Jack's Picks. Vol. 3
This week is all quality over quantity. There's just two records in this week's picks, but hopefully at least one of them will have you scuttling on down to your local record store. If funk or soul isn't your thing, hop on over to last week's picks for a more traditional spread of rock and slightly more obscure soundtrack action.
William Onyeabor - World Classics #5: Who is William Onyeabor?
A question no one can confidently answer. I first heard Onyeabor’s “Fantastic Man” on the Master of None soundtrack, which released on Spotify shortly after the show’s Netflix run in November. I honestly thought William Onyeabor was a new artist, and would never guessed that Onyeabor himself is now a crowned high chief in Eastern Nigeria, having first been a pioneer in Nigerian funk and the keyboard synthesizer in the 1970s and 80s. Supposedly, the major obstacle in uncovering Onyeabor’s past is Onyeabor himself, who has refused never to speak about himself or his music again. He really is a mythic character, further obscured by a straight-up fabulous cowboy hat and plush blue overcoat. He is, in fact, the very image of the fantastic man.
If his legacy has any influence on how much I enjoy his music, I don’t care. World Classics #5: Who is William Onyeabor is a release from Luaka Bop Records, a world music label launched by none other than David Byrne (the plot thickens…). From what I can gather, it’s a compilation of his best (or only?) works from the late 70s and early 80s. It’s the Gap Band meets World Music, a 9-song, tiled disco floor that never stops fluctuating.
The album itself is a 3XLP release, with nine songs of non-stop Afrobeat. Tracks number two (“Atomic Bomb”) and nine (“Fantastic Man”) are probably the most popular, but the other tracks are just as amazing—similar wavelengths full of trumpet flare, rolling drumbeats, incredible female backing vocals, and that tasty synth. Some of the songs would actually be funny if they weren’t so catchy, and the lyrics didn’t gradually become more and more meaningful.
I could recommend this album all day. If you have a turntable and an Amazon account, pull the trigger. At around $28, it’s pricey, but it’s worth it. I was actually surprised that one of our local stores, Reckless Records, carried it, but then again, I’m certainly not the only one catching on to Onyeabor’s magnetic genius.
Shuggie Otis - Freedom Flight
Just look at Shuggie. That mane of hair, the magenta backdrop, the serene distance in his eyes. Freedom Flight is the second studio album from Shuggie Otis, a more subdued funk and R&B artist from the 1960s and 70s. If you’re a fan of Sly and the Family Stone or even Earth, Wind, and Fire, this is right up your alley.
Shuggie Otis is described as an instrumentalist, but he is first and foremost a guitarist on Freedom Flight. The title track, a 13-minute blues jam, is definitely most the most exemplary and thoroughly guitar-oriented song on the album. This particular track is pretty ambient, entirely non-vocal, and not too far flung from a much slower Grateful Dead jam.
The first side of the album on the other hand, is more reminiscent of popular blues, R&B, and funk from that era (the album released in 1971). “Strawberry Letter 23” is actually the reason I bought Freedom Flight, and easily my favorite song on the album. You can’t deny the boogie Shuggie is laying down in this song. It’s sort of like a pair of light-up roller skates in auditory form. I can’t fully recommend this album, knowing that not everyone is on board with ethereal guitar or more dated, blues-centric funk. I bought my copy new for $15. If you’re interested in giving it a go, it shouldn’t be too hard to find.
And that wraps up this week's picks. If you have any comments, lay it down in the comments below and let’s start talkin’. I’d also be curious to see what you picked up this weekend, or what you’re planning on playing first on your Floating Record when it arrives. Until next time.