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Soul On Top

James Brown

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Album Review

If Count Basie had hired James Brown to replace Joe Williams as his featured male vocalist, what would the results have sounded like? Brown offers some suggestions on Soul on Top, which finds the Godfather of Soul making an intriguing detour into jazz-minded big-band territory. Recorded in 1969 and reissued on CD in 2004, Soul on Top unites Brown with the Basie-influenced orchestra of jazz drummer Louie Bellson — and stylistically, the results are somewhere between soul-funk and the funkier side of big-band jazz. This Brown/Bellson collaboration isn't straight-ahead jazz; nor is it typical of Brown's late-'60s output. But if recording a big-band project with Bellson was a surprising and unexpected thing for the Godfather of Soul to do in 1969, it was hardly illogical or bizarre — Brown, after all, grew up listening to jazz (as well as blues and gospel) and was well aware of the legacies of Basie, Lionel Hampton, Duke Ellington, and others. Besides, jazz and R&B are closely related. While some jazz snobs would have listeners believe that jazz and R&B have little if anything in common, the fact is that they're close relatives that get much of their energy and feeling from the blues. So it makes perfect sense for Brown to combine soul, funk, and jazz on this album, which finds him revisiting some major hits (including "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag" and "It's a Man's Man's Man's World") in addition to embracing "September Song," "That's My Desire," and other standards that one typically associates with jazz and traditional pop. Although not among the Godfather's better-known efforts, this fine album is happily recommended to anyone who holds R&B and jazz in equally high regard.

Customer Reviews

Swing + Soul = JB!

Unbelieveable! James could do it all and this record proves it. JB's music was always powered by a soul band with a whole lot of horns, so a shuffle into big band territory was not as big of a detour as you might think. He fares better on the new versions of his own classics because he and the band just keep the funk playing.

an amazing album

especially if you are like me, have been a fan, and yet didn't know JB ability to outswing and outsoul people in his style . . . this is a true gem.

Biography

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...
Full Bio

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