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July 21, 2007

Curtis Mayfield – Curtis

Filed under: Music — innervisions @ 9:01 pm

[Curtom; 1970]

Curtis Mayfield’s first of many solo albums is not only his greatest work, but an encapsulation of everything great about soul, rhythm & blues, and funk. The velvet-voiced member of The Impressions set out and recorded Curtis in 1970. The result is an impassioned work that combines sharp late-60s social criticism with a massive funk sound that is at once both jubilant and mournful. Curtis is a joyous celebration around Mayfield’s “there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, come on people” lyricisms. Few recordings are as wholly satisfying, and this album still sounds remarkably fresh nearly forty years after it was recorded.

It’s easy to sit back and pigeonhole R&B, soul, and funk as simple interchangeable genres of music that rely on formulaic songwriting and little musicality. Are you of that belief? Well, Curtis Mayfield’s arrangements on this record shoot all of that to hell. Brilliant use of horns, strings, vibes, and percussion give Mayfield’s songs this triumphant, blissful arc that is impossible to suppress. They can turn a ballad like “The Makings Of You” into a behemoth, giving a new meaning to “power ballad”. Yes people, a “power ballad” might even be a good thing. The introspective horns and screaming strings make a simple call-to-arms like “We The People Who Are Darker Than Blue” into an impassioned clamor for revolution. Now, more sound isn’t always better sound, as any listener can gather, but Mayfield is always tasteful. It would never cross your mind that something on Curtis could sound better stripped down.

Of course, throwing all of the credit onto Mayfield’s arrangements would be foolish. Curtis Mayfield is a first-class songwriter with an effortless, velvety alto and seemingly limitless range. No matter the ferocity of his arrangements, he can always manage to keep up and shine through. He’s by himself for the most part, so he has no harmonies to catch your ear, but Mr. Mayfield can hit perfect notes better than I ever thought imaginable. His voice is always perfect, but on the more understated (well, relatively understated) closer, “Give It Up”, his soulful croon shines through the most. The first couple verses with his heavenly tone going back and forth with simple vibes and harp is incredible.

The consistency across the board with this record is remarkable; I can’t really pick a favorite or least favorite. You didn’t think soul could truly be mindblowing? Well, come here child, come sit on my knee. I have something for you. Here is a copy of Curtis. It’s forty-one minutes of bliss. Take it, and go run, wild and free.

1 Comment »

  1. thanks for all the recommendations!
    great blog

    Comment by theo — August 18, 2007 @ 4:15 pm

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