Monday, October 21, 2013

Report to the Dance Floor: Ron Littlejohn & The Funk Embassy "Shining On"

Let's take a little lesson in dance music. Your teacher is going to be Ron Littlejohn & the Funk Embassy. Their new album"Shining On" is going to serve as your text to explore a limb on the family tree of dance ... funk& soul. These later were turned into disco which birthed house music, but we are getting ahead of ourselves. Before the 80's dawn of hip-hop, there were these long forgotten relics called instruments that people played. There were men called musicians that used these ancient artifacts to craft music. These great shaman of sonics , went by names such as Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye,  Sly Stone, Prince and James Brown. Ron Littlejohn takes you back to that forgotten time.

The album starts off with the title track that holds the simmer of " On the Corner" era Miles Davis. The song is left to bubble on a groove that hold backs like a break down that is waiting to explode into motion. The release is reserved for three and a half minutes into the song, and pays off with some pretty hot guitar work. Most of the songs pull from various elements of soul, the only song that feels like very straight ahead funk is the horn heavy "Light Me Up" that moves like something closer to  James Brown than Funkadelic.

The songs hold the jam like quality that would translate well on stages such a Bonnaroo. From the free floating sermon of "Seems Like Yesterday" to more Barry White romancing of " Soul Devotion" the production is warm and captures the late 60's  early 70's golden years of Motown. When funk had not been mixed too heavily with fusion and lose the magic of a simple groove. The trumpet playing does recall Davis' flirtations with this kind of thing and the album is littered with the sounds of turntables being scratched on with are done for effect, to acknowledge the fact this album was indeed recorded this year. I wouldn't mind if they had kept you the suspension of disbelief and allowed me to pretend I uncovered a lost treasure from those years.

Influence from the more psychedelic era of funk doesn't waft in until "Cream #9" that also reminds me of New Power Generation Prince. Littlejohn testifies more than sings here.  It was surprising to find this had come out of Quebec rather than Chicago. It's also no surprise these high times of the late 60's are flash backed to on "A Day in San Francisco" which has flute work that could have come from a Pam Grier soundtrack.

The smoother elements of Gaye or the Coomodores struts in on " My Magination". The song bears witness to Littlejohn's ability to craft melodies that are catchy yet sound authentic to the time period they are paying homage to.  The album ends on an up beat note with " Emma Lee"   the only song  really pulling from any rock influences, here its "Exile on Main Street " era Stones , as its harmonica heavy and has a Jagger sneer to it.The album is highly recommended to fans of this early era of funky soul, for Littlejohn has out done himself recapturing it's feel.

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