Ain't It Funky / Doing It to Death / Us

James Brown, 1970 / the JB's, 1973 / Maceo, 1974

While I have a number of records documenting the James Brown legacy, I somehow ended up with only instrumental-(ish) ones. I have platters by the JB's and Maceo Parker, but even my Brown album proper is an instrumental oddity. This gives the impression I have some sort of problem with James Brown as a singer, which isn't true. In fact, I couldn't help but wonder how I ended up in this predicament.

The James Brown LP first called out to me. When an artist has such a vast catalog, I'm instinctively drawn to their curios. All those albums that are just not like the others. Then our reissue culture kicked into high gear and soon enough, the other ones found their way to me. They're all killer albums, cut in the early 70s, when Brown and company were firing on all cylinders with plenty of gas left in the tank.

Chronologically,  Ain't It Funky comes first, credited to 'James Brown and the James Brown Band' (since there weren't any recordings under the JB's name, just yet). The title track kicks it off with the a new vocal single to lure in the record buying public. But like the silhouette on the cover, James fades into the background after that intro, as the band begins to take longer, throatier solos. Ironically, it's the most purely instrumental record of the batch. Even if Brown's name is absent from covers, he's not missing by any stretch.

All three records were all produced as a part of his expanding empire of funk and no one was allowed forget who reigned there. Each has it's own flavor, though. Drummer Clyde Stubblefield dominates Ain't It Funky, not so much in solo time, but there's no denying the entire band marches to his beat. Maceo's Us strikes a jazzer, harmonic tone—more swinging, and less of that emphatic snap. The JB's kept things the most democratic on Doing It to Death (it was before Fred Wesley's name was on their marquee). It comes off like someone hit record at a party in the studio, after the wrapping up one of the boss' records.

Inevitably, if I spin one of these records, the rest are pulled out to follow in line. It's like my own private instrumental funk festival.