Where does the fine line between funk and soul blur? Today’s album is “Curtis” by Curtis Mayfield, former star of The Impressions, and author of one of my all-time favorites, “People Get Ready”. This album is rated #8 on the digitaldreamdoor.com Top 10 Funk albums of all time, and while it is a powerful album, I would tend to label this as soul more than funk. What is the difference, from the eyes of someone who clearly has limitations in this area from a musical and cultural background? To me, I associate funk with an edgier, guitar and bass-driven sound, often powered with off-beat drums. Most of the music on this album is keyboard, horn and even string accompanied, and thus has much more of a soul or R&B feel.
It matters not, let’s look at the album instead. This album is a great representation of the empowered black artist scene of the early 70s, breaking through the singles-oriented Motown sound of the 60s to address socially conscious and relevant songs, all of which continue to ring true 50 years later. Look no further than the title of the third song, “We the People Who Are Darker Than Blue”. As you can imagine, that song has been rediscovered by many in the last year. The signature song from this album is “Move On Up”, a great song that really accentuates the powerful use of percussion and drums on the extended track. The outro on this song reminds a bit of the bongo frenzy by Santana at the beginning of their set at Woodstock. I also loved “Miss Black America” for its message and music, and the entire album, while not quite as funky as what I would typically lean towards, is a great showcase for Mayfield’s high range voice and impactful songwriting.
Mayfield was tragically paralyzed in 1990 when a piece of stage lighting fell on him during a performance, but he continued to write and record until his death in 1999. Funk or soul, this sound was a baseline for black music in the early 1970s, leading us further down the road towards the up-tempo disco sound of the late 1970s and the explosion of hip-hop in the 1980s.