(Listen2 /Razor & Tie)
Despite claims, there aren’t many musicians who can claim
sole responsibility for inventing a style. But Larry Graham may very well be
one of them. The original bass player for the ridiculously pioneering Sly &
the Family Stone, Graham was the first to record with the slap-bass style that
redefined funk. Contemporary bass heroes like Flea and Victor Wooten would be
nowhere if Graham hadn’t switched from guitar to bass in his family band, where
he had to cover for the lack of a drummer.
That said, his recorded legacy with Graham Central Station,
the long-running soul/funk group he formed after leaving the erratic Stone’s
employ, has been uneven. Graham has a fine baritone voice and his playing –
which calls surprisingly little attention to itself, despite being funky as all
hell – is beyond reproach. But he’s not the songwriter his old boss was or his
friend/collaborator Prince is, missing the mark as often as he hits, especially
when he strays into ballad territory (cf. his 70s-era top 10 hit “One in a
Million You” for some of both).
Raise Up, the
first GCS record in nearly 15 years, fits right in with his legacy. When it’s
good, it’s very good: the Family Stone round robin of “Throw-N-Down the Funk,” the
roof-raising “It Ain’t No Fun to Me” (it surely is to the rest of us), the busy
“Movin’,” the Parliament-challenging electrofunky “Now Do U Wanta Dance,” the roiling
title track, with its burning Princely guitar solo. Most of these rely more on
groove than anything else, but what a groove it is.
The problems arise when that groove gets stretched beyond
endurance, as it does on the mid-tempo “No Way,” which rambles on for seven
minutes. The ballads don’t fire on too many cylinders, either – “Shoulda Woulda
Coulda” becomes overheated and silly fairly quickly, while “Hold You Close”
floats in so much syrup it makes teeth hurt. The well-meaning call-to-love “One
Day,” which features vocals from Raphael Saadiq, is exceptionally
blatant in its reliance on the Family Stone formula, sounding like a rewrite of
“Everybody is a Star.” (And why not? Graham has as much right to continue that
tradition as anyone.) Sadly, he beats the message into the ground long before
the track is over.
Fortunately, the good outweighs the bad, and CDs and
downloads make skipping tracks easy. And hell, it’s so good to have a genuine
musical pioneer back and still on form, the missteps on Raise Up are easy enough to forgive.
Ain’t No Fun to Me,” “Throw-N-Down the Funk,” “Raise Up” MICHAEL TOLAND