Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Funky Disco Cole Porter?

The Hustlers - Soft Hustle

As I noted several times in my James Brown tribute posts from a couple of weeks ago, in the mid-'70s JB attempted to take on disco with the same gusto he had brought to his funk records earlier in the decade. Quite a few tunes from 1974 forward find Brown with one foot in funk and the other in disco, and some of them - although nowadays politely ignored in review of JB's legacy - are actually pretty good.

James 1974 LP Reality generated one big hit, the breakbeat classic "Funky President (People It's Bad)," but the album also included some pretty unusual covers such as a remake of colleague Hank Ballard's "The Twist," the blues classic "Further On Up The Road," and, most interestingly, Cole Porter's "Don't Fence Me In." The latter caught my attention when I first heard it on one of the "Rhubarb Cake" shows. Brown is giving the standard all of his usual gusto (he was no stranger to doing standards the JB way, as attested to with the LP Soul On Top and in recordings like "Prisoner of Love") over a groove that starts funky but then opens up into a disco-funk sound. It turns out that JB was particularly fond of that groove, as he released the instrumental track, featured today, on his People label as "Soft Hustle" by "The Hustlers," reflecting an obvious desire to get aboard the disco train and to get some mileage out of Van McCoy's smash hit "The Hustle."

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