The Crusaders

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By 1978, the Crusaders sans the "Jazz" prefix were past their popular prime, and seemed to be recycling the same ideas that made them more famous when they started playing funkier music. While a limited urban crowd still gravitated toward what was becoming instrumental disco music, the ideas of the group had waned to the point where even commercial radio stations were less interested in this album as a whole. Images offers very little in terms of new or hit music, though Joe Sample attempted to compose songs that built on their prior success, especially like the successful album Free as the Wind from two years prior. Originally on the Blue Thumb label (sold to the MCA mega-conglomerate), this album was on the more commercial side of the label, which also included the National Lampoon LPs, Captain Beefheart, Dan Hicks, Jimmy Smith, T. Rex, and Mark-Almond. Of three tracks penned by Sample, "Merry-Go-Round" is the lowest common denominator, copping the urban funk of the Bill Withers hit "Just the Two of Us"; "Snowflake" is nothing like its delicate, wafting title, instead being too lively and fast; and "Fairy Tales" is the tune closest to overt primal disco. Drummer Stix Hooper contributes "Marcella's Dream," which is passable low-key blues-funk with some nice keyboard work from Sample. Wilton Felder's soul-drenched saxophone remained the high point of any recording the Crusaders did, as he stands out on his tune "Bayou Bottoms," a street-strutting standard-bearer for the era, and one of their better all-time tracks. "Covert Action," however, regresses into hollowed-out music with little heart or real soul. Electric bass guitarist Robert Popwell's "Cosmic Reign" starts out in some pseudo-Sun Ra space trip realm with diffuse synths and a bloogle/sound tube or three, but invariably is dependent on more street funk, and surprisingly even a brief hint of bop. While this is far from the worst -- or the very best -- recording the Crusaders produced in their checkered career, it offers no extra tracks or fresh insight, and is essentially a mediocre effort.

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