Funk is finding its groove on CDs


August 06, 1998|By J.D. Considine Country Trisha Yearwood

Various artists

Pure Funk (Polygram TV 314-558-299)

Millennium Funk Party (Rhino 75467)

It used to be that '60s soul was the epitome of pop-music cool. Between "The Big Chill" generation's veneration of Motown and the Blues Brothers' emulation of Sam & Dave, there was no better way of proving your musical pedigree than professing a fondness for Aretha Franklin or Otis Redding.

Not anymore. These days, pop fans want the funk, the whole funk, and nothing but the funk. Booker T. & the MGs are out, Kool & the Gang is in, and even white boys want to play that funky music.

Whether this is the result of a generational shift, or simply the backwash from 15 years of rap hits built around funk samples, is hard to say. But regardless of reason, funk collections have become a booming business. Originally advertised through campy TV ads, the 20-song anthology "Pure Funk" has become a hot seller in CD stores, inspiring similarly themed discs, such as "Millennium Funk Party."

Essentially, each CD functions as a hi-tech mix tape, offering an assortment of artists while focusing on a single idea (in this case, funk). Of course, you could always make your own, and many fans have. But apart from the ready-made convenience, these discs are a godsend for those whose music library doesn't already include Rufus' "Tell Me Something Good" or the Commodores' "Brick House."

Both discs, tellingly enough, begin with "Brick House," but from there the differences become more apparent. Despite the cover featuring models in '70s-style funk garb (platforms, open polyester shirts, oversized afros), the offerings on "Pure Funk" aren't entirely restricted to that era, with several tracks - Patrice Rushen's "Forget Me Nots," Cameo's "Word Up" and Rick James' "Super Freak" - culled from the '80s.

Not sticking to the '70s is hardly a criminal offense, but not sticking to the concept ought to be. Because it takes such a broad approach to playing that funky music, "Pure Funk" sometimes seems to lose its focus. It's nice to hear Rose Royce singing "Car Wash" and L.T.D.'s "(Everytime I Turn Around) Back In Love Again," but did we really need Carl Douglas' "Kung Fu Fighting" or Yarbrough & Peoples' "Don't Stop the Music"? Probably not.

"Pure Funk" does have the advantage of extremely tight sequencing, eliminating the two seconds of space most CDs include between tracks. This keeps the music flowing without resorting to tacky fade-ins, making the album slightly better suited to dance parties.

"Millennium Funk Party" plays it a little closer to the calendar, going no further from the '70s than George Clinton's 1983 hit "Atomic Dog." Not only does the collection have all the obvious tracks - Parliament's "Tear the Roof Off the Sucker (Give Up the Funk)," the Ohio Players' "Love Rollercoaster," Earth, Wind & Fire's "Serpentine Fire" - but it includes such lesser-known delights as B.T. Express' "Do It ('Til You're Satisfied)" and Slave's guitar-seared "Slide."

Its only missteps are Lakeside's "Fantastic Voyage" (which boasts a better chorus than verse) and the Staple Singers' "I'll Take You There" (which seems a little too old-fashioned), but they're minor errors.

Still, neither collection includes any James Brown or Sly & the Family Stone (blasphemy!), and personally, I would have liked to have heard Aretha Franklin's "Rock Steady," Kool & the Gang's "Funky Stuff" and the Temptations' "Shakey Ground."

Then again, I can always make my own mix tapes.

"Pure Funk": ***

"Millennium Funk Party": ***1/2

Where Your Road Leads (MCA 70023)

It's tempting sometimes to equate slickness with artificiality, as if the only way a singer could handle an elaborate arrangement would be to surrender any real emotional involvement in the song. Fortunately, there's always Trisha Yearwood to prove that polish doesn't preclude authenticity. There's no denying that "Where Your Road Leads" is long on studio craft, from the radio-friendly sheen of "There Goes My Baby" to the lush backing tracks of "I'll Still Love You More." But Yearwood has a way of cutting to the heart of these songs, so that what comes across is the music's emotional punch, whether in the tuneful bounce of "Powerful Thing" or in the slow, bluesy pulse of "Bring Me All Your Lovin'." ***

J.D. Considine


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