Music

The Bluefoot Project: Brave

Adam Besenyodi

Drawing from strong and varied influences, this urban collective delivers chillful soul from the funky underground, and the result is so much more than a chillout album.


The Bluefoot Project

Brave

Label: Chocolate Fireguard Music
US Release Date: 1969-12-31
UK Release Date: 2003-03-24
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When you hear the opening notes of The Bluefoot Project's album Brave, your first reaction will be to keep this musical treasure to yourself. True, this is music as at home in your headphones as coming from your speakers, but there are some things that just demand to be heard by as many people as possible. The Bluefoot Project is one of those things, despite having only produced an EP (Observations), this full-length release, and some compilation contributions. Unfortunately, as a result of their scant output, they have languished in the public consciousness.

Sometimes bubbling close to the surface and sometimes requiring multiple listens to be revealed, Brave contains hints of reggae, hip-hop, blues, and gospel. Songs like "Little Miss Selfish" serve as a platform for strong, soulful lead singer Rachel Modest to deliver her lyrics of the urban everyday with emotional intensity. Modest's vocals blend perfectly with Jim Reiss' subtle scratching, Chris Stephenson's drum work, and Ilana Bendel's harmonies, elevating "Little Miss Selfish" from solid soul to a layered, jazz-inflected rhythm. This tune gets a deserved second look on the disc with an exceptional remix treatment from awayTEAM, coupled with the hidden gem "Growing Up" that should have secured a proper track on the album.

The work of Oova, The Bluefoot Project's resident MC, Matt Bradley's programming, and Ian Hawkins' bass give a number of tracks an ominous trip-hop undercurrent. Where songs like "Concrete," a superb album opener, and "Does He Love U?" synthesize all the elements of The Bluefoot Project into four- or five-minute servings of beauty and emotion, deeper album tracks like "Try" pull the listener into a gritty, dense soundscape of beats and soul in a Songs in the Key of Life-era Stevie Wonder-meets-Massive Attack kind of way. Modest's harmonies under Oova's delivery provide a vocal layering that complements the musical efforts of the rest of the band. The languid flow of "Soma" is a gorgeous come-down. Like running under water, it has the feeling of everything moving in slow-motion, with short observational challenges delivered by Oova: "It's a brave new world if you're hip enough to swing in it / But if you're not then you're gonna get buried".

It's not until the last few tracks that the music starts to slip. While a technically solid song, the dark and spacey reggae undertones of "In a Light Place" feel somehow out of place here. And we're left to wonder how much more powerful the proper album closer, "Hold You," would have sounded had Modest not turned the lead vocals over to Bendel. Though she does not have a weak voice, Bendel suffers from having to not only deliver Modest's words, but also having to follow Modest's ten outstanding vocal tracks.

Understandably, The Bluefoot Project took some time off immediately following the initial UK release of Brave in 2003 due to Modest's pregnancy. Here's hoping their frequency of output picks up now that some time has passed since that event and that the pending release of Brave in the United States later this year will help raise their profile. Although their sparse output is partially to blame, up to this point The Bluefoot Project has been criminally relegated to the underground. It would be a shame if they were not to resurface, because this is a band with an interesting way of saying interesting things, but if a follow-up doesn't materialize, we should be thankful for what we've been given.

7

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Editor's Note: Originally published 30 July 2014.

10. “Bedlam in Belgium”
(Flick of the Switch, 1983)

This is a massively underrated barnstormer from the boys off the much-maligned (unfairly, I think) Flick of the Switch. The album was missing Mutt Lange, but the Youngs did have his very capable engineer, Tony Platt, as co-producer in the studio at Compass Point in the Bahamas. Tony’s a real pro. I think he did a perfectly fine job on this album, which also features the slamming “Nervous Shakedown”.

But what I find most interesting about “Bedlam in Belgium” is that it’s based on a fracas that broke out on stage in Kontich, Belgium, in 1977, involving Bon Scott, the rest of the band, and the local authorities. AC/DC had violated a noise curfew and things got hairy.

Yet Brian Johnson, more than half a decade later, wrote the lyrics with such insight; almost as if he was the one getting walloped by the Belgian police: He gave me a crack in the back with his gun / Hurt me so bad I could feel the blood run. Cracking lyrics, Bon-esque. Unfortunately for Brian, he was removed from lyric-writing duties from The Razors Edge (1990) onwards. All songs up to and including 2008’s Black Ice are Young/Young compositions.

Who’ll be writing the songs on the new album AC/DC has been working on in Vancouver? AC/DC fans can’t wait to hear them. Nor can I.

 
9. “Spellbound”
(For Those About to Rock We Salute You, 1981)

"Spellbound" really stands as a lasting monument to the genius of Mutt Lange, a man whose finely tuned ear and attention to detail filed the rough edges of Vanda & Young–era AC/DC and turned this commercially underperforming band for Atlantic Records into one of the biggest in the world. On “Spellbound” AC/DC sounds truly majestic. Lange just amplifies their natural power an extra notch. It’s crisp sounding, laden with dynamics and just awesome when Angus launches into his solo.

“Spellbound” is the closer on For Those About to Rock We Salute You, the last album Lange did with AC/DC, so chronologically it’s a significant song; it marks the end of an important era. For Those About to Rock was an unhappy experience for a lot of people. There was a lot of blood being spilled behind the scenes. It went to number one in the US but commercially was a massive disappointment after the performance of Back in Black. Much of the blame lies at the feet of Atlantic Records, then under Doug Morris, who made the decision to exhume an album they’d shelved in 1976, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, and release it in-between Back in Black and For Those About to Rock.

In the book Phil Carson, who signed AC/DC to Atlantic, calls it “one of the most crass decisions ever made by a record-company executive” and believes it undermined sales of For Those About to Rock.


 
8. “Down Payment Blues”
(Powerage, 1978)

This is one of the best songs off Powerage -- perhaps the high point of Bon Scott as a lyricist -- but also significant for its connection to “Back in Black”. There are key lines in it: Sitting in my Cadillac / Listening to my radio / Suzy baby get on in / Tell me where she wanna go / I'm living in a nightmare / She's looking like a wet dream / I got myself a Cadillac / But I can't afford the gasoline.

Bon loved writing about Cadillacs. He mentions them in “Rocker” off the Australian version of TNT and the international release of Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap: Got slicked black hair / Skin tight jeans / Cadillac car and a teenage dream.

Then you get to “Back in Black”. Bon’s dead but the lyrics have this spooky connection to “Down Payment Blues”: Back in the back / Of a Cadillac / Number one with a bullet, I’m a power pack.

Why was Brian singing about riding around in Cadillacs? He’d just joined AC/DC, wasn’t earning a lot and was on his best behavior. Bon had a reason to be singing about money. He was writing all the songs and just had a breakthrough album with Highway to Hell. Which begs the question: Could Bon also have written or part written the lyrics to “Back in Black”?

Bon’s late mother Isa said in 2006: “The last time we saw him was Christmas ’79, two months before he died. [Bon] told me he was working on the Back in Black album and that that was going to be it; that he was going to be a millionaire.”

 
7. “You Shook Me All Night Long”
(Back in Black, 1980)

Everyone knows and loves this song; it’s played everywhere. Shania Twain and Celine Dion have covered it. It’s one of AC/DC’s standbys. But who wrote it?

Former Mötley Crüe manager Doug Thaler is convinced Bon Scott, who’d passed away before the album was recorded, being replaced by Brian Johnson, wrote the lyrics. In fact he told me, “You can bet your life that Bon Scott wrote the lyrics to ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’.” That’s a pretty strong statement from a guy who used to be AC/DC’s American booking agent and knew the band intimately. I look into this claim in some depth in the book and draw my own conclusions.

I’m convinced Bon wrote it. In my opinion only Bon would have written a line like “She told me to come but I was already there.” Brian never matched the verve or wit of Bon in his lyrics and it’s why I think so much of AC/DC’s mid-'80s output suffers even when the guitar work of the Youngs was as good as it ever was.

But what’s also really interesting about this song in light of the recent hullabaloo over Taurus and Led Zeppelin is how much the opening guitar riff sounds similar to Head East’s “Never Been Any Reason”. I didn’t know a hell of a lot about Head East before I started working on this book, but came across “Never Been Any Reason” in the process of doing my research and was blown away when I heard it for the first time. AC/DC opened for Head East in Milwaukee in 1977. So the two bands crossed paths.

 
6. “Rock ’N’ Roll Damnation”
(Powerage, 1978)

It’s hard to get my head around the fact Mick Wall, the British rock writer and author of AC/DC: Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be, called this “a two-bit piece of head-bopping guff.” Not sure what track he was listening to when he wrote that -- maybe he was having a bad day -- but for me it’s one of the last of AC/DC’s classic boogie tracks and probably the best.

Mark Evans loves it almost as much as he loves “Highway to Hell". It has everything you want in an AC/DC song plus shakers, tambourines and handclaps, a real Motown touch that George Young and Harry Vanda brought to bear on the recording. They did something similar with the John Paul Young hit “Love Is in the Air”. Percussion was an underlying feature of many early AC/DC songs. This one really grooves. I never get tired of hearing it.

“Rock ’n’ Roll Damnation” was AC/DC’s first hit in the UK charts and a lot of the credit has to go to Michael Klenfner, best known as the fat guy with the moustache who stops Jake and Elwood backstage in the final reel of The Blues Brothers and offers them a recording contract. He was senior vice-president at Atlantic at the time, and insisted the band go back and record a radio-worthy single after they delivered the first cut of Powerage to New York.

Michael was a real champion of AC/DC behind the scenes at Atlantic, and never got the recognition he was due while he was still alive (he passed away in 2009). He ended up having a falling out with Atlantic president Jerry Greenberg over the choice of producer for Highway to Hell and got fired. But it was Klenfner who arguably did more for the band than anyone else while they were at Atlantic. His story deserves to be known by the fans.

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