BY FRED MILLS
Minneapolis soulman Sonny Knight may have debuted with great promise in 1965, but for personal reasons he wound up retiring from music to be a truck driver, and the loss was the music world’s. Once in awhile, though, history finds a way to correct its wrongs, and thus we have this smokin’ long playing debut, decades late but of course… better late than never, eh? Hats off to soul/funk champions—of 2012 compilation Twin Cities Funk & Soul: Lost R&B Grooves From Minneapolis/St. Paul 1964-1979 fame—for making it all happen.
I’m Still Here serves as both a manifesto and a calling card for Knight, who has clearly studied what made The Hardest Working Man In Show Biz so legendary but additionally brings boatloads of his own charismatic personality—and silky/edgy vocal stylings—to the table. The album kicks off with the house party sounds of “Jucy Lucy” [sic], all bumping bass, surging organ and horn section accents, and a vintage-style appreciation of the, er, female form. “Whoah, there she go walking by right there!” the huge-lunged Knight marvels. “I jus’ wanna get my hands on her one time—I got to get me some of that Lucy! Hey man, bring that Lucy right back here!” From there we land squarely in the aforementioned James Brown territory (the staccato-riffed, rapid-fire funk of “Caveman” (as in, “let’s do the…”), the sleek, silky talking-blues soul of “I’m Still Here,” which in classic fashion is divided up into two parts with notably different tempos, and an extended workout aptly titled “Get Up and Dance” that finds Knight testifying to the healing properties of music and dance following a long, numbing week punching the time clock. There’s also an unexpected cover, of Rodriguez’ “Sugar Man,” which sounds nearly as timeless as the Detroit songwriter’s original.
It’s a retro-soul blowout of epic proportions that will no doubt please fans of Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kinds, Charles Bradley, Lee Fields et al. Throughout, Knight & Co. deploy their traditional-tilting, seventies-inspired soul/funk with the agility of wizened veterans, for Knight has clearly found young simpatico ears and uncanny talent to back him up. Somebody alert the neighbors, ‘cos this house party’s gonna stretch long into the night and everyone needs to prepare for some major noise ordinance violations…
Consumer note: initial copies of the vinyl version of the album are on gorgeous colored vinyl, so your path is, ahem, clear.
DOWNLOAD: “Get Up and Dance,” “Caveman,” “Sugar Man”