Album Review: Country Funk: 1969-1975 (Light In The Attic Records 2012)



Admittedly I haven’t done a whole lot of data collecting or research, but off the top of the dome-piece I’m willing to bet that the two most common music genres that people hate are Hip Hop and Country. For instance, when I’m looking at social media profiles and there’s a music section, I tend to see comments like “I listen to everything except (insert Country or Hip Hop…but never both)." It's as if people are genetically programmed to like one or the other for whatever reason. What doesn’t surprise me is that they are both among the most hated. I’ve been saying for nearly two decades that Hip Hop and Country are very similar. In terms of the similarities, both Hip Hop and Country tend to write in rhyme form. The base subject matter of the most popular artists in these genres is generally the same; partying,  relationships, struggle, curbside politics, etc… The beats are most often centered on a particular groove or beat. …And of course, they both have a tendency to be loved or hated by outsiders and thrive due to die-hard, strongly opinionated, fanbases.

Now, despite my theories on the similarities between the two, I am most certainly not calling for a movement of increased genre crossing collaborations. I imagine that would mostly be a terrible idea. However, if you merge Country with a key influence on Hip Hop, in the right time period, apparently you get a pretty mind-blowing concoction! Listening to this Country Funk album compiled by Light In The Attic Records had me newly impressed song after song…

The Funk is seriously and thoroughly represented by plenty of heavy drums, amazing breakdowns, well put together instrumentation, and finely orchestrated arrangements. The Country element is mostly evident in the lyrical department. The voices tend to have those weighty drawls to them, that sing of sincerity. The writing is filled with emotional driven stories, most-often using simple, but effective rhymes to weave the messages together. I feel like every song is a worthwhile edition to the album and has its own charm, but there are certainly some standouts.

John Randoloph Marr’s “Hello L.A., Goodbye Birmingham” is the classic tale of a man leaving the country for a life in the city to make his dreams come true. The production is thick and moody. The quickly evolving dramatic to sentimental keys of the intro set up the story like an urban opera before it drops into some shifty drums which quickly blossom into a great groove. My Hip Hop ear can’t help but hear all the sampling opportunities ripe in that first 30 seconds of this track. The production is very purposeful. Through the song various sections are added in to effectively support the adventure of Mr. Marr. Key elements include; lovely background singers, drum breakdowns, and blunt horns that sound like a ship docking into a port, but with much more character and rhythm.

In a similar, but opposite, view is “Georgia Morning Dew”. Johnny Adamsfondly remembers his various childhood experiences Down South and how eventually at some point life evolved and next thing you know he's living in L.A. He reflects specifically on this difference in the telling chorus, “Ain’t no resemblance between LA and Georgia, but the morning dew…” It stands as a reminder that sometimes getting away is what we need at that moment, but at some point getting back has even a stronger pull. In other words, don’t neglect to explore, but remember your roots. As far as vocal style, Johnny Adamsis reminiscent to Al Wilson, one of my favorite male vocalits.

Perhaps the most cutting edge song is “Lucas Was Redneck” by Mac Davis. Scotty “Mac” Davis wasn’t a name I was largely familiar with, but he had quite the career. He wrote a hit song for Elvis Presley and had more than a handful of hits on his own, he also found some success as an actor in film and on Broadway. Ultimately, his real claim to fame seems to be his song writing, which has earned him spots in the “Nashville Songwriters Hall Of Fame” and the “Song Writers Hall Of Fame”. A 70s press photo shows him as a blank staring, cool looking, white guy with a curly afro-like hairstyle. This press photo is essentially the visual companion for his demeanor and sentiment of this song, which covers the topic of racism. He follows the life of the character Lucas from birth and even theorizes on his death in the racy hook, “Now who’s gonna cry when you die Lucas? Whose gonna miss you when your gone?/Will it be the Black Man you called a Ni**er?/The Hippie that you beat up just cause you were bigger/Will the riff raff laugh at the epitaph on our tombstone!” Besides the fact he is pushing the limits with the content, he’s also stylistically doing something interesting in the rhyme scheme there.  There’s the subtle hint of rhyming “gone” with “tombstone” that works due to his selective pronunciation and it links up  somewhat unexpectedly based on the series of bars stuffed in between. And if that whole “riff raff laugh…epitaph” bit isn’t styling on you, particularly for the time, I don’t know what it is. Songwriter indeed.

Jim Ford’s “I’m Gonna Make Her Love Me” sounds like it could have been a radio hit and rings of a country funk drenched Stevie Wondernumber. I believe the title speaks for itself...

Link Wray’s “Fire And Brimstone” has one of the most country-flavored instrumentation. I think I hear some fiddles in there! The lyrics are pretty intense, “I looked around, I saw eyes, I heard a voice say come to me/I got a rumbling beneath my feet and the whole world was shaking free/And the sun was standing still/And I think it was dark, but I could seeeeeeee!!” If there are more songs like this in the Link Wray catalog then I need that in my life.

The drums on “Piledriver” are pretty ridiculous and vocalist Dennis The Fox has a vocal approach similar to Mac Davis on “Lucas…”, but The Fox gets more loose with the vocal inflections. On my first listen of this I remember trying to figure out at the start of the first verse where he was going with this theme and then BAM! as it comes to a close he reveals what should have been obvious, it's about a dangerous "Mean mother-trucking" woman. The lead in lyric to the chorus has a nice hint of style, "When it comes to really living, you are somewhere in-between/There's a high-stepping...Side-Stepping life outside that you ain't never seeeeen!" The hook is pretty sweet too...

Bobbie Gentry is the lone, star female, vocalist on the compilation and she has one of those sexy raspy voices that you can picture projecting from a stage in the one, sort of classy, little bar in a dusty small town. "He Made A Woman Out Of Me" is a bit like a less aggressive and seductive, but similarly progressive, Betty Davis (IE "Shoo B Doop and Cop Him").

Johnny Jenkins “I Walk On Glided Splinters” was the lone track that I was familiar with due to his use as a semi-popular sampling source in Hip Hop and Pop Music. It's been used by Chubb Rock and Howie Tee, Beastie Boys, Beck, Blackalicious, Oasis, Wu-tang Clan, etc… This song is every bit as awesome as its song title.

 It’s so great to get a compilation of music from one of your favorite eras of music (1969-1975) and 99% of it is a new discovery for you. I am most definitely going to be seeking out more music from nearly every artist on here. Thank you Light In The Attic for opening my eyes to a whole new batch of music to explore!

It’s also worth mentioning that Light In The Attichas had an impressive string of releases since their inception circa 2002, but lately they have been completely on fire with their new reissues and unreleased treasures.  They are quite simply one of the great labels of current times. Here’s a taste of a few of the newer things:

Thin Lizzy

Thai Funk Volume 1 & 2

Listen, Whitey! The Sounds of Black Bower 1967-1974

Wendy Rene-After The Laughter Comes Tears: Complete Stax & Volt Singles

I'm about to spend some time digging thru the Light In The Attic Catalog to stock up on more of their audio-treats! More to come....

Written By Kevin "Country Is Okey Dokey to me" Beacham

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