Bar-Kays

Black Rock

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After cutting several fine instrumental singles in a Booker T and the MG's vein, the Bar-Kays began developing a more ambitious style as the 1960s gave way to the 1970s. Their new sound mixed in traditional soul grooves with all sorts of psychedelic and rock-styled production touches and a new emphasis on heavy, guitar-oriented funk. The first fruits of this new direction were presented in 1971 on Black Rock. The good news is the group does everything in their power to push the boundaries of their sound, the bad news is that their experiments are hit and miss. The tone is set by the opening track, a cover of the Aretha Franklin tune "Baby I Love You"; it elongates the original song into an dirge-like, Vanilla Fudge-style arrangement that piles on Chicago-style horns, long stretches of funky instrumental jamming, and all sorts of psychedelic sonic effects, like phased vocals and electric sitar. It's ambitious, but it's not particularly exciting, and it has not dated well. The remainder of the tracks consist of similarly rearranged covers plus a handful of originals. The standouts are "How Sweet It Would Be," a soulful heartbreak ballad that has a lighter touch than the rest of the material, and "Montego Bay," a cover of the Bobby Bloom hit that transforms the tune into a tight, horn-driven instrumental groove. However, to get to solid tracks like these, the listener has to wade through several misfires, like the group's dreadful cover of "Dance to the Music," which drags on too long and swamps the melody in goofy sound effects designed to re-create a college protest atmosphere. All in all, Black Rock spends so much time aping the sound of other groups that it never allows the group to transform these influences into a sound all their own and, as a result, it can only be recommended to R&B completists.

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