Phil Upchurch's sophomore date for Blue Thumb is a move away from the heavy, fuzzed-out, distorted funk of his Cadet sides, and a decidedly more direct move toward the laid-back West Coast sound. Having left Chicago a year earlier, he recorded Darkness, Darkness with Tommy Li Puma and a host of Cali musicians. The texture and easy groove of the music on that album must have agreed with him, because here, on Lovin' Feeling, he shines by indulging in the smooth grooves with a funkier hand on his fret board. The mood is decidedly a jazzy one, with chunky bits of funk and groove thrown into a smooth, silky mix. Upchurch is a master guitarist, and his sidemen for this date were chosen with great care; he even replaced his own bassist with Lucky Scott from the Curtis Mayfield band. This date also marks the first appearance in Upchurch's band of future longtime collaborator, pianist, and songwriter, Tennyson Stephens. Plainly put, this is easily one of Upchurch's finest recorded moments. With the fuzz tones and other noise boxes sidelined, the guitarist has a new opportunity to showcase his deep melodic sensibilities and the chromatic lyricism in his soloing and chord work; without, as he did on Darkness, Darkness, giving up the soulful funkiness that makes his style so unique. Standouts include a massively souled-out read of "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'" (that challenges any vocal version, including the Righteous Brothers', as definitive) and "Another Funky Tune": an Upchurch standard. Where strings and sparse horn arrangements frame certain tunes, like the backdrop in "I Still Love You" and "Sitar Soul," the rhythm section still propels Upchurch into dizzying feats in the cut groove, and in the more up-tempo numbers, where strings are relegated to a back seat for a more keyboard-driven approach, such as in "Washing Machine" and the album's closer, "You've Been Around Too Long." Upchurch takes his playing into wah-wah-saturated overdrive, creating funk inside of soul and soul inside of funk, then turning them both inside out with raving arpeggios, as dirty grooves come off as clean, sensual fills and cascading skeins of sexy, ringing lines of pure, easy, club-night vibe. Lovin' Feeling is truly amazing from start to finish: a high point in a career filled with them.
Lovin' Feeling Review
by Thom Jurek