funk music

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Review: 3rd Eye Girl – PLECTRUMELECTRUM

Posted by funkatop On September - 29 - 2014 2 COMMENTS
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Plectrum Electrum coverPrince releases a rock and roll album with the help of 3 amazing ladies.

Far be it from us to wonder why Prince ever does the things that he does. We’ve been pretty harsh critics in the past about his marketing decisions and other strange choice he’s made. But in the midst of those critiques are simply hard core Prince fans that, like you, are frustrated that this amazing talent gets ignored by radio and simply refuses to play nice with the powers that be that can change that.

And in that spirit, PLECTRUMELECTRUM will not change that trend. Nothing radio friendly here. Just flat out awesome songs perfectly blended and laid out to wow his fans without a care about whether or not it will be embraced by mass media. Because in the end, who really cares what they think?

On PLECTRUMELECTRUM, Prince joins forces with three amazing female counterparts to dish out a fist to the face blast of raw rock and roll and the end result is pretty frigging awesome. There isn’t any heavy handed production here which just lets the music speak for itself and it does a great job at keeping everything balanced and out front. No matter which band member you’re a fan of, you’ll hear them crisp and clear.

The band consists of Prince on lead vocals and guitar, Ida Nielsen on bass (pronounced ‘eeda’), Hannah Ford on drums and vocals, and Donna Grantis on guitar. And while Prince has always had a penchant for female artists, this is one of the first times that he really went all out to construct a full female backing band that not only brought the “pretty quotient”, but all of which were also masters of their instruments.

Donna Grantis delivers a raw energy on guitar that takes us back to Bambi days. Her chops are tight and loud giving Prince the backseat, which is probably by his design. Ida Neilson‘s thump bass delivery keeps the rock feel driving that defines the sound as more of a Ford Mustang and less of a Porsche, which is exactly what you want in an all out rock band. Then rounding it out is Hannah Ford on drums who not only knows how to be a masterful time keeper, but she doesn’t overplay and she’s also a great vocalist to boot.

The 12 track album is filled with primarily rock songs starting with a mid-tempo barn burner called WOW that flows in and out of rowdy controlled raucous into a soft flowing bluesy styled romp. That’s followed by PRETZELBODYLOGIC which was one of the early sneak peek releases delivering a boot stomping hard rock head bounce.

Next up is AINTTURNINROUND which is the first appearance of Hannah Ford on vocals and her Pat Benatar rock singing chops. There is only one instrumental in the bunch and that would be the title track PLECTRUMELECTRUM, which blends a Zeppelin rock-blues formula with a dash of Mother’s Finest and one cup of Black Crowes style for good measure.

Hannah Ford then takes the mike again to deliver a softer side and churns out the song WHITECAPS which really showcases her vocal talent and puts her in the same vocal arena as Andy Allo and Elisa Fiorillo Dease. Prince was truly wise to let her shine on this album which will serve her well in the future. We can definitely foresee solo albums coming out of the Park in the not so distant future.

FIXURLIFEUP was one of the first 3rd Eye Girl tracks released into the public and it uses the same great ebb and flow rock formula that many rock artists are drawn to, but it’s done seamlessly well here.

3rd-eye-girlOne of the standout tracks (of which there are actually many) is BOYTROUBLE which features rappers Lizzo and Sophia Eris. Even though PLECTRUMELECTRUM has a good bit of bluesy-funk throughout, BOYTROUBLE is technically the first dose of actual funk on the album which is made even more funky by the the whoeww whoeww instrument effect made infamous on the Madhouse 8 album on the song 2.

STOPTHISTRAIN (featuring Hannah on vocals again) and TICTACTOE are mid-tempo romps that are the album’s lightest and most pop-sensible moments.  And while there always appears to be on on each of his releases, TICTACTOE is the over-popped song where Prince unleashes his musical theatrics (think Rainbow Children‘s Wedding Feast) which mutate the song into sounding as if it were stripped from a musical, although the song structure manages to keep it from going off the rails. Those songs are split up by ANOTHERLOVE which starts off in a slower kilter, which then rocks out of control towards its last half.

Among the last two songs is MARZ which brings back that loose, raw rock sound, but only clocks in under 2 minutes. Then FUNKNROLL closes out the album and at the start, the track begins exactly the same as the FUNKNROLL featured on Art Official Age (see our review here), but then it quickly separates itself and settles into a rocked up version similar to what was unveiled at the Arsenio Hall show. While there are a lot of similarities, there are also a wealth of differences.

Overall, PLECTRUMELECTRUM is probably exactly what Prince intended for this release. A raucous rocker that showcases the talents of 3 lovely ladies and lets him appease his rock monster. We’re going to give this album 4-1/2 out of 5 afros and not because it doesn’t deserve 5, but there were some expectations set on song inclusions that didn’t happen such as Screwdriver, Octopus Heart, Live Out Loud, Menstrual Cycle, Groovy Potential, and some others that were teased out to the masses, but never came to fruition in the release.

For those that haven’t been suckling at every bit of information that was offered, you’re going to love everything PLECTRUMELECTRUM has to offer. For the hard core masses, this album is a phenomenal addition to the collection, but we were surprised at the omission of not just a couple songs, but a lot. The addition of which would have really made this album more definitive. That is the only reason this album loses a half an afro and an oversight that shouldn’t diminish the excellence of this album.

Here’s hoping we will see a lot more of the girls on the road, because this release is fantastic. It’s set to hit the streets on 9/30/2014, so get your butt over to iTunes or Amazon and Get It Now .

4-5afros

Review: Prince – ART OFFICIAL AGE

Posted by funkatop On September - 26 - 2014 11 COMMENTS
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Prince - Art Official Age album coverPrince‘s new album ART OFFICIAL AGE hits the streets next week and it’s worth the wait.

It was important for us to make sure that we got a really good listen early as possible to Prince’s new album because there would be a lot of expectations from fans and curmudgeons alike. Let’s just say that having friends overseas who can help you get a preview of the album not set to hit the streets in the U.S. until next week on 9/30/2014 is definitely an advantage. And now that we’ve heard it, our pre-order of both albums can’t get to our mailboxes soon enough.

One of the primary differences with ART OFFICIAL AGE is not that Prince decided to stay true to his sound direction, but that it really feels like there was a very hands-on selection by Prince of what tunes would appear on this album. Gone are the concerns that he has lost touch with his fans and that he “doesn’t have it anymore.”  ART OFFICIAL AGE will set those critics on fire and running for the hills.

The songs are fantastically structured complete with a futuristic story where Prince has awoken from a state of suspended animation 45 years later and the world is a very different place. His guide is the lovely voice of Lianne La Havas whose seductive delivery helps lure Prince back into consciousness and provides an orientation of what he can expect, as well as how to adapt into this new world that he has found himself.  She offers him a variety of tips such as “there are no such words anymore like me or mine”.

This theme is woven together through a few songs of the 13 track album and done so masterfully well, that you only find yourself wanting to listen to it all over again once your journey has come to an end. Not only do the songs lend themselves to the story, but Prince has also unveiled a side we haven’t seen in quite some time. The side that incorporates a wealth of segues, dialogue, and sound effects into the song structures to insure that you’re always aware that you’re along for the ride and holding hands with Prince‘s still foggy state of mind.

If we had to categorize the album as a child of two previous albums, we would have to give parental rights to 3121 and Rainbow Children.  ART OFFICIAL AGE is both thematic and dramatic at the same time, but also filled with grooves that will please the palate of both the funk and dance crowd and still delivers the sultry smooth ballads that swoon the ladies and bob the heads of the grown folk.

The album starts with an introduction from Prince announcing “Welcome home class, you’ve come a long way.” on the opening ART OFFICIAL CAGE which jumps around like a fish out of water from funky guitar riffs that sound as if they were basted in Nile Rogers barbecue sauce and then into a club thumper realm.

The album then slides into the head bopping CLOUDS which has already seen a pre-release and helps to initiate the tone of the storyline. These steady paced groove lines make a few appearances on ART OFFICIAL AGE and help to give the overall feel of the album the aforementioned “grown folks music” categorization. Songs like WHAT IT FEELS LIKE, BREAKFAST CAN WAIT and TIME lend themselves to the same family of steady BPM’s that ride the fine line of slow jam and heady slide grooves.

But then songs like BREAKDOWN (also pre-released) and U KNOW adequately fill the slow jam quota, but these aren’t just disposable efforts. These are well thought out sway thrillers filled with love drenched vocals that raise your blood pressure and have you setting your driver seat in the recline position. Get a listen and you’ll start loving the “rewind” button. There’s a hidden joke there you won’t get until you get graced with this album.

For funk fanatics, AOA delivers on many fronts including the thick bass lines of THE GOLD STANDARD that shares the stage with Prince AND a taste here and there of a familiar friend from the past. Bob? Ain’t that a bitch?

Then of course there’s FUNKNROLL which we featured on Episode 7 of the Funkatopia Radio Show (because no other radio station will) which also helps us funk fanatics put a feather in our cap and just be glad that we were represented in his purple majesty’s latest offering.

Prince‘s alter ego Camille makes a few appearances, but the dramatic additions that seem like they were “bong induced” really add a spacey-ness to the flow and feel of this album. The closing bars of THE GOLD STANDARD and pieces throughout like the aforementioned “rewind” in U KNOW create a very overall hazy feel that makes you feel like you were dipped in a honey glaze.

The AFFIRMATION I and AFFIRMATION II excerpts simply add segues to the album to keep the theme flowing, but AFFIRMATION III is a true brilliant diamond in the mix with a beautiful closing piece of moody nuances and powerful self empowerment messages.

In all, ART OFFICIAL AGE delivers on all fronts. We just can’t give this album any less than 5 out of 5 afros and not because it’s a funk classic bringing to the altar a wealth of funk music offerings, but because anything less would be a travesty for this fantastic album.

We won’t pretend to believe that radio will pick up any of these tracks simply because terrestrial radio as we know it is dead and they can’t embrace anything they’re not spoon-fed. Luckily for Prince, We completely get this album and it was well worth the wait, even if technically we’re still waiting. Get this album if you can or pre-order it without hesitation.

ART OFFICIAL AGE gets our illustrious 5 star afro award.

5 out of 5 afros
Be sure to read the new review for 
PLECTRUMELECTRUM as well.

Review: Lenny Kravitz – Strut

Posted by funkatop On September - 23 - 2014 ADD COMMENTS
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TLenny Kravitz - Strut Reviewhe new album Strut from Lenny Kravitz seems like a culmination of raw rock and funk thrown into a blender.

The 12 track album (14 if you got the Bonus versions) is a collection of tunes that are rough and unfiltered. Gone are the squeaky clean production vibes of Circus, the droning high time vibes of Mama Said, Black and White America or even his album 5.

The two opening tracks of Sex and The Chamber sound like 80’s outtakes filled with the same glam-slam 80’s feel of lyrical delivery. The album literally sounds like it was a lost album from that generation. And that vibe raises its head frequently on this release to the point where it almost seems intentional.

There seems to be a much more forward sexuality and dirty feel that we just saw glimpses of in the past, but are full on hardcore man skinny jeans from front to back. There are no mixed messages here. Once you get past the time warp, Kravitz gets right back into raw rock stomps a la Fly Away with Dirty White Boots leading the way with its grungy lyrics (“take your knickers down and give me that treasure“). Boots is the leader of the string of songs that fill the rest of the album with horny song lyrics and very few exceptions.

Two songs in particular on the album will definitely find a home in the ASCAP search results are the tracks New York City which could be the Big Apples’s next anthem and Happy Birthday, which is sure to assault CD and MP3 players at a party near you.

Among the standouts are the title track Strut, Frankenstein (which sounds like the bastard son of Let Love Rule‘s Freedom Train), the Black Crowes sounding She’s a Beast, and the cover track of The MiraclesOoh Baby Baby which updates the tune with grittier instrumentation, but apparently dared not change much more.

And then there’s the bonus tracks which bring the most value to the album in our opinion. The awesome guitar riffed Sweet Gitchey Rose with heavy Led Zeppelin influences, and the grunge boppy Cant Stop Thinking Bout You.

So where does that leave us in totality with our feelings on this album? This is difficult. We are huge Lenny Kravitz fans. I stood huddled with 50-100 other people at The Cotton Club in Atlanta in the early 90’s during his Let Love Rule tour when the man next to me leaned over and said, “You will never see him in a club this small again.”. And I agreed. It seemed that on every album Lenny reinvented himself and while there were flashes of brilliance with every release, there was always a level of consistency in the quality. This derails this trend and seems downright different in an unsettling way. We just can’t put our finger on what it is.

There are some great moments on Strut including the title track, Dirty White BootsFrankenstein, and Sweet Gitchey Rose. But all of which are painfully on par with what you expect from Lenny at the bare minimum. Like continuations of the flash bangs of Are you Gonna Go My Way, and the raw Mr. Cab Driver sparks that keep flying this way and that.

His talent and delivery are intense, but there’s something here that seems like we’re looking at a puzzle that had some pieces left out. Maybe it’s one of those albums that insist on multiple listens to truly embrace what’s happening and maybe those awkward feelings are the subconscious identifying great songs.

But for now, we have to give it 3 out of 5 afros until we can wrap out heads around what he’s doing to our psyche and sensibilities. Pick up Strut where ever you buy tunes.

3 out of 5 afros

Review: Analog Son

Posted by funkatop On July - 1 - 2014 1 COMMENT
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Analog SonAs we mentioned in another review, we very rarely get amazing funk CD’s, but June proved to be the funkiest month that we can recall in a very long time. Two debut releases hit the market within a few months of each other, one from the band Analog Son and another from 22 year old bass phenom Mike Zabrin called Funktastic. And just like Zabrin, Analog Son came out swinging a heavy funk mallet to do some serious soul damage.

Two friends, Josh Fairman and Jordan Linit have put together some amazing original funk tunes. They finally decided to commit their creations to CD with the help of some of the funkiest musicians in the business. The credits of their self titled debut album Analog Son is a virtual Who’s Who of funky goodness including members of Lettuce, The New Mastersounds, Dumpstaphunk, The Motet, John Scofield, Soulive and more. And when that much talent joins forces, the end result is inevitable.

While many may not have ever heard of Analog Son‘s members previously, you’ve almost certainly experienced their work supporting acts such as Trombone Shorty, The Funky Meters, The New Mastersounds and Orgone to name a few.

The 10 song album doesn’t simply have bits of brilliance. It is immaculately brilliant in itself. No wasted space, no boring fillers, and all sharing the same commonality of foot tapping funk riffs and sways that it will bring tears to your eyes. Like watching your firstborn win their first award after years of driving them to practice. That “YES! It’s finally paid off!” feeling. In this case, “YES! Finally some amazing new funk music!

The album presents itself in a mode similar to The Monophonics offerings where they commit to the “sound”. In keeping with that tradition, they made sure that they recorded the songs on vintage recording equipment and tape machines to make sure that the nostalgic feeling was present all the way down to the bone. The album is littered with horn stabs, rolling bass grooves, and hard smacking snares and creates a literal time machine back into the 70’s putting it squarely in the hippy zone.

The commitment to doing it right continued to the opposite side of the microphone when they armed the board with live audio engineer Joe Michaels who has worked with The Rolling Stones, Blood Sweat and Tears, and even Larry Graham who didn’t waste time denoting the similarities by stating that, “Mixing these guys is like pure funk heaven….reminds me of my Larry Graham days!“.

While the album is all about hand delivering more funk than your brain can handle, there are still plenty of wide open breathy moments of straight out instrumental jam sessions like Analog Island that will have Tower of Power fans reaching for their blood pressure medicine. And just enough vocal moments to keep Brand New Heavies junkies wide eyed and shaky tailed.

As mentioned, the album is littered front to back with some of the most incredible musicians on the planet including The Motet keyboardist Joey Porter, Dumpstaphunk‘s Ivan Neville on the track Struttin’, The Shady Horns of Lettuce and The New Mastersounds fame and a literal endless library of immense talent you’ll have to witness for yourself. Vocally they brought Devon Parker on for 3 tracks, Ivan Neville, and Adam Lufkin although the meat of the album is primarily instrumental. A fact that is neither its strength or its weakness. It’s just mastered funky perfection emblazoned on record.

From the straight out horn stabs and Leslie keys of The Professor, the shuck and strut of She’s Somethin, and the bump and sway of Cadillac Sundays, Analog Son has something to bring to the table for every funk fan. If you’re a fan of the family tree of funk, they’ve got a monkey to swing from your branch.

Without a doubt, Analog Son took the time to do this debut album the right way and not since the debut album Emergency on Planet Earth from Jamiroquai have we witnessed it done so phenomenally well the first time out of the gate. It’s pretty undeniable that you’ll see more of Analog Son in the very near future and we’re stoked we were here to witness it.

Without a doubt, head to Amazon to snag a copy of Analog Son‘s debut album. We give this work of art 5 out of 5 afros.

5 out of 5 afros

 

Review: Mike Zabrin – Funktastic

Posted by funkatop On June - 30 - 2014 3 COMMENTS
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SMike Zabrin Funktasticometimes you’ll hit a dry spell where it seems like no one is putting out any new funk music and then there’s a sudden deluge of great material coming out from surprise locations. In this case, we had two amazing entries into the funk arena which we’ll simply just cross link once both reviews are finished because there’s so much to say about each one. Those entries are Analog Son and Mike Zabrin’s Funkatastic.

Mike Zabrin came to us via Funkatopia friend John Heintz from Big Ol’ Nasty Getdown fame. Mike Zabrin is all of 22 years old and is already considered a bass player phenom. And to have a debut album that comes out swinging like Funkatastic is a feat in itself, but Mike surrounded himself with some incredible musicians, producers and performers to create what we consider one of the best albums of the year.

The 11 track collection of songs is a perfectly blended journey of funk, jazz, acid jazz fusion, and pop elements. Imagine if you had the funk jazz flow of Jill Scott, pieces of the experimental foundation of Bilal, and funk elements of Parliament and threw them in a blender. The end result would be Mike Zabrin’s Funktastic.

The special guests throughout the album include Parliament Funkadelic’s Kendra Foster, the insanely soulful pipes of Sam Trump and Anthony Pavel, horns from Clifford Adams (Kool & The Gang and Sun Ra Arkestra), Michael Ray (Kool & The Gang), Greg Hollowell (Yo Mama’s Big Fat Booty Band), Norwood Fisher (Fishbone), and tons more. What could have been a mish mash of unrelated song structures ends up being soul artistry.

The overall feel of Funktastic lends itself to the aforementioned laid back acid jazz fusion in the overall spirit of early Jill Scott meets Erykah Badu. Songs that you will love but that may never find a home on Top 40 radio. However, one minimalist track entitled You Can Count On Me might actually have a shot at position on the Top 40 charts. Vocalist WOGZ adds her Lorde like approach scatting “Me, Me, I’m the one that you should be with. Me, Me, I’m the one that you should sleep with.” which creates a sweet radio hook if we ever heard one. With its spacey riff and ska flair, it very well might serve as gateway point to the deeper, more intricate song treasures that the CD has to offer. Radio might actually play this song for the riff alone, but if you get the listener in the door, there’s no way that they’ll escape without becoming a fan of everything this collection offers.

The release has so much to offer that it makes it incredibly difficult to pick specific favorites. From the two opening tracks of (You Are) Extraordinary and Life (see video below) to the amazingly beautifully structured The Other Side with Kendra Foster and even the quirky vocal delivery of Fishbone’s Norwood Fisher on Fact Fiction, Funkatstic delivers a wide variety of flavors that will soothe the savage funk beast for those that have acid jazz leanings.

It’s borderline travesty to not mention every musician and performer on the album, because there’s not a weak track in the bunch. But it’s a much better justice to be able to unpeel the layers of this album yourself and pick your favorite from the treasure chest this CD offers. And one of your future favorite songs is on this album.

And of course, we couldn’t finish the review without drawing attention to the name on the CD, Mike Zabrin. In a world where it seems like talented bass players are falling out of cracks like grains of sand, Mike Zabrin is truly a stand out. While his fast finger work is worthy of noting, his ability to fall into the groove for the sake of the song is admirable. That a young 22 year old bassist can hold his own in a roller coaster jazz romp is one of the most impressive angles you can focus on. While the CD could have been “All about Mike”, it appears that the intentional focus was on the quality of the music and strength of the overall product and the end result was well worth that attention to detail.

Without a doubt, this is one of two must have CD’s so far in 2014. You can snag Funktastic on Amazon or iTunes for currently only $9 and you’d be hard pressed to find many releases better this year. We have no choice but to give it 5 out of 5 afros.

5 out of 5 afros

Review: Finding The Funk Movie

Posted by funkatop On March - 10 - 2014 3 COMMENTS
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ftf

Music historian Nelson D. George and Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson put together a film called Finding The Funk that twists and turns a lot of what you know about funk with some elements that you most likely didn’t know.

The film is particularly refreshing because it’s rare that funk gets any coverage at all nowadays. It spends time talking about some of the roots of funk artists and spends a good but of time talking to funk legends like George Clinton, Bootsy Collins, and Sly Stone. It certainly added credence to its topicality. The film is filled with a lot of great moments and fun funk facts.  Plus the interview pieces are done fairly well including getting Sly Stone to really open up about his contribution to funk.

The bad part is that the journey is sporadic and seems a tad rushed and incomplete. While you didn’t expect them to be completely comprehensive, there are artists that were strangely absent from the film like Rick James, Isley Brothers, Cameo, Average White Band, Tower of Power, Zapp, Billy Preston, War, and the list goes on. Most of those bands went unmentioned at all minus a funk bands map graphic (shown below) even though they managed to give airtime to Lipps Inc. and Platypus. Even if it is a quick mention, we’re pretty confident that the list we just rambled off deserved at least the equivalent of that respect.

The other downside was some of the camera angles and filler pieces. Questlove was obviously reading a teleprompter or cue card because of his awkward eye movements where he simply looked uncomfortable. In one shot in particular, they made him stare straight ahead but focus on the camera peripherally while reading a cue card and it felt awkward just to look at him. And that in itself is a shame since Questlove is a fount of knowledge in the realm of funk and if anyone did NOT need a cue card, it’s Questlove. A simple natural conversation with him would have given Nelson way better scripting than a script that didn’t seem natural in the least.

And lastly, the editing discrepancies were also tough to ignore. Leaving out major funk players and not tying up the film neatly really did the film a disservice. Add to that grammatical errors like misspelling Sheila E’s name twice as Shelia on big title graphics over her video clips would be enough in itself to send Prince fans screaming towards the exits. But when you see it in a film like this, you think, “Certainly that mistake wouldn’t be up there twice, would it? Maybe she changed the spelling of her name?“.

In short, it’s great to have a movie about our favorite topic, but a shame that it missed so many marks. We in no way want to be discouraging, and if any website is all things funk friendly, it’s Funkatopia. But we’re a bit surprised at the final end product that Mr. George put out and even more surprised that Questlove let this film go out in its state. A fresh set of eyes and a couple more weeks of post production and editing would have made a huge difference to the grade, but we’ll give it a 3 out of 5 afros. Any more and our readers would question our integrity.

funk-map

Watch it in its entirety below, because overall, it’s still an entertaining film.

3 out of 5 afros

Review: Mayer Hawthorne – Where Does This Door Go

Posted by funkatop On October - 14 - 2013 ADD COMMENTS
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Mayer Hawthorne - Where Does This Door Go ReviewMayer Hawthorne‘s previous albums sounded like they were ripped from Motown past and then wrapped in either sexy or tongue in cheek humor. But his new album Where Does This Door Go is a literal masterpiece and sign of incredible things to come.  While his previous albums like How Do You Do provided hints at the existence of these elements, this is the first time they have been so brilliantly constructed.

Mayer Hawthorne has stumbled onto a formula that has created a major double take because it is incredibly removed from his previous efforts. Part funk, part jazz fusion, but filled with pop sensibilities delivering plenty of radio friendly hits that will almost certainly change the game for his future. The genius is that Mayer Hawthorne offers the perfect convertible top-down bright sunshine tracks and blends them with the slow head bobbing five-toke grooves and ultimately creates a pallet full of many colors that can please even the hardest of curmudgeons.

The single Her Favorite Song hit the video airwaves and began a rolling all its own and serves as the perfect introduction as to what you can expect, but it then introduces you to many different levels of intricacies from the title track and its rolling harmonies reminiscent of XTC to the boppy silliness of Robot Love and the inevitable Top 40 of Allie Jones. There are even surprising moments such as The Only One that sounds like Dr. Dre married up with Maroon 5 and others like Wine Glass Woman that fell off the back of the Justin Timberlake truck. And you can definitely expect to hear the track Crime featuring Kendrick Lamar on your local radio station starting right about….now.

All in all, Where Does This Door Go? is a true musical gem that should be listened to by all fans of laid back pop funky fusion. It’s not too loud or raucous, and easily one of the best albums we’ve heard in 2013. Yeah, you best go get it.

Review: Janelle Monae – The Electric Lady

Posted by funkatop On September - 12 - 2013 ADD COMMENTS
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Janelle Monae - The Electric Lady What do people truly want in music? A chance to get lost in a new world? Something totally different and thrilling? A story? A message? Look no further than Janelle Monáe‘s new album The Electric Lady that accomplishes all of these things.

From the James Bond-ish opening Suite IV Electric Overture that bleeds into the Prince accompanied Givin Em What They Love to the closing 80’s pop synth and pads of What An Experience, Janelle Monáe delivers on every level musically, artistically, and thematically.

Guest artists abound on the album including the aforementioned Prince (Giving Em What They Want), Erykah Badu (Q.U.E.E.N.), Miguel (Primetime), Solange (Electric Lady), Esperanza Spalding (Dorothy Dandridge Eyes) and for those that snag the Target version, Big Boi and Ceelo Green on the Electric Lady remix.

It’s virtually impossible to pick stand-outs on this double album since every song could stand on its own minus the segue pieces that feature DJ Crash Crash serving as the host to the radio show that essentially keeps the theme together and cohesive throughout The Electric Lady.

Janelle Monae - Photo courtesy of Billboard.comThe album’s story revolves around a world that has an ongoing discrimination between androids and humans. The songs support the story on an emotional level while DJ Crash Crash (also an android) keeps the story flowing by announcing happenings around town as well as taking calls from humans and androids who express their emotions and feelings about androids including everything from frustration (“I’m sick and tired of all these folks messing with us droids!”), sex (“Robot love is queer“), and the unavoidable ignorant call-ins.  The serves as a great purpose by giving insight as to the state of community in this new dystopia.

Janelle Monáe takes on the persona of Cyndi Mayweather who is a droid on the run being sought out by bounty hunters but that is protected and admired by fellow androids who refer to her as “Our Favorite Fugitive“.

The double album is filled up with a bunch of potential radio crashers including the boppy Dance Apocalyptic, the 80’s funkafied Q.U.E.E.N. where she’s joined by Erykah Badu (think Madame X - see official video below), and the sexy and thick Primetime with Miguel. Other standouts are the very James Bond-like Look Into My Eyes with simply beautiful and stunning vocal work from Janelle that closes out the first disk, but immediately allows you to understand why she is where she is musically.

Janelle Monae - Photo courtesy of OkayPlayer.com

Opening the 2nd disk is Suite V Electric Overture which carries the vibe of Look Into My Eyes before swinging into a Caribbean flow and then back into the orchestral movements that fill the album off and on and front to back in some capacity. Beginning from the song It’s Code, the second disk begins with a more Jackson 5 pop R&B feel and even Janelle’s vocals are so tightly wound and pushed out front similar to how Michael Jackson‘s was back in the ABC day, that it almost seems as if that’s exactly what they were trying to re-enact. The following song Ghetto Woman hearkens back to the same era, but a little more current with a Stevie Wonder Innervisions vibe.

The rest of the disk features some amazingly constructed songs like the intricate yet somehow familiar chord structures of Victory, the neo-soul slice of heaven Can’t Live Without Your Love, the Ohio Players slow jam guitar feel of Sally Ride, the absolutely incredible samba Sade-style Dorothy Dandridge Eyes that could stand as part two of Prince‘s Ballad of Dorothy Parker (a Dorothy coincidence?) and then to the closing synth pop of What An Experience that bounces into a reggae feel during its final bars.

This album is a carefully constructed masterpiece that you can keep in rotation for many years to come. It borrows some pieces of musical Americana, blends them and then pours them into a smoothie with careful precision. There is nothing like this currently on the market and hopefully we’ll hear the payoff on the radio sometime in the very near future.

Go and get it now. Snag a physical copy from Target and get some bonus tracks. Either way, get it. It’s that good.

Review: Dumpstaphunk – Dirty Word

Posted by funkatop On July - 30 - 2013 1 COMMENT
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Dumpstaphunk - Dirty WordDumpstaphunk should be on every funkmeisters playlist and their new album Dirty Word, which hits shelves today, is no exception. Ivan Neville and his band of funkafied funkateers have churned out yet another grinding, grooving, and grungy fortified funk classic.

The 11 song album features perfected pieces of music that they’ve played live for a while now and for those not in the know, Dumpstaphunk‘s members are Ivan Neville on vocals and keys (and occasionally guitar), their dual bass players Tony Hall and Nick Daniels, their female phenom drummer (and rapping priestess) Nikki Glaspie, and Ian Neville on guitar.

Not that the band requires any assistance, but it has its share of funky guests including Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Art Neville, Rebirth Brass Band, Ani DiFranco, Skerik, Trombone Shorty, and many more. The production values are superb and clean and showcase all of the instrumentation masterfully, so no matter what instrument makes you get up and scream, you’re going to be in audio nirvana.

Every song selection on the album could be stated as a highlight since there are no real weaknesses to be found here, so we’ll briefly cover them all. The opening Dance To The Truth sets the stage like a locomotive just starting its journey with a mid-tempo flux that starts your full body funk massage. Then Ani DiFranco rips up the title track Dirty Word that’s accentuated with a stutter step groove line that makes it extremely hard to even sit down. Then Troy Andrews (aka Trombone Shorty) and saxophonist Skerik come in and destroy your psyche with insane hornwork on I Wish You Would. And at that point you’re not even 30% through your funk expedition.

The first slower jam on the offering is They Don’t Care and the least adventurous musically, but still furnishes a good reflective piece of lyricism, because then the train starts up again with a rolling 80’s R&B bounce called I Know You Know with tight horn pieces weaved in, and even some vocoder work.

DumpstaphunkNext up is a cover of Betty Davis‘s If I’m In Luck I Might Get Picked Up (just titled If I’m In Luck here) which features drummer Nikki Glaspie on the vocals and she brings it with powerhouse delivery and screams adding a Mother’s Finest level of rock aesthetics to an already underground classic tune that’s further accentuated by the bass playing of Red Hot Chili Peppers Flea. Then comes Larry Graham‘s funk classic Water which they keep structured closely to the original because why mess with a perfect recipe? It doesn’t hurt that its backed by The Grooveline Horn section (Carlos Sosa, Fernando Castillo, and Reggie Watkins)

Blues Waves is a blues-funk tune giving shout outs to some blues greats and painting on nice blues guitar riffs. That’s followed by the album’s second and final slower piece entitled Reality Of The Situation serving as a duet anti-unity song speaking to the fact that people just aren’t going to get along with each other in all instances. Get over it and make it work anyway.

The last two tracks are Take Time and Raise The House which finish roasting your funk sensibilities with a clap and shuffle delivery that showcase everyone’s abilities vocally and instrumentally. Art Neville, Rebirth Brass Band and Trombone Shorty all come in to assist in the final body slam that puts the album down for the count with the closing Raise The House that is the true essence of a party track.

All in all, Dumpstaphunk‘s new album is a funk masterpiece that should be in your collection if you love to dance, bob your head, tap your foot or just absorb great music. It’s Mardi Gras incarnate on wax. Get the album, check out the photos that we took of them live the last time they came through Atlanta, get tickets to their upcoming shows supporting Dirty Word, and get ready for more coverage from Funkatopia when they hit Atlanta again.

We give Dumpstaphunk‘s Dirty Word a whopping 5 out of 5 afros.

5 out of 5 afros


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Mo Meta Blues: The World According To QuestloveMo’ Meta Blues: The World According to Questlove is Questlove‘s first true dive into what could be considered his mini-biography is an amazing adventure not only through some key moments in his life, but also a music lesson into the birth of the neo-soul movement and the artists that breathed life info the soul genre and even Questlove himself.

The book clocks in under 300 pages, but is filled with funny moments with Prince, run-in’s with Kanye West, the unfortunate Michelle Bachman incident, and plenty of things you may not have ever known about Ahmir Questlove Thompson. His unquenchable love for music led him into amazing opportunities such as being Music Director for Dave Chappelle’s The Chappelle Show, putting together the infamous Dave Chappelle Block Party, producing for Al Green, D’Angelo, and a laundry list of other accomplishments including their current gig with Jimmy Fallon‘s late night show. A gig that that’s about to put them into the illustrious position of having the most coveted spot on late night as Jimmy takes the reins from Jay Leno.

To fully grasp his musical journey, it’s filled with sections that wander into the artists and albums that most influenced his life. Everything from Prince and Stevie Wonder into other jaunts like Tribe Called Quest, Sly Stone and some select surprises. He discusses each album and not only why it had an impact on his life, but historical notes and individual notations about what made it special to him personally and what was unfolding in the music world at the time.

In making the experience of reading the book more pleasurable, I took it upon myself to cue up each album he discussed and listen through each album he mentioned as the book went on in order to really delve into his mindset and the end result was very rewarding for me personally. Being born in 1968, I grew up in the 70’s like Ahmir and experienced first hand the impact of music on my childhood during that tumultuous decade.

Spending a good chunk of my life in the projects, I had a lot of the same musical experiences, but many weren’t even close. I decided that I wanted to listen to his musical influences under his thought process and try to re-imagine what that sounded like in his sphere. His ability to capture his emotion at the time and dedicate so much energy to studying record labels is amazingly documented here and you learn very quickly that it has served him very well throughout the years.

Richard NicholsAnother highlight of the book is the on-page banter that occurs between himself and band manager Richard Nichols. Rich’s input is integrated in the footnotes throughout the book and one thing you learn is that both Rich and Questlove love for people to make judgments based on their appearance. Afros and dreadlocks tend to lead people down certain paths of assumption. But once either of them opens their mouth, you learn very quickly that these books are the total opposite of their covers.

That stony looking cat with dreads who’s their manager is not just someone who happenstances into a great gig, but is a very articulate and multi-faceted individual from the Dennis Miller school of conversational magnitude. And of course, Ahmir is a walking music encyclopedia that surprisingly knows just as much about KISS as he does song origins from the hip hop realm.

All being said, Mo Meta Blues is a great music journey that is less about The Roots than you’d expect and more about Questlove‘s personal journey and the people he met and influenced along the way. This book is a must-read for hardcore Roots fans, but people expecting more behind the scenes drama from Jimmy Fallon need not apply although you do learn a lot about how they arrived at that envious opportunity and some pretty funny moments under the NBC umbrella. Everything you would expect to be covered is dished here, but probably not in as much detail as you might like.  Ahmir keeps some memories and details close to his chest, but the nosy voyeur in us wishes he would have revealed more on certain factoids and nuances.

About the only negative we found were some grammatical errors in the Kindle version which we’re not sure were evident in the printed version, so we couldn’t let the score be affected by those issues. We give this read a 4 out of 5 afros and it’s best if you can opt for a Kindle version that will give you easy travels back and forth between the book and the footnotes to capture Rich’s quirky input and dialogue. Go get it.

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