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CON FUNK SHUN
Loveshine / Candy
Mercury (1978/1979) reissue by UK Cherry Red/Robinsongs, 2011)
2 original albums on 1 CD
1) So Easy
2) Magic Woman
3) Shake & Dance with Me
4) Make It Last
5) Love Shine
6) When The Feeling's Right
7) I Think I Found the Answer
8) Wanna Be There
9) Can't Go Away
10) Fire When Ready
11) Chase Me
12) Not Ready
13) Da Lady
15) (Let Me Put) Love on Your Mind
16) Main Slice
I'm very glad that the UK label Cherry Red has started to reissue the old album catalogue
by the soul/funk group Con Funk Shun. Virtually almost their complete
album discography - check here has already
been reissued, most of them by Universal Music Japan, but their latest Japan import prints of the CDs
are from 2008, and they are now sold out and incredible prices are requested of them at
eBay. Also, the Japanese reissues have had only one original album on 1 disc, and priced
typically between 30-40 euros, which may sound pretty expensive,
especially compared to the price of these Cherry Red releases, where you get 2 or 3 original
albums on 1 reasonably priced set!
Personally, I initially classified Con Funk Shun as belonging to the 2nd division of the
original funk groups, but they certainly that they were able to record first class
funk and soul at their best. Also the fact that the previous reissues have been quickly
sold out, proves that the group has lots of old fans who are willing to switch
their old vinyl albums into a digital format.
Why did I first rate the group as belonging to the second division only?
It was not about their ability to play decent funk and soul; as
musicians I think the group was ready to challenge any other funk group of the 70s and early
80s. It was more of a question of playing a bit too safe all the time. They didn't want to
be too funky, too soulful, too disco, too pop or too jazzy. They were having
a safe mixture of
soul, funk and disco, the solos were very short and the group seemed to avoid that any of the members
would get "too much exposure". Maybe they were afraid of what had happened to other soul/funk
groups, when their lead singers or leading musicians were getting famous and then
left the group for solo career.
Anyway, despite of this "playing safe" mode, Con Funk Shun was a pretty stable seller on Mercury
label. They had eight top ten soul single hits, and they had seven top ten soul albums on
Billboard charts. Still, I believe that they would have had more potential to follow
Earth, Wind & Fire, Kool & the Gang or The Commodores to international
stardom, but they stayed loyal to their original funk/soul style and never really crossed over.
Their only pop top 30 ever was their 1977 single Ffun, and they never tried to modify
their sound to more commercial trends.
In the late seventies, Con Funk Shun was really seen as the next Earth, Wind & Fire. Their
Mercury debut 1977 Secrets (also reissued in Japanese Universal, but currently
out of print) sold gold, and had their first (and last!) soul # 1 hit Ffun which crossed over to pop top 30
as well. At the same time (late 1977), EW&F released their arguably best-ever set All'n All. In
mid-1978, Con Funk Shun
released this Loveshine set, which was produced by Skip Scarborough, who had
already worked a lot with EW&F and The Emotions, which was at the time produced by Maurice White
and other EW&F members.
Surely, the EW&F influences are evident, but probably more on the soul than funk/instrumental
side. The ballads sounded like they were tailormade to Philip Bailey's soaring falsetto,
and the backings were professional, but the songs lacked a memorable classic tune. Skip had
co-written only the closing track of the album, Can't Go Away, which is a decent soul
ballad, but still not comparable to Scarboroughs' previous masterpieces like Love Ballad (L.T.D.),
Love's Holiday (EW&F), Can't Hide Love (Creative Source, EW&F) or
Don't Ask My Neighbors (The Emotions). Decent 2nd division, once again.
How about the funk/disco side, then? So Easy opens the album, and has similar elements
to Brick's smashes Dazz and Dusic from 1976-77, with even a short (but lame)
flute & bass break, but
again, it's a bit too middle-of-the-road. Not funky enough for hardcore funk enthusiasts,
not disco enough for DJ's, not pop enough to cross over. It was released as the second
single release from the album, and peaked at position 28 on soul charts. Not a smash, just
decent second division.
The biggest hit from the album was the first single pick Shake and Dance with Me,
which a hint of a same feel as Kool & the Gang's pop-disco smashes in the early 80s,
with a poppy chorus chant and easily flowing handclapping rhythm. Hardly a sought-after classic
these days, but a harmless slice of disco funk of the late 70s.
More in the EW&F mould is the title track Loveshine, written by Felton Pilate,
who has been very active also after his Con Funk Shine period, writing and producing
both rap/R&B artists such as MC Hammer, B Angie B and Doug E. Fresh and "old
school" soul artists such as Lenny Williams, Freda Payne, Jesse James and Dorothy
Moore. I rate Loveshine as the best composition on the album, really almost in the
EW&F class, and proving that Con Funk Shun really had a huge potential.
Wanna Be There is another Pilate-written song that can easily described as quality soul,
with its easily flowing melody and bright mid-tempo arrangement. It seems that the best
tracks on the album were mid-tempo tunes, whereas the ballads (Magic Woman, Make It Last,
I Think I Found the Answer)
were not strong enough melodies, and also I wouldn't rate the vocalists (Michael Cooper,
Felton Pilate) in the same league as Philip Bailey, Maurice White, Skip Martin or
Lionel Richie were in their competitor's lineups. The best ballad is again written
by Pilate, titled Make It Last, a tune which again sounds like it would have been ideal
for Philip Bailey, and with Felton Pilate on vocals, it was satisfactory but not a masterpiece.
What the Con Funk Shun fans would have probably wanted most were the party tunes,
and in that department the Loveshine album was rather disappointing, with only
three tracks representing the dance tracks. Of these, So Easy
was clearly the peak in my book, but even that was a bit too mainstream.
When The Feeling's Right is written and sung by Michael Cooper, whose nasal tenor
is reminiscent to Larry Blackmont of Cameo, but this was really far from
the edgiest and most hardcore funk sounds by Cameo.
Ralph Tee has
written the liner notes, and he describes that the group remained "true to themselves" and
did not want to compromise; sell out to disco or radio-friendly pop tunes. Yes, it is true
that some funk groups decided to "sell out" and were making pop-oriented dance tunes for radio play,
but on the other hand I still stick to my claim that Con Funk Shun was also playing it safe,
and did not want to record tight funk tunes, either. The album was described as containing
"easy blend of soulful funk and disco" by a female reviewer on Allmusic.com. That really sums up
the overall sophisticated and slick feel of Con Funk Shun's "soulful funk".
Con Funk Shun's next album Candy was released in May 1979, during the hottest disco
period ever. Earth, Wind & Fire was riding high on the pop charts with Boogie Wonderland,
but Con Funk Shun really did not aim at pop market, they tried to stick to black music market.
The first single pick Chase Me has a punchy dance rhythm, but Michael Cooper keeps
the funk attitude alive with his aggressive vocals, and horns and percussions colour the
background. There is even a flute solo in the middle, and now much longer than on the So Easy
single from their previous set. Chase Me reached number 4 slot on Billboard soul chart and
stayed over 20 weeks on the chart.
Still, my definite favourite funk cut on the album is the title track Candy,
which is really one of their
funkiest and tightest grooves ever. It is based on a bouncing funk bass groove (by Cedric
Martin), over which
Michael Cooper sings his nasal funk vocals, and Felton Pilate sings his best Philip Bailey -style
falsetto lines in the bridge. I'm amazed that this track was not released as a 12" single - it
would have been a real killer cut on any solid black music club! This track is still burning hot
on their live shows, check the YouTube for video clips!
There was certainly nothing wrong with the other funk-oriented cuts, either. Da Lady
is a Michael Cooper-written punchy funk with a relaxed but nearly 120 BPM swaying rhythm.
Main Slice is a bit more average Cooper-written funker with a simple hook and
tight horns over a keyboard-driven backdrop.
Of the more soul-oriented cuts, Not Ready again has nice influences of Earth, Wind
& Fire with its elegant, flute flavoured background, crowned by a sax solo.
Skip Scarborough was at his element producing this kind of soulful cuts. There weren't any
of his own compositions, this time, but this song was a classy soul tune written by
Cedric Martin and Michael Cooper.
Quit surprisingly, Mercury decided to release (Let Me Put) Love on Your Mind as
the second single pick from the album. It's a decent soul ballad tune by Felton Pilate,
featuring Felton's falsetto on lead vocals (and thus having the echoes of Philip Bailey
& EWF), but the arrangement is dominated by a rock-inclined guitar sound. Not a very clever
choice for a single, it peaked at number 24.
The album closes with Felton Pilate's tune Images, which is set in a stylish
mellow instrumentation highly reminiscent of Earth, Wind & Fire on their Spirit and
All'n All sets. Too bad that Felton did not elaborate this track further, since
it has been left only as a short, 2 and a half minutes long instrumental.
Like Alex Henderson aptly put it in his Allmusic.com review, this album finally
made the transition from decent to excellent. The album sold gold and peaked at number 7
on the Billboard soul album charts. I still rate the album as one of their best ever sets.
CD Review: Con Funk Shun: Touch / 7 / To the Max (3 original albums on 2-disc set)
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