Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

James Brown
Star Time

Released 1991 on Polygram
Reviewed by Le Samourai, 17/05/2002ce

As you probably know by now, James Brown’s best albums (Live At The Apollo, Sex Machine and The Payback and others) are usally double albums. So since our Drude talked about one of his 2 disc vinyl gems why not talk about one of the *definitive* reviews of The Godfather of Soul’s catalog - a 4 disc CD box set?

This is a totally fascinating look at the man who single-handedly created Funk music and changed R & B and Soul forever. We all know that box sets are the ultimate “cash cows” record companies churn out to get your money. But trust me on this, if any artist was *made* for the box set idea it’s James Brown. Spanning 4 decades with 5 hours worth of one artist’s music might seem a little tiring but the music on Star Time is nothing but quality.

Disc 1 finds him wrestling with the R & B styles of the late 50’s and early 60’s. And when I say “wrestling” I mean it. James literally sounds like he’s wrestling with the Ray Charles, Little Richard, Jackie Wilson, The Drifters & Sam Cooke styles of R & B/Soul and Doo-Wop. His arrangements of and singing on these tunes are raw and passionate, if not downright frantic to say the least. Just one example is “Maybe The Last Time” where he is
practically on edge tearing apart this tune wondering if it just might be the last time he’ll see somebody ever again. Everything you love about James Brown in the later decades is here just in smaller doses. Plus if you ever wondered if he invented drum n’ bass BEFORE he made “Funky Drummer” check out “I’ve Got Money.”

Disc 2 is time spent in the lab perfecting the Funk. At one point you can hear James talking to his drummer at the time, John “Jabo” Starks on what percussion to hit when they record. And the tune they record “Let Yourself Go” is just a monster of crazed funk. Jabo’s swinging hits seem a little off center but if the record offered any more space or was any looser it’d be floating towards the moon by now. Then that turns into “Cold Sweat” one of *the* funk anthems and the disc just gets better, funkier and more
intense (shouldn't most great albums be like that?)

Disc 3 & 4 are where our Doctor turns the Funk loose. “Mother Popcorn”, “Funky Drummer” “Get Up, Get Into It And Get Involved” “Sex Machine” and tons of others here become the new blueprint for African American music in the decades to come and it’s not hard to see why. James and his fellow JB’s remove Black music away from gospel and the blues (except for leaving the “call &
response” thang intact) and turn the genre into a swaggering pinball machine of angular noise and arrangement (almost like what Psychedelia would do for rock in the 1960’s.) This is NOT your father’s Black music.

Another hidden treasure on this box set are the vocal
performances James gives within these grooves. James never really had a Hendrix style guitar wiz in his ever-changing line-up. The guitarists usually had to take a groove and stick with it (almost like what the Ramones did later.) So James’s cries & screams are practically the only thing you get to a guitar solo here (unless you count the horn section.) And they are *incredible* and more alive than just about music or musician I can think of.

Weird notes about this box set:Yes it is weird noting that David Bowie was the first artist to sample James Brown by stealing the riff to “Hot (I Need To Be Loved, Loved, Loved)” for his “Fame” (Bowie is also the first artist to sample James and *not* pay him for it.) It’s also weird noting that this set ends with James doing odd takes on the funk. His late 70’s disco numbers here without the JB’s just sound forced and weak (and too many female back up singers.) This box set ends with “Unity” - his duet with Hip Hop legend Afrika Bambaataa. And while I still love that song (at least more than "World Destruction" Afrika's duet with John Lydon) it just doesn’t sound as live and loose as it did when I first heard it (probably due to drum machine programming at the time.)

But ultimately, If you got the cash and 5 hours to spend
listening to music then this is one hell of a brilliant way to spend it.

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