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The Singles, Vol. 9 (1973-1975)

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Album Review

James Brown continued to record until his death some 30 years down the road — and even had a sizeable comeback a decade later via “Living in America” — but the 45s collected on The Singles, Vol. 9: 1973-1975 effectively are the final act of his career: his last burst of innovation, the last time he set the scene. JB was headed out of a rough patch in 1972, a time where he adjusted to his new New York surroundings by ceding significant ground to Fred Wesley, with the end result of the JB’s sounding jazzier than ever. On the singles chronicled on The Singles, Vol. 9, quite a bit of grit goes back into the funk but there’s also a cinematic grandeur derived in no small part from the blaxploitation swagger of “The Payback,” a song written for Hell Up In Harlem in 1973 but pulled from the film when a producer mistakenly believed it wasn’t funky enough. “The Payback” is the masterpiece that anchors this entire era: it’s as down and dirty as anything the stripped-down JB’s cut at the dawn of the ‘70s but it’s as nimble and flowing as their recent jazzified sessions. Echoes of these Hell Up In Harlem sessions are heard throughout these two discs — “Papa Don’t Take No Mess” is an outtake that turned into a number one R&B single in ‘74 — but even before the JB’s knocked out this masterpiece they had gotten into this groove, knocking out the mesmerizing “Same Beat” (released under Fred Wesley & The JB’s) and they extended it to 1974’s “Funky President,” powered by the drumbeat that would later fuel dozens of hip-hop records. Prior to “The Payback,” James Brown had some fun experimenting — there’s a snazzy salsa-fied duet on “Let It Be Me” with Lyn Collins (it was backed by an infectious version of Curtis Mayfield’s “It’s All Right”) and another duet with Lyn on the slow, soulful “You Can’t Beat Two People in Love” (both singles were canceled before they saw release) — but after this flash of greatness, JB hit the wall quickly struggling to come to terms with the rise of disco by re-recording “Sex Machine,” taking young upstarts to task on the sputtering “Dead On It” then diving head-first into disco on 1975’s “Hustle!!! (Dead On It).” The smooth, glitzy surroundings of disco didn’t suit James Brown or the JB’s and pretty soon his trusted band started jumping ship with Wesley leaving in ’75. In the style that now is standard to the series — excellent annotation by Alan Leeds, terrific sound, handsome packaging — The Singles, Vol. 9 documents this last gasp of greatness and the sudden fall, with the latter hardly dampening the brilliance of the former even if it does illustrate why Brown would fade into the background in the latter half of the ‘70s.


Born: May 3, 1933 in Barnwell, SC

Genre: R&B/Soul

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

"Soul Brother Number One," "the Godfather of Soul," "the Hardest Working Man in Show Business," "Mr. Dynamite" -- those are mighty titles, but no one can question that James Brown earned them more than any other performer. Other singers were more popular, others were equally skilled, but few other African-American musicians were so influential over the course of popular music. And no other musician, pop or otherwise, put on a more exciting, exhilarating stage show: Brown's performances were marvels...
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