Good Music We Can Know

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Here's Our Solemn Cry: Brothers Unlimited- Who's For The Young (1970)

Anyone who gave a listen to Volume Two of my Black Art + Machine Gun Funk series has already heard two of the strongest tracks on this record, but I'm here today to push the whole slab. Because it's pretty damn good.

I think you can look at the fantastic cover art and know how good it is, although I guess I wouldn't have expected a 14-piece soul combo to sound this loose and reasonable. Large funk or soul groups can get pretty airtight, locking into huge swingin' grooves, losing all the looseness and grit that makes this kind of music so rich. But the Memphis-based Brothers Unlimited mostly avoid this problem, laying down Southern-soulful psychedelic funk-rock that's both tight and loose, deep with layers of production that take a lot of spontaneous turns and contain a lot of surprises. There are a lot of boys in this ensemble, but they aren't all just piling on the rhythm section with horns. They are up to tricks in there.

The "social consciousness" tracks are the strongest element here. They aren't particularly profound in their message, but they don't need to be. Like many groups of the era, these guys were just trying to tap into the zeitgeist of the early days of the Black Power 70's and that alone lends the work content and makes them interesting. Of course it wouldn't matter if the music didn't sound so hot n' fresh, but luckily it does. The opening track, "Who's for the Young", an earnest anthem of soulful black rock with nasty guitars, huge organs, and shades of the Isley Brothers, is the standout track- but it's no isolated incident. The blend of styles is successfully pulled off many more times on the record; in the hectoring "Hey Little Rich Boy", the rock-tinged southern soul of "Get Away", the cosmic, searching, mind-blowing "Life, Dreams, Death" (which almost sounds like a super-groovy Uriah Heep song or something), and a version of "Spoonful" dipped deep in psychedelic echo. Not every track is a winner-- "Got to Get Over" is the worst, bland to the point of dire-- but even some of the misses are interesting. A version of Sam Cooke's "A Change Is Gonna Come" is so inferior to Baby Huey's that it's hard to even hear, but it's still a fine version of a great song, and the album closer "What We Need Is Harmony" tries for another huge anthem and falls a bit short. Again, though, it's still pretty good.

The peaks of this record are sky high, making it extremely worthwhile, and I recommend it very highly to anyone who enjoyed Black Art + Machine Gun Funk or Purple Image, or anything else in the glorious intersection of funk&black rock. Get on it and let me know what you think.



Holly said...

Thank you, Flash! Very cool lp.

BTW, I think it's unfair to compare anything to Baby Huey's version of 'Change...' - one of very few songs that are totally unassailable. :-)

Flash Strap said...

Yeah, exactly. That song is as good as possible.

JP said...

great stuff -- thanks.

It's sam cooke, not curtis mayfield.

Flash Strap said...

You're right, JP. I always thought it was a Mayfield composition for some reason, and that he had "given" it to Baby Huey, but I am glaringly incorrect. I think I'll correct that now, thank you.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the link!