For 40 years, Tower of Power have ploughed a deep funk furrow, drawn forward by a tight, intuitive five-piece horn section, that has seen them back everyone from Little Feat to Public Image Ltd whilst releasing a staggering 19 studio albums of original compositions along the way. It comes as a surprise, then, to discover that their anniversary album and first studio release in five years, Great American Soulbook is a covers record of “classic” soul/funk cuts. All the more so since the group’s co-founders, Emilio Castillo (tenor sax) and Stephen “Doc” Kupka (baritone sax), have always been reticent about doing one in the past.
But no need to worry, because the 10-piece outfit from Oakland, California, step up and take care of business with a polished, soulful sophistication that finds the clipped signature horns and funky rhythm section providing consummate backing for T.O.P. lead singer Larry Braggs to cut loose on duets with guest vocalists Tom Jones (“I Thank You”), Joss Stone (“It Takes Two”, “(Heaven Must Have Sent) Your Precious Love”) and Huey Lewis (“634-5789”), while Sam Moore gives his all on an excellent version of Otis Redding’s “Mr. Pitiful”. Nevertheless, it’s when Braggs goes solo on the swinging interpretation of Billy Paul’s “Me & Mrs. Jones” and a funky, smooth-to-the-groove take on Billy Wither’s “Who Is He (And What Is he To You)” that the record’s greatest strengths are revealed. Yes, it may lack the gritty funk punch of their classic early ‘70 sides, and a journeyman James Brown medley doesn’t help, but who cares when T.O.P are such a class act. Catch them live and get down, y’all.
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// Notes from the Road
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