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Non-Prog CD Reviews

Ron Littlejohn and the Funk Embassy

Shining On

Review by Gary Hill

Fans of old school R&B and soul will love this. It’s really quite retro in texture. There’s nothing here that doesn’t work quite well. Still, this isn’t a perfect set. For one thing, there’s nothing here that seems overly unique or original. For another there is too much of a tendency to hit on a groove and just sit there for the duration of the tune. Mind you, the grooves are solid and can hold an entire cut. It just gets a little old after a while and some more advanced songwriting would be a good thing on at least a couple of the tunes. Still, when it’s this tasty, those are only minor issues.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2013  Volume 6 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Shining On

This things starts off much like a jazz cut. It gets more of a soulful vibe as it continues. The variation between male and female voices is cool and there is just such a tasty groove to this piece. At times I’m reminded a bit of the jazzier side of Pink Floyd. For some reason it also makes me think a bit of the Grand Funk Railroad tune of the same name. However you slice this, though, this is a soulful cut that just oozes cool and charm.

Seems Like Yesterday
There is less variety in the vocals. That said, it doesn’t make this cut any lesser. The funky groove here is timeless and quite tasty. There are gospel elements at play and some of the bass here is especially funky.
Light Me Up
The retro keyboard laden sound that opens this up is classic. The song itself makes me think of a cross between James Brown and Sly and the Family Stone. This is a killer tune that again makes great use of both male and female vocals. It’s fun and funky.
Soul Devotion
As retro as everything else has been to this point, this piece feels like it could have been lifted from the late 1960s. It’s a slower tune, more of a soul ballad. It’s also very tasteful and accessible. It’s one of the standout tracks here.
Cream #9

This groove has a lot of cool funk in it. To me the mix of sounds seems to be Sly and the Family Stone and Parliament Funkadelic. It’s cool, but not really a standout.

My Magination
Here we get another soulful groove that feels like it might be some long lost track from decades ago. The horns add a lot to the mix here and this has a bit more of a developed song structure than some of the other tunes do. It’s a great piece and a real standout.
A Day in San Francisco
With a title like that, one might expect a hippie romp. We get some of that. The flute and general arrangement showcases a soulful sound that’s tied to a lot of the 1960s sounds. I’d compare this in some ways to early War. It’s slower groove that’s pretty cool.
Emma Lee
Just as retro as everything else here, this has a lot more of a bluesy sound. The harmonica clearly adds to that. The vocals at times make me think of Mick Jagger just a bit. This is a standout tune and a great choice for closing number.
 
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