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The Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band

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Album Review

Express Yourself: The Best of Charles Wright collects 16 tracks by this underappreciated L.A. funk outfit. By this point, everyone recognizes the oft-sampled title track, but most of their other work is still mainly the province of specialists. That's too bad, because there's a lot for more general funk fans to discover here. Some members of the Rhythm Band had previously played on several Dyke & the Blazers sessions, and there's a definite parallel between those sides and the loose, messy, off-the-cuff brand of funk that Wright and his cohorts lay down. But even if both groups worked out most of their songs through jamming, there's a great deal more variety here. Wright led the band through laconic grooves like "Express Yourself," "Your Love (Means Everything to Me)," "Doin' What Comes Naturally," and the tripped-out "Ninety Day Cycle People"; hard-driving funkers like "The Joker (On a Trip Through the Jungle)" and "One Lie (Leads to Another)"; lean, spare grooves like "Do Your Thing" and "Till You Get Enough"; and mellower, soul-flavored offerings like "Keep Saying," "Tell Me What You Want Me to Do," "Comment (If All Men Are Truly Brothers)," and the hit ballad "Love Land." As a vocalist, Wright could play the soulful shouter or do a bit of crooning, but more often he'd just ride the groove, chanting along or throwing out hip interjections. This collection neglects the group's nuttier, druggier side a bit — it might have been nice to have evocatively titled outings like "High As Apple Pie," "Fried Okra," or "Gimme That Sammich" on board. Still, it's hard to expect anything more generous than this, and there's more than enough here for the uninitiated. An intriguing and underrated listen.


Formed: 1967

Genre: R&B/Soul

Years Active: '60s, '70s, '90s

Famed for their oft-sampled 1970 classic "Express Yourself," Charles Wright & the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm was among the pivotal forces behind soul music's metamorphosis into funk. Wright was born in Clarksdale, MS, in 1940; his family relocated to Los Angeles a dozen years later, and there he began performing with a number of local doo wop groups, eventually becoming a protégé of singer Jesse Belvin. After learning to play guitar, Wright formed a band dubbed the Wright Sounds with bassist Melvin...
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