CHAKA KHAN / “Sign ‘O’ The Times”


This album may remind people of my early Rufus albums because I'm in a similar 'soul space'. I've been on a little journey in the last few years, finding Yvette again," she notes, referring to her birth name. "I went through a period of being insecure. I'm walking a different path now. I've changed. This album is different from any other album I've recorded because it reflects what I'm about, who I am now. —Chaka Khan
New Chaka dropping, yall. Chaka can sang, no bout a-doubt it. My problem with Chaka is that I always thought she spent too much of her time “over singing.” It was like she had two gears: idle and hot as hell. I know that’s an exaggeration but nobody would ever accuse Chaka of being subtle. It was that lack of subtlety that turned me off. chaka khan 03.jpg Well, the new joint, Funk This, is produced by Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis and you might have to hear it to believe it but the producing team has found a way to tone down Chaka. Of course in the process, some of the fire was dampened but, hey, it’s Chaka, you can’t have everything. Which one you want,  subtleness or screaming & hollering? A lot of the album is aimed straight at the contemporary market. Hence, they hijack Amerie’s signature sound and produce “Disrespect,” a go-go based duet with Mary J. Blige, which Mary J. wrote. Then there is some nostalgic Rufus-esque funk on “Back In The Day.” (Oh yeah, Terry & Jam even rustled up some of the former members of Rufus to contribute to Funk This. “Back In The Day” is co-written by former Rufus guitarist, Tony Maiden who also plays on the track) It’s ok. Not great but not bad. What works for me are the two covers and a partially-autobiographical, power soul ballad called “Angel” that is based on a poem Chaka wrote "a few years ago when I was in an 'altered' state. I pulled out the words and I thought, 'wow, I wrote this? The lyrics are pretty intense for someone who was out of their mind at the time. It's a very special song to me, especially since I've started walking a different path, since I've been through a whole life change." chaka khan 04.jpg For the covers we get the Jimi Hendrix classic “Castles Made Of Sand” and the Prince classic “Sign ‘O’ The Times.” Chaka actually interprets the lyrics of both songs rather than just trying to power her way through them. While neither is ground breaking both are better than the bulk of anything Chaka has recorded in the last two decades. (Yes, it has been over ten years since she has done any significant recording). And now is little laginappe, I’m throwing in a cover of Denice Williams’ “Free.” marcus miller 04.jpg This version of “Free” is from Free, the new album by bassist Marcus Miller. The bass is, no surprise, mixed way up front and though there is little doubt he can play. The song would have benefited had Marcus pushed the bass down into the mix a bit more. Plus, he could have given saxophonist David Sanborn a bit more space or either not used him at all. Like with the Chaka covers, this version is just short of being great. corrine 20.jpg The real news here is the choice of Corinne Bailey Rae to sing the lead. Even though Corinne hits the notes well enough, her voice is not as strong as Niecy, so there’s a bit of a disconnect.  What does work however is those little turns and curls in her phrasing that are Rae’s stylistic signature. I think I smell an album of soul covers headed our way. —Kalamu ya Salaam          Just ok           I listened to all of these tunes and, no disrespect to Chaka Khan, I wasn't impressed by any of it. It wasn't that any of it was bad. More like, as Kalamu said, it was just ok. Same with Corinne's attempt at Deniece Williams. (I like Corinne, but she might want to try picking lower-hanging fruit next time.) All of these tunes are like halfway-decent food. It'll do if you're starving, but if you have a choice, you'll pass. I have lots of choices, and I'm passing. I just thought of something else. Chaka's vibe is all wrong. That's what I don't like about this stuff. I don't know how old she is, but why is she trying to rock out over an Amerie beat? Are we being for real here? Chaka was the Queen of Funk/Pop back when she was a young woman. She needs to leave the funk and sass to the little girls. Just my two cents. —Mtume ya Salaam

This entry was posted on Sunday, September 2nd, 2007 at 2:04 am and is filed under Cover. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

5 Responses to “CHAKA KHAN / “Sign ‘O’ The Times””

September 2nd, 2007 at 4:12 pm

I think it’s off the hook! PLAIN & SIMPLE!

Sini Says:
September 3rd, 2007 at 3:20 pm

I think Chaka has done some great work in recent years–“Don’t Talk to Strangers” by Prince on the Come to My House album and the self-penned “I Believe” on Classikhan are both extraordinary, and perfectly suited to her voice; the vibe is right–and let’s face it, as I think both of you will agree, she’s not easy to write for or produce.

Anyway, thanks so much for this blog!

joe gumbo Says:
September 4th, 2007 at 4:23 am

the entire Chaka/Prince collaborative ‘come to my house’ album is a highpoint for both artists, another slept on masterpiece

corinne bailey ray does exceptional covers… try her versions of bjork’s ‘venus as a boy’ or Led Zep’s ‘since i been lovin you’

D.C. Brown Says:
October 27th, 2007 at 11:02 am

Anyone who say’s Chaka is off the mark needs to have their head examined, with a quickness. Chaka is one of the baddest sista’s of our time. I’m glad to see she’s back on her game. As a Bass player and a musician I must say there is no female out there that brings it like Chaka, not even Patty Labelle. As for the person who said “Chaka only has two speeds” I say she only needs two speeds and that’s “stop and go” Keep on livin’ your Super Life Chaka. Sincerely, D.C. Brown

Robert Says:
December 18th, 2007 at 1:33 pm

Chaka Khan is doing very little different on Funk This that she hasn’t beeen doing. On record her vocals have always been phenomenal with that sassy phrasing that she owns. Her live performances are the stuff that deserves Kalamu’s unfocused critique of idle or hot as hell. But her hot as hell live performancres are the stuff that makes her “beautiful mistakes” as she calls them sufferable. Even the live performance with Kanye West of “Through the Fire/Wire” to me were saved by her ability to wring the funk out of a vouice that was not there. Inserting the power wails during crucial moments made you forget that her voice was skipping between notes. …But Funk This is bad ass funk. Go ask ya mama to explain if you can’t understand!

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