[14 October 2008]
There’s something irresistibly charming about an unmade movie. Especially if that movie happens to be Brotherman: an abandoned 1975 blaxploitation film that follows the, ahem, blaxploits of an inner city pusher turned preacher. Simultaneously typifying the genre completely even while transcending it, in a parallel plain the movie is probably one of the undisputed classics of ‘70s B-cinema. Sadly, in our own world we can only speculate.
Fortunately, this isn’t necessary when it comes to Brotherman‘s original soundtrack. The brainchild (soul child?) of Chicago songwriter/guitarist Carl Wolfolk, the album stands up as a verifiably brilliant musical accomplishment. And, while it’ll probably never be as iconic as, say, the theme from Shaft or Curtis Mayfield’s soundtrack to Superfly, this is an album of irrepressible grooves and laser-sharp harmonies worthy of a place amongst the era’s classics.
Part of the reason is that the songs here have uniformly well-realized arrangements that utilize the Final Solution’s four male voices to the utmost. “Girl in My Life”, for instance, is a mesmerizing jewel of a song that recalls both the Jackson Five and the best of the Temptations’ later hits. “Brotherman”, presumably the movie’s would-be theme song, is a high-powered funk workout that acts as the perfect complement to the down-tempo seduction of tracks like “We Can Work It Out”. Whether it should be attributed to Wolfolk’s skills as an arranger or to the singers themselves, the Final Solution’s work on this record is as hair-raising and, dare I say, sublime as their name is regrettable.
That said, Wolfolk’s guitar playing is every bit as important to the album’s success as the quartet’s deft vocal interaction. After all, it’s his left-field pseudo-flamenco rhythms that really set the Brotherman soundtrack apart from your usual funk/pop outing. For example, the spellbindingly virtuosic riff on “Never Coming Back Again” is just one of many moments here that serve to re-emphasize the criminality of this album’s being released for the first time this year (that’s 33 years after it was originally supposed to come out). “Gotta Get Through to You” employs some similarly jaw-dropping feats on the fret board. As is the case with many of the other songs, it’s a tune that indicates just how seriously he took the project. The CD version also contains two bonus tracks—“Theme from Brotherman” and “No Place to Run”—instrumentals that further showcase the guitarist’s inspired style and effortless touch.
Every once in a while, some forgotten shard of musical history will chance to drift onto the shores of our collective consciousness. Less frequently, it will be something that thrills us into a reinvigorated sense of appreciation for music that we may have begun to take for granted. This is particularly so for those of us who are too young to have experienced the old classics when they first appeared. With Brotherman, this is just the case. While it’s tragic to think what might’ve been in store for Wolfolk and the Final Solution had this album come out when it was supposed to, its recent debut lends it an uncommon vitality. It’s this precious commodity that allows us to enjoy the music for its concrete merits—to enjoy it as if this were 1975—rather than simply acknowledge it for its cultural import. In short, this is truly a rare, rare find.