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Soul Express CD Review
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CON FUNK SHUN
Touch / 7 / To the Max
Mercury (1980/1981/1982) reissue by UK Cherry Red/Robinsongs, 2011)
3 original albums on a 2-CD set
1) Too Tight
2) Lady's Wild
3) Give Your Love To Me
4) Pride And Glory
6) Welcome Back To Love
8) Can't Say Goodbye
9) Play Widit
10) Lady's Wild - 12" Version
11) Body Lovers - 12" Version
12) Bad Lady
13) I'll Get You Back
14) Body Lovers
15) Promise You Love
1) If You're In Need Of Love
2) Straight From The Heart
3) A Song For You
4) California 1
To the Max (1982)
5) Ms Got The Body
6) Let's Ride And Slide
8) Hide & Freak)
9) You Are The One
10) Take It To The Max
11) Love's Train
12) Ain't Nobody Baby
13) T.H.E. Freak
14) Ms Got The Body - 12" Version
15) Ms Got The Body - Instrumental Version
This double disc set contains 3 original Con Funk Shun albums and continues the series
started by UK label Cherry Red with 2on1 set
Loveshine/ Candy. Read the CD review
of the previous set here.
Like mentioned in the review of Loveshine & Candy set, Con Funk Shun managed to
raise from the second division of funky soul groups to the 1st division in the late
70s with their splendid album Candy, which was produced by the acclaimed
songwriter Skip Scarborough. Skip was no longer the producer of Con Funk Shun
on their (second) 1980 release Touch, but now Jerry Peters joined
as one of the contributors. Like Skip, Jerry had been working with both Earth, Wind & Fire
and The Emotions, and you could hear that from the sounds of this album.
The opening track Too Tight was yet another top ten soul hit for Con Funk Shun,
and it was a top 40 pop hit as well. It has been compared to The Emotions' Best of My Love
and Cheryl Lynn's smash Got to Be Real, both of which are personal favorites
of yours truly, so it's no surprise I love this track by Con Funk Shun as well. The melody
is not too close to either of the aforementioned tunes, so this still sounded fresh and
punchy when released in November 1980. Surely the rhythm track borrows especially from
Got to Be Real, but I still think Cedric Martin does a terrific job as the
bassist on the track. Get the track and enjoy!
Too Tight spent 20 weeks on Billboard, and when the second single Lady's Wild
was released, most of the Con Funk Shun of course already had the album. So it was no wonder
it did not raise higher than the slot 42 on Billboard's soul chart, but I still regard this
a killer funk tune. There's a 12" Version of the track as a bonus, as well. When the overall
trends were getting unfavourable for large funk groups, I think Con Funk Shun chose the right
path sticking to funky dance tracks, as these two singles well demonstrated. The groove is there,
there's enough melody and chants to hum along, and the instrumentation is tight and colourful. Not many
funk groups survived the 80s, but Con Funk Shun did the right thing, without compromising to
pop dance sounds like some of their competitors.
Admittedly the album was a bit uneven, with a couple of more mediocre moments following the tighter
funk cuts and solid ballads - the title track is the biggest disappointment.
In the ballad department, David Crawford assisted with his
classy arrangements, and especially the Cedric Martin composition Give Your Love To Me
is worth your attention. The overall feel reminds me of soul vocal groups of the 70s, which
is always a positive note. Felton Pilate blows a short trombone solo. Also, Can't Say Goodbye
has been mentioned as a quiet storm favorite.
Kidnapped opens almost like the EW&F smash Boogie Wonderland, but also contains
some surprising, jazz-inclined guitar and keyboard soloing. Play Widit is a banal synth-driven
instrumental that I would have rather dropped out of the album. Still, with a couple of killer
funkers and some stylish ballads this was a more than worthwhile album. It was first reissued on
CD in Japan, and the limited edition copies were quickly sold out, and now over 70 US dollars is asked
even for a used copy. The CD isn't worth of over 50 dollars but together with 2 other Con Funk
Shun albums you can now get this 3on2 set at the price of 1 full-priced CD.
The album titled 7 was actually Con Funk Shun's eighth album, but their 7th Mercury set,
hence the title. The album was their first Mercury album that did NOT reach the top ten of
Billboard soul album charts, but it still spent 26 weeks on the charts and reached position
17. The album was reissued on CD first in U.K. in the "Original Funk LP Series", but
it is now sold out and again, quite incredible prices have been asked for it. Thus, another
very welcome reissue by Cherry Red, and makes the 3on2 set really worthwhile.
The single hit that preceded the album release was Bad Lady, which peaked at position 19,
and thus this explains only the moderate success of the album. However, the album is musically
almost as good as its predecessor - only the times were getting worse for all funk groups.
is a worthwhile disco funker with a bouncing rhythm build over a solid bass groove. Vocoder
vocals are features in the chorus, but I can accept vocoder vocals much easier on funk tracks
than the vocoder-filtered "autotune" vocals on soul recordings today. At least they were used
for special effect - not to correct the pitch of some bad singing! Maybe the string arrangement
was a bit out-of-date considering the time the single was released.
I'll Get You Back is a more typical funker of its time, having a strong keyboard
basis over which Michael Cooper adds his aggressive vocals, Felton Pilate soars with his
falsetto and the rest of the group adds horn and guitar riffs and percussion. A solid track.
The group also tried with a more electronic, Midnight Star -type of synthetic burbler
Body Lovers (a vocoder-inflected 12" version is included as a bonus), but it obviously
did not reach any positive feedback as a promo 12"
and it was shelved. Then the record company tried with another single pick Straight from
the Heart b/w California 1, but with very little success - the single peaked at position 79 and
flopped after 4 weeks. No wonder: the A-side is a rather spiritless ballad song, whreas the
B-side is an odd pop-oriented plodder complete with rock guitar and some trumpet.
A Song for You is not a version of the Leon Russell song but a new,
quite forgettable uptempo tune.
The album is probably best remembered today because of the timeless, sax-drenched
soul ballad Promise Your Love, which is laced with jazzy piano playing as well. This
is the kind of sophisticated soul ballad highlight that you would expect from a Whispers album,
and it was really a surprise on a Con Funk Shun set. And the group was now self-produced, so
there were no Skip Scarborough, Jerry Peters or David Crawford to credit for this.
A very uneven set as a whole, but with a couple of essential cuts included.
The record company Mercury was probably disappointed with the sales of 7 album, but
the next LP To the Max took Con Funk Shun back to top ten of soul album charts. The
surprising thing was that the first single pick Ain't Nobody Baby was a commercial
failure, but it was compensated by the release of the more predictible funker Ms. Got the Body,
which was the second single pick and fared much better than the first single choice.
Ain't Nobody Baby is much darker and funkier of these two, but obviously way too
hard-core funk track for chart success in 1982. The track even contained a robust sax solo
at the end of the track, plus a rap insert. Ms. Got the Body was a much more
typical synthetic funker of its time, but it of course suited better to radio play and
gained spot 15 on soul charts, whereas its predecessor peaked at number 31. Two alternative
versions of Ms. Got the Body are included as a bonus.
The song titles such as Let's Ride and Slide, Hide & Freak, Take It to the Max and
T.H.E. Freak speak volumes of the nature of the other synthetic funkers included. Not very
original, but trendy enough for chart success in 1982, when real instruments were getting
replaced by computer programming. Maybe the most positive aspect was that the group was still
able to use real horn section on top of the extremely synthetic grooves.
In the liner notes, Ralph Tee mentions Love's Train as the soulful peak of the album.
It is indeed the most soulful cut on display, but really not a great masterpiece on this
very disappointing 9-track album. It simply depicted the sign of the times in black music.
Real musicians were getting replaced by machines.
All in all, To the Max was clearly the weakest link of the three albums included
in this double disc set, but you can consider it as a free bonus while buying Con Funk
Shun's 1980-1981 albums, both of which are extremely high-priced as individual CD reissues.
CD Review: Con Funk Shun: Loveshine / Candy (2 original albums on 1 CD)
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