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 KhanNew 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. 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." 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.” 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. 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
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