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Black Rock / Gotta Groove

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Album Review

Black Rock/Gotta Groove brings together the Bar-Kays' second and third albums on one compact disc. The material represents the first work the reformed outfit released after original members Jimmy Lee King (guitarist and leader) and Carl Cunningham (drums) died when their plane crashed in Lake Monona, WI (Otis Redding was also on board). 1969's Gotta Groove feels more like a series of independent recordings than a cohesive album. The best comes first with "Don't Stop Dancing (To This Music), Pt.1," which owes a debt to Sly and the Family Stone's classic "Dance to the Music" (a song they would cover on Black Rock). The song infuses the Stax funk with the drive of rock & roll. Midway through the album, they offer a fierce second take ("Pt.2"). Drummers (the duo of Roy Cunningham and Willie Hall) pound at their skins with incredible force. Distorting the tape, they sound like they could break through the recordings. "Street Walker" is another highlight of tough, lunging funk with wailing harmonica, screaming guitar, and organ stabs. Not every cut is as thrilling, however. At the opposite end, the Bar-Kays rework two Beatles' ballads, sounding like a mediocre covers act on stiff takes on "Yesterday" and "Hey Jude" that hardly belong on the collection. Things had changed by 1971's Black Rock. The addition of a vocalist gives the records a more unified feel than its predecessor. While much of the material on Gotta Groove hung around the three-minute mark, the Bar-Kays' cover of "Baby I Love You" reaches nearly three times that length. They lock into a hard groove, sounding more like a rock band than ever before. It's followed by the album's best track. Curtis Mayfield's "I've Been Trying" is soaked in soul and delivered from the gut. For the most part, however, Black Rock seems like an apt title, the playfulness and laid-back grooves replaced by dark, heavy funk-rock and a growing political consciousness.


Formed: 1966 in Memphis, TN

Genre: R&B/Soul

Years Active: '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

Initially a funky instrumental soul combo on Stax/Volt, the Bar-Kays were nearly destroyed when most of the band perished in the same plane crash that claimed Otis Redding. Amazingly, the Bar-Kays not only regrouped but prospered, evolving into a popular funk ensemble over the course of the '70s. They continued to score hits on the R&B charts through much of the '80s as well, making for a career longevity that no one would have predicted for Stax's formerly star-crossed number-two house band. The...
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Black Rock / Gotta Groove, The Bar-Kays
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