Picks and Pans Review: Ain't That a Groove and Doing It to Death
He's the sultan of soul, the father of funk; he's the ampersand in R & B. These reissued albums include songs from Brown's most vital and creative years. Most of the cuts on Ain't That a Groove (1966-69) were recorded under the name James Brown & His Famous Flames, when the band was known as the JBs. From the first cut, a 1967 hit, Bring It Up, it is clear that Brown is not just a singer; his voice is an instrument, enmeshed with and leading his band in a way that has never been duplicated. Songs such as Let Yourself Go and Money Won't Change You are built around simple riffs Brown then explodes—his voice as penetrating as Ornette Coleman's sax. Side Two of Ain't That a Groove is particularly hot, perhaps because Alfred "Pee Wee" Ellis had replaced Nat Jones as musical director by 1967. On such smokers as I Can't Stand Myself (When You Touch Me), Brown's phrasing has an incantatory power, with words and lines being repeated. As anyone who has experienced Brown in concert knows, few give more physically to their music. Since most of the cuts on Doing It to Death (1970-73) were recorded with little overdubbing, much of Brown's spontaneous combustion is captured. The lyrics on, say, Brother Rapp and Make It Funky (Part 2) had been honed to produce a percussive effect, and the music had matured, shifting tempos masterfully. The second side of this album is Brown in his most suggestive groove. Especially impressive are the two cuts I Got a Bag of My Own and Think, both fired by the nimble work of Gordon Edwards on bass. At 56, Papa doesn't have a brand new bag, but if the old one fits, flaunt it. (Polygram)
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