"Fire It Up" Review
02/01/11 9:36 pm
Columbia S.C. Record: Dec 1, 1979. "Rick James' Third Album Covers Broad Range of Music"

New York— Rick James says he did his first two albums, “Come Get It” and “Bustin’ Out of L Seven,” “as experiments, trying out a lot of different things because I had finally managed to get through the door.”

As experiments, they were quite successful— the first album was certified platinum, the second double platinum,making James one of the strongest sellers in black popular music.

His third album, “Fire It Up,”which was just released by Motown, includes a broad range of original material,from hard funk to rock and ballads, but James says it wasn’t an experiment.“It’s the closest I’ve come to doing exactly what I want to do,” he said. “We got in a lot of pre production time on it, but it was recorded, mixed and mastered in just two weeks.

In an industry whose superstars often take more than a year to make an album that is fast work, it’s reminiscent of the Knack and other young with rock groups that also believe in recording quickly and efficiently.

James’s music is closer to that of Funkadelic or Earth, Wind, and Fire than to rock’s new wave, but his attitude is very much that of an up-and-coming younger performer— he even calls what he  does punk funk.

James is no overnight success story. After developing an early interest in jazz while growing up in Buffalo, he began playing in soul groups. He left for Canada in the mid-1960s “to avoid the military scene” and fell in with Neil Young and Bruce Palmer, who later became founding members of the folk-rock group Buffalo Springfield.

“While I was in Canada I got into the Beatles and other rock, and also into country blues, like Robert Johnson and Fred McDowell,” James said. “I developed an appreciation for classical music as well. Then I went back to soul or rhythm and blues music, but with my roots being so wide ranging and with the knowledge of what I’d learned, I could never do straight funk. I worked as a studio musician just as a way to eat, but I always wanted to do my own music.

At its best that music has been an adventurous blend of rock elements (there are harmonies that sound like the Beatles and a piccolo trumpet straight out of “Penny Lane”on “Love in the Night,” a song on the new album) with jazz and funk, executed with flair by a group of musicians James calls the Stone City Band.


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