James Brown really is the Grandmaster of Funk, and as surely as he thrilled audiences in the 1950s, so does he wow them four decades later. One of the -- if not the -- consummate performers of all time, Brown was still rocking harder than almost everyone else during the 1980s, and Grandmaster of Funk is proof not only of his longevity, but also of his superiority in the live arena. A classic Brown performance, this set is divided on CD between three extended medleys, focusing on the 1965-1971 hits, but with plenty of overflow; 1969's "Give It up or Turn It Loose" segues neatly into "It's Too Funky in Here," recorded a decade later, and so it continues. The number one hits "Super Bad" and "Cold Sweat" are given fine treatment as well. But where Brown really lets it go is across "It's a Man's, Man's, Man's World," stepping back from the groove and talking to the audience about world hunger and starvation in Africa, then listing all those musicians who have made a difference both to him and to the world: Elvis Presley, Otis Redding, Sam Cooke, Janis Joplin; he then pays tribute to John and Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. before asking the audience to "turn to the person on your right and say 'I love you'." It's a moving moment and a nice reminder that Brown was far more than just a funk performer -- he was first and foremost a political crusader who infused his grooves with that passion. The one drawback to Grandmaster of Funk is that the sound isn't nearly as good as it could be, becoming muddy in large swathes. But still, it's the live energy that's so vital here, and although the 1980s aren't necessarily associated with Brown's best performances, this is still well worth a spin.
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