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V/A - California Funk: Rare Funk 45s from the Golden State

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Artist: V/A

Album: California Funk: Rare Funk 45s from the Golden State

Label: Now-Again

Review date: Aug. 25, 2010

As much as I despise that asinine “dancing about architecture” cliché (falsely attributing it to snotty nerd Elvis Costello doesn’t make you sound any smarter, chief), there are occasions on which words don’t quite make my point. I am a self-taught expert on the 20th Century history of Los Angeles, and I’d love to run my mouth about how the militant politics and thriving nightlife of 1960s L.A. gave way to drugs and Nixon. But if you were in my apartment and you asked me about California Funk, I’d shut up and spin two selections: “Cruising Down Sunset” by the 4th Coming and “Cold Heat” by Lil Lavair and the Fabulous Jades. That would do the job.

Nevertheless, part of digging this stuff, I think, is pondering how it came to exist. “Cold Heat” encapsulates everything that made ’60s funk sound unique. The busy, playful lead guitar. The emphatic horns. The thunking bass, crisp percussion and chugging organ. And, halfway through, by which time I thought it would be an instrumental, the wounded, defiant, passionate voice straight-up commanding you to shake your ass.

Geography aside, the most evident, unsurprising influence here is James Brown. At the time, people were angry and enthusiastic, and funk was the most galvanizing, rebellious music on the shelves. Even when the lyrics focused squarely on partying, all Brown-influenced funk had an angry, courageous undercurrent. And that made the trip intact from Augusta, Georgia to L.A. and the Bay. Arthur Monday’s slurred dis track, “What Goes Around Comes Around (Part 1),” is one of the angriest funk sides I’ve heard, whatever the hell he’s on about.

However, separated by mountains, deserts, and the vast wasteland of Nebraska, California has always bred its own creatures. And that edge-of-the-earth weirdness can be found here as well. Particularly on “Crusing Down Sunset,” an eerie jam as slow as a Screw mix that disorients as it swaggers. Or check Mr. Clean and the Soul Inc.’s jazzy cover of “What’s Going On,” which translates Marvin Gaye’s deceptively smooth manifesto into an entirely different language for urgency.

By Emerson Dameron

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