funk music

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Review: Prince – HITnRUN Phase One

Posted by funkatop On September - 7 - 2015 4 COMMENTS

Prince HITnRUN Phase OneOn September 7th, Prince released another new album exclusively on Tidal entitled HITnRUN Phase One. Out of the gate, everything seems different about the album including the fact that the One in Phase One wasn’t changed to the number 1, which concerns us for some reason. It screams different right on the cover. It also insinuates that there may be other “phases” that we can expect in the very near future. Color us super happy because any music from Prince is welcome.

To start, the album was produced by Joshua Welton, husband of 3rd Eye Girl drummer Hannah Ford Welton. Prince giving up the production reigns is groundbreaking if only because Prince is so incredibly protective over how his music is represented. Joshua’s involvement doesn’t stop there since he also shares writing credits as well. The end result is the boost in music variety and because it allows Prince to focus on the creation process and Joshua brings a fresh set of eyes to the process.

The album opens with clips of classics like 1999 and Let’s Go Crazy before diving into the Judith Hill led Million $ Show.  That sets the stage for a superb collection of tunes and offers up glimpses of some great things that may be built on later down the road.

The first of which is when Prince brings in new faces and voices like Rita Ora, rapper Curly Fryz, Judith Hill and Lianne La Havas. The latter two who themselves have put out some of the best albums in 2015 and now share the stage with his purple majesty.  This trend is very welcome.

Lianne La Havas who is my new favorite obsession, brought life, vibe and dramatics to the beautiful Art Official Age. Some of her excerpts along with pieces of Clouds are brought into the mood-setting Mr. Nelson. It’s also one of the more techno offerings on the album while still providing a lot of musical gymnastics at the same time.

Our second favorite change is that we especially love when Prince doesn’t worry about closing up a song and let’s the groove run for an extended period of time to simply let it flow and give the listener a chance to appreciate the song structure. It was what made the B sides of yesteryear so epic.  Those long breaths of musical nirvana that don’t require words.  The extended musical breaks come back in various samplings such as the final minutes of This Could B Us, and the insanely funky Ain’t About To Stop. And we can’t go without mentioning how great it is to hear Prince figure out a way use the word taffeta in a song.

There are many standouts on the album, but if we had a gold plated microphone gun to our head, we would choose our new personal favorite X’s Face and the closing song June.

X’s Face is the techno king of the album going to territory that doesn’t get a lot of of time from Prince. We love when he gets experimental and delves into unusual landscapes. Those are the pieces that have always made Prince such an eclectic character whether he’s aware of it or not. Over his career, those songs that grab handfuls of your hair and insist that you to listen like All The Critics Love YouDarling Nikki, Annie Christian, Something In The Water, and similar songs are always those songs that end up on those Prince mixtapes. X’s Face is your new addition to those tapes. Here’s hoping that more are on the way. We know what polished sounds like. Give us more of that raw experimental white knuckle dirty vibe and we’re in.

And then there is the closing song June which hearkens back to the story filled lyricism of Ballad of Dorothy Parker and Sometimes It Snows In April. It’s that line where emotion and music perfectly make love and dance together. June appears to be Prince‘s reflection on his birthday and how he feels as if he were born too late. He feels that he should have been part of the Woodstock era, but we firmly disagree. He single-handedly made the 80’s bearable and even decades later is still churning out phenomenal music. The song itself is very introspective and filled with moody energy that’s beautifully balanced with the music.  That type of layering make the song irresistible.

Overall, Joshua Welton has done a fantastic job behind the board and capturing the mixology that Prince has perfected over the years.  Here’s to many more productions from Joshua that will free up Prince to focus on creating. After this release, Prince should feel confident enough in Joshua’s process to start enjoying himself even more and we look forward to those oncoming phases.

Regardless, this is yet another Prince album that’s worthy of checking out. Even if you have to experiment using Tidal to get to it, it’s worth the trouble. You knew it was going to happen, Prince has earned yet another 5 star afro award from Funkatopia.

5 out of 5 afros

Review: 3rd Eye Girl – PLECTRUMELECTRUM

Posted by funkatop On September - 29 - 2014 2 COMMENTS

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 .


Review: Prince – ART OFFICIAL AGE

Posted by funkatop On September - 26 - 2014 12 COMMENTS

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
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Prince Plays 4 Hour Concert in Montreal

Posted by funkatop On July - 1 - 2011 ADD COMMENTS

Montreal’s Jazz Festival always brings out some of the greatest musicians around and according to Kevin Laforest, he was part of one of the best concerts ever to be seen.  Prince made an appearance at a venue called Metropolis at 11:30 last Friday and didn’t stop playing until after 3am and 6 encores later covered most of his hits along with newer material and other cover songs.

Prince’s lineup consisted of John Blackwell on drums, Ida Nielsen on bass, Morris Hayes and Cassandra O’Neal on keyboards, and newcomer Andy Gallo on guitar which is similar to his touring band with exception to the noticeably absent Renaldo Neto on keyboards.  The members have to learn in excess of 400 songs to be ready at a moments notice since Prince never has a firm setlist.

The first 75 minutes of the show were only a handful of songs mixed with extended jam sessions and included When Eye Lay My Hands on UPeachControversy and Crimson and Clover. Some other notables

Photo: Victor Diaz Lamich

2nd encore
Let’s Go Crazy
Little Red Corvette

3rd encore

4th encore
Joni Mitchell’s A Case of You
Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)
Play That Funky Music
A Love Bizarre

5th encore/6th encore
Purple Rain
Raspberry Beret
Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough

So, the question remains as to exactly where he will show up next and will the shows be similar in nature where people can expect to have Parliament length shows?

Many thanks to Kevin Laforest for covering the event and reporting via his blog posts which you can read in its entirety here.

Prince – Rainbow Children

Posted by funkatop On January - 14 - 2011 2 COMMENTS

Prince - Rainbow Children Album reviewReview: While this album may have gone unnoticed to the general public, hardcore Prince fans were shocked at the release of Rainbow Children which had Prince all over the musical map, but clearly displayed Prince’s musical prowess.  The album is blended with a good dose of jazz and pop with only a minor funk infusion, so for true funk fans, you’ll like the album, but it won’t give you your funk fix.  However, this album not only delivers a good dose of funky, it literally takes you on a fantastic journey unlike any other.  Headphones are required to truly appreciate the vastness of this album.

This album was Prince’s dive into the religious arena to speak more passionately about his newfound faith as a Jehovah’s Witness. The album is actually a masterpiece with a lot of great song writing that was obviously meticulously poured over note by note to polish every crack and crevice. There is a deep gothic booming “God-like” voice that tells a story throughout to maintain a good continuity though some listeners found it to be distracting. The title track is like a sonic roller coaster with highs and lows and ethereal guitar, and his female fans will most certainly love tracks such as Mellow and She Loves Me 4 Me.

And while it may not have funk fans frothing at the mouth, what funk it does offer is amazing. 1+1+1 is 3 is a funkafied gorgeous groove and Everlasting Now has super funky breaks that reminisce back to the days of Baby I’m a Star.  The off kilter well thought out placement of these songs truly remind everyone of just how powerful of a musician Prince truly is.

Long story, short, this is one of Prince’s best albums in many years and worthy of picking up at whatever cost. We debated about giving this album our highest possible 5-Afro rating because of its lack of full-on funk, but this album doesn’t have any weak points to be found. Even on the bizarre diatribes like The Digital Garden and Deconstruction, they all work together to create one of Prince’s best masterpieces since Purple Rain and even ups the ante further. Get it now.

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