James Brown

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Jam/1980's Review

by Jason Elias

The mid- to late '70s were commercially difficult for Brown. Key members of his band the JB's left, most going to Parliament/Funkadelic. By the mid-'70s, Brown began to slide down to the lowest regions of the charts. The whole disco era took Brown by surprise, and in response he often came to the party testy, often making music that was too fast and one-dimensional to dance to. 1978's Jam/1980's was a welcome change and a chance for him to steal back horn riffs from the Brecker Brothers and the Average White Band. This was his first album in years where Brown was in good spirits (all the way through, that is). Through much trial and error (Brown's albums from 1975-1977), he finally attained a sense of nonchalance and actually revamped the way he thought about rhythm. On most of the cuts, the bass is elastic and the drums are an afterthought. "Jam," while good, is the type of showbizzy funk he did in the '80s and beyond. The album does get better. "The Spank," with its wry horn chart and bass heavy mix, is the heart of this effort. The rest of the cuts adhere to the not great song but great groove mentality. No one's ever going to know what Brown's intention on "Eyesight" was about, but the easy off-time shuffle of "Nature" will still pack a dancefloor. The dance or bust mentality of Jam/1980's may be a little monotonous. In fact, Brown's heartfelt tribute to Elvis Presley, "Love Me Tender," the single B-side to "The Spank," should have been included here. This effort is proof that Brown's good work didn't stop with The Payback.

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