(Light In The Attic)
BY FRED MILLS
For archival maestro Light In The Attic’s latest excavation, the titular genre country funk gets its due, and while the 16-song collection necessarily overlaps with its swampier sibling – Tony Joe White, the late Bobby Charles (profiled a few years ago at BLURT, in fact) and Bobbie Gentry routinely get hailed by critics as swamp pop icons – there’s no question that Country Funk provides an invaluable service by introducing a key musical time, place and sound to a new generation of acolytes. Some of the names here will already be known by fans, including White, Charles, Gentry, Dale Hawkins, Link Wray and Larry Jon Wilson (who was also the subject of a BLURT interview, conducted a few months before his death in 2010); while others, such as Dennis The Fox, Gritz, Cherokee, Jim Ford and John Randolph Marr, may only be familiar to collectors.
It’s all great, though. Among the highlights are Hawkins’ insistent Stax/Volt-style maneuverings through “L.A. Memphis Tyler Texas”; Mac Davis’ slice-of-Southern-life narrative “Lucas Was a Redneck,” which on first listen will have you swearing it’s actually Tony Joe White; White’s own “Stud Spider,” oozing with White’s slyly lascivious charisma; Wray’s part-acoustic/part-electric “Fire and Brimstone,” a track from the guitar shaman’s notorious self-titled 1971 detour into country and roots music; and a brilliant, swampy oddity called “Hawg Frog” by what appears to have been a one-off summit, billed to “Gray Fox,” among some MGM-contracted studio musicians.
(Worth noting: as welcome as Bobbie Gentry’s “He Made A Woman Out Of Me” is, with Gentry the only female included here, it opens up the compilers to accusations that they should have been more diligent in their search for distaff proponents of the form.)
In the intro to her liner notes to the album, journalist Jessica Hundley poses the question, “What in the hell is country funk?” Frustratingly, it turns out to be a rhetorical query rather the set up for a payoff, as the somewhat rambling liners steer clear, for the most part, of cultural and contextual dissection, relying instead upon track-by-track descriptions bolstered by quotes from some of the musicians (with White getting the lion’s share, at nearly 4 pages of the 32-page booklet, which additionally features reproductions of LP sleeves plus stylized pen-and-ink renderings, courtesy Jess Rotter, of the artists themselves).
But maybe that’s for the best, because when it comes to music like this, feel is everything, analysis secondary. No better example of just that can be heard than on Jim Ford’s “I’m Wanta Make Her Love Me”: against a sinewy, R&B instrumental backdrop of insistent bass, psych-twang guitar and intermittent horn jabs, Ford proclaims his intentions in a voice that’s equal part lusty leer, starry-eyed optimism and gospel-soul genuflection (before the altar of womanhood, natch – or at least her daddy). It’s easily the funkiest, stankiest number on the album, so much so that it could pass for a long-lost Parliament-Funkadelic track rather than the work of a white man from below the Mason-Dixon line, although Ford does emit one telling Southernism when he enthuses, hillbilly-like, “Why, she’s a dilly, Papa, pretty as the Mona Lisa!” In that moment, and at other stray points on this superb collection, you stop wondering about who these folks were and what they were all about, and just soak in the vibe. When the record’s done, you might not necessarily be able to define country funk, but you’ll sure recognize it when you hear it in the future. Get fonky, y’all.
DOWNLOAD: Jim Ford, “I’m Wanta Make Her Love Me”; Tony Joe Spider, “Stud Spider”; Larry Jon Wilson, “Ohoopee River Bottomland,” Gray Fox, “Hawg Frog”