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Funkiest Man Alive: The Stax Funk Sessions 1967-1975

Rufus Thomas

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Album Review

Originally released in the UK in 2002 under the title The Funkiest Man, this compilation came out in the U.S. in 2003 with the slightly different title Funkiest Man Alive. The tracks, song sequence, and liner notes on each release were identical, though the cover art was different. It gathers 18 of Rufus Thomas' funk-oriented songs from 1967-1975, though only a few '60s sides are here. His biggest funk hit of all, "Do the Funky Chicken," is not here, and though the liners point out that the song is available on other Stax compilations, why not put it on here anyway? In its favor, there's little overlap between this anthology and the Stax CD Funky Chicken, a reissue of his 1969 LP Do the Funky Chicken with seven bonus tracks from his 1968-1974 singles. This also has his three big followup hits to "Do the Funky Chicken": "(Do The) Push and Pull (Part 1)," "Do the Funky Penguin (Part 1)," and "The Breakdown (Part 1)." To its detriment, however, the novelty dance funk grooves just get unimaginative, even monotonous, in such a concentrated dose, getting into spin-offs like "Funky Robot (Part 1)," "Do the Double Bump," "The Funky Bird," "Funky Mississippi," and so forth. Rufus Thomas is cool, but he's not James Brown (though the scratchy guitar and jerky rhythms of 1972's "Itch and Scratch (Part 1)" certainly owe a lot to Brown), nor are the backup musicians. When it stretches back as far as 1967 for "Sophisticated Cissy," there's a refreshing injection of more soul-grounded chops, female backup vocals, and horns. Two of the songs, "I'm Getting Better" and "Memphis Train '75," were previously unreleased in the US.

Biography

Born: March 26, 1917 in Cayce, MS

Genre: R&B/Soul

Years Active: '30s, '40s, '50s, '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s

Few of rock & roll's founding figures are as likable as Rufus Thomas. From the 1940s onward, he has personified Memphis music; his small but witty cameo role in Jim Jarmusch's Mystery Train, a film which satirizes and enshrines the city's role in popular culture, was entirely appropriate. As a recording artist, he wasn't a major innovator, but he could always be depended upon for some good, silly, and/or outrageous fun with his soul dance tunes. He was one of the few rock...
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