Right About Now...
The 10th anniversary reissue of DJ Shadow’s seminal Entroducing album has been getting a lot of press and five-star reviews lately (including on PopMatters). Shadow’s genius is the way he creates fresh, atmospheric hip-hop entirely from sampled records. And the smart money says that Josh Davis has all of the 7” singles featured on Creative Musicians Vol. 2 in his record collection. Now available as a domestic US release two and a half years after its European debut, German DJ Florian Keller’s second bunch of rare groove classics is a hip-hop producer’s dream. It’s also a treasure trove for aspiring indie film directors and regular ol’ music lovers everywhere.
Most people’s experience with funk, if they have any, comes in several sweeping, major-label-sanctioned forms: the sweaty bump’n'grind of James Brown, the wacked-out psychedelia of Mercury/Polygram recording artists like Parliament and the Gap Band, the electro precision of Zapp & Roger and Cameo. Prince has managed to utilize all these sounds in various permutations. Creative Musicians goes beyond and beneath the familiar forms and reveals funk to be as varied a genre as soul or rock. And tying it all together is rhythm, rhythm, rhythm.
The whole paradigm of hip-hop production can be heard in the drumming alone. The tight, steady breakbeats of Bobby Wayne’s “You’re Blowing My Mind” and Family Affair’s “I Had a Friend” are ripe for sampling, if they haven’t been already. The punchy, stuttering snares and rimshots of Pamoja’s “Oooh Baby” can be heard in everything from Happy Mondays to Swizz Beats. Whether it was limited equipment budgets or prescience, the dry, reverb-free recording still sounds badass decades on. And the basslines are simple yet contagious and command you to dance. One listen to Josephine Jones’ coquettish “Candy Man”, for example, will cement that groove in your head for days to come.
The best thing about Creative Musicians, though, is the variety and quality of the entire songs. Funk can often get repetitive, but this 19-song collection never does. Almost every track is a revelation. There’s the 12-bar blues of Betty Barney’s “Momma Momma”, not to mention her Robert Plant-like vocals. Liz McCall’s “Double Determination” has an almost Motown sweetness. That’s followed by Bo Baral’s haunting, primitive reading of “Light My Fire” (yes, that one), re-titled “No Time to Wallow in the Myrrh”. James Lewis’ “Manifesto” is not a Roxy Music cover, but has the same kind of manic energy—complete with wailing sax. Further down the tracklist, Darling Dears’ dreamy, big-sounding “And I Love You” is almost certainly no stranger to Saint Etienne’s Bob Stanley and Pete Wiggs. And keep Prince’s “Get Off” in mind when listening to Jimmy Lynch’s smokin’ “Let a Woman Be a Woman and a Man Be a Man”.
Although no precise dates are given in Keller’s otherwise informative, entertaining liner notes, the variety and consistent quality allow tracks from the ‘90s to coexist peacefully with the ‘70s-heavy lineup. The album flags only at the end, when Keller shows his DJ stripes by closing with a couple bland soul ballads that suffer from funk deficiency. By then, though, you will have had such a good time that you’ll hardly notice.