicled the evolution of an artist who was constantly breaking new ground. A fourth Apollo live concert was recorded with plans for a release and then shelved. Selections from all four of those recordings appear on Best of Live at the Apollo: 50th Anniversary, which you can order online or buy at local record stores such as Shake-It Records and Everybody’s Records.

Because three of the live records were double LPs, there was a lot of material to choose from. The emphasis from all four shows remains on uptempo numbers of moderate length, with no ballads to be found; the groove is established early on, and it never stops. And while the music here spans an almost ten-year period, the record flows along smoothly, getting a little funkier with time, but that seems like such a natural progression that there’s nothing strained about it. Best of isn’t focused exclusively focused on the biggest hits, but there are plenty of songs that even casual James Brown fans will know, including “Cold Sweat,” “Please, Please, Please,” and “Sex Machine.” I recommend this release to anyone who wants to throw in a CD at their next party and know that, from beginning to end, everything on it is danceable. Continue reading “The New James Brown Release”

A New James Brown Biography

I recently finished RJ Smith’s The One: The Life and Music of James Brown, and the impression I came away with was that by the time JB’s first single came out every day of his life was action packed.

In fact, I would guess that some days contained so many plots and sub-plots an entire novel could be written about one of them.

Probably there are thousands of stories to tell, and what impresses me about The One is Smith’s ability to tie together so many tales and still craft an entertaining and highly readable book. The One clocks in at just shy of 400 pages, but so much is packed into those pages that, considering how much information it contains, you would expect it to be twice that length.

Much of the book is focused on Cincinnati, where James Brown recorded countless singles and albums for King Records, hung out, met people, made friends and enemies, and worked with local musicians.

My favorite part of the book is where Smith recounts how Bootsy Collins added something to the band’s chemistry that helped take James Brown’s music to the next level. What happened seemed to be a combination of serendipity, raw talent and the kind of immersion in music that people experience when they’re aware that they have a chance to break something open.

Speaking of serendipity, I should mention that RJ Smith, whose extensive writing creds include gigs with Village Voice and Spin, is now moving to the city where James Brown recorded for King Records. A prior resident of Detroit and LA, Smith was recently hired as an editor for Cincinnati Magazine. As a music geek, I’m excited that he’s moving here, especially at a time when recognition of our rich musical history seems to be growing.

uKanDanZ was great; More Music to Come

I’m about to discuss the concert that I saw last night and the music coming up later this week, but first I wanted to share with the world some very important new about cuisine here in the city of Cincinnati: Shanghai Mama’s, my favorite restaurant in the city for the food and the atmosphere, is back in action. After a fire at the end of last year Shanghai Mama’s predicted that they would reopen months ago, but the opening kept getting delayed. And although they’ve been open several weeks now I be there are still lotsa folks out there who haven’t heard yet that they’re back in operation. (And a reminder: on Fridays and Saturdays they’re open until three AM.)

Continue reading “uKanDanZ was great; More Music to Come”