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James Brown's Funky People, Volume 3 (Polydor)

Wednesday, Jan 3 2001
In the mid-1980s, the simultaneous explosion of the rare groove scene in England and increased funk sampling brought James Brown a new generation of fans. The Godfather of Soul wasn't the only beneficiary: Lesser-known names in Brown's musical cosa nostra got rediscovered, too, as samples of previously obscure tracks served as the basis for hits (Lyn Collins' "Think" and Bobby Byrd's "I Know You Got Soul" delivered the hooks for, respectively, Rob Base & DJ E-Z Rock's "It Takes Two" and Eric B. & Rakim's "I Know You Got Soul").

Like subsequent artists George Clinton and RZA of the Wu-Tang Clan, James Brown was so prolific that he could not shoehorn all of his musical productions into a single artist's release schedule. Instead, he poured his creative juices into dozens of songs by protégés like the JBs, Vicki Anderson, and the aforementioned Collins and Byrd, releasing them on labels he was signed to as well as on lots of tiny subsidiaries. All the tracks bore the unique stamp of Brown as arranger and producer -- and sometimes writer and performer; in fact, he was more involved in some of these side projects than in many of his own recordings. The first two volumes of this superb series, released in the mid-'80s, documented many of the tracks he recorded between 1968 and 1975.

Although one might expect the well to be dry by now, this third volume, compiled by Harry Weinger, manages to strike black gold again. Highlights include Hank Ballard's wonderfully dated pro-Afro anthem "How You Gonna Get Respect (If You Haven't Cut Your Process Yet)," Beau Dollar's ferocious funk instrumental "Who Knows," and Brown's retort to the Average White Band -- credited to the Above Average Black Band -- titled "Pick Up the Pieces One by One." Cut for cut, the album is on par with the previous volumes and equal to the Godfather's own efforts, making it a shoo-in for funkiest record of the year.

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Matthew Africa


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