Sunday, November 30, 2008

Mavis Staples Live: Hope at the Hideout (ANTI-Records)

It was definitely a homecoming for gospel/soul legend Mavis Staples on her latest effort, Mavis Staples Live: Hope at the Hideout. This intimate, yet electrifying performance was recorded this past summer in Chicago. Staples not only revisited her hometown, but on Live: Hope at the Hideout she also rediscovered the musical foundation of our country. As a member of The Staples Singers, known for classics like “I’ll Take You There” and “Respect Yourself,” she along with her siblings and her father, Roebuck “Pops” Staples, found their musical roots in the heart of The Civil Rights Movement.

From hymns and spirituals to protest songs, The Staples Singers became an important musical force during a turbulent time in America. And in today’s hard times, the songs on Live: Hope at the Hideout remain relevant. The show was kicked off with a rousing cover of Stephen Stills’ “For What It’s Worth.” For Staples, these spirituals and protest songs were also deeply personal. On “Down in Mississippi,” she recalls how she witnessed the “For Coloreds Only” signs taken down thanks to the efforts of Dr. King, while “We Shall Not Be Moved” recounts when she along with fellow protestors refused to leave after being denied service at a restaurant in the South. The quality of Staples’ low singing voice is gravel-tinged and heavily steeped in the gospel tradition where at times, you feel as though you’re a parishioner at church. Her three-piece band, especially Rick Holmstrom’s melodious guitar, adds the right balance of traditional rhythm and blues to Staples’ stirring gospel sound. Live: Hope at the Hideout is a reminder of how strength and courage will once again prevail just as it has for civil rights champions like Mavis Staples.

Shannon J. Effinger

Raphael Saadiq - The Way I See It (Columbia Records)

The hot sound in music today is “1960s Motown”…? Sounds almost like an oxymoron. But turn on the radio and you hear it clearly in the music of today’s young artists. And you’ll also hear it on Raphael Saadiq’s fourth solo effort The Way I See It. The former member of the R&B groups Tony! Toni! TonĂ©! and Lucy Pearl is definitely not a stranger to that sound. Anyone who is a fan of this singer/songwriter will give you a long list of influences heard in his body of work: Curtis Mayfield, The Temptations, etc. And to have the opportunity to pay homage to these legends on a single album: priceless. On “Love That Girl” and “Sure Hope You Mean It,” it is clear that Saadiq has great love and respect for the Motown sound. With its lo-fi quality, horn sections, tambourines, and rhythmic electric bass, The Way I See It gives you the feeling that you are listening to an old 45 rather than a CD (or mp3 file). Even Saadiq’s songwriting on this album is a tribute to another key aspect of Motown’s legacy, “The KISS Principle” (Keep It Short & Simple), especially since most of the songs are no longer than four minutes. On “Big Easy (featuring The Infamous Young Spodie & The Rebirth Brass Band),” Saadiq explores the harsh reality of Hurricane Katrina, while “Just One Kiss (featuring Joss Stone)” is a wonderfully modern tribute to the classic Motown duo Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell. Raphael Saadiq has produced for many different artists (including Joss Stone and D’Angelo) and for this eclectic artist to forgo variety and focus on one signature sound, The Way I See It will be appreciated by young and old fans alike.

Shannon J. Effinger

I WAS THERE . . . George Clinton & the P-Funk All Stars @ B.B. King 10.23.08

Funk Legend & Music Icon George Clinton

George Clinton and the P-Funk All Stars
B.B. King Blues Club & Grill
October 23, 2008
All photos by Shannon Effinger

After two short, forgettable opening acts and a nearly 40 minute wait, The P-Funk All Stars finally took the stage at B.B. King Blues Club & Grill last Thursday. Guitarist Gary “Starchild” Shider, an original member of Parliament-Funkadelic, began by shouting “Vote, it ain’t illegal yet.” The energy of the music shocked many people. It was a little unexpected to hear that vitality from these veteran musicians. But the theme that night was the unexpected. Shider quickly shook off his jacket and revealed his normal attire—practically nothing. Yes, this P-Funk legend is also affectionately known as “Diaper Man” and he lived up to the name once again.

George “Dr. Funkenstein” Clinton, the man we were all waiting to see, finally walked out on stage. He brought an already raucous crowd to its highest point as he playfully gestured to them. Although he was jovial, Clinton was there for business. With a slight turn of his hand, the musicians immediately began with “Cosmic Slop.” The P-Funk All Stars had the musical freedom to explore with trills and long solos, but Clinton made sure that chord structure and syncopation was kept in the music. He was an effortless conductor of these “funkateers” that night.

Singer Belita Woods brought down the excitement well with “The Girl is Bad.” She was pure rhythm and blues. Woods wore a beautiful floral dress—very surprising compared to what Shider was wearing that night. The quality of her voice was light yet gravel tinged and it brought an added seductiveness to the lyrics.

The funk continued with “Atomic Dog.” The rhythm of the guitar section, driven mainly by Shider, and Clinton’s musical direction was a lesson in music theory. These two “atomic dogs,” well into their sixties, didn’t have to run far to “chase the cats” as a gaggle of women dancers rushed the stage.

After 2 ½ hours, their show was cut short because of a later performance scheduled and the crowd continued to shout “We Want The Funk” for a good ten minutes. George Clinton and the P-Funk All Stars proved that night that music is and will always be the great unifier.

Shannon J. Effinger

More Pics

P-Funk legend Garry "Starchild" Shider performing "Atomic Dog"

Belita Woods performs "The Girl is Bad."