Saturday, September 29, 2012
The Brothers Johnson - Right on Time (1977)
The second release for the duo of George "Lightnin' Licks" and Louis "Thunder Thumbs" Johnson more commonly referred to as The Brothers Johnson. Louis Johnson is primarily credited along with Larry Graham for developing the "slapping" technique for the electric bass. Both would go on to work on a variety of studio albums for such well-known acts as Michael Jackson due to their connection with producer Quincy Jones. The album opens up with "Runnin' for Your Lovin'," a track that is a great introduction to the style of the band; laidback funk tunes with driving bass lines, harmonized and background vocals, and ample use of horns in the backgrounds. What sets the style of the band apart from other funk outfits is that the vocals have a songlike quality rather than the shout-like style of James Brown or Parliament and the band uses a synthesizer in their background accompaniment on nearly every track. "Be Yourself, Free Yourself" is the kind of tune you would expect to come out of 1977; there's the octave jumps in the bass that exemplifies disco and the builds brought on by layered horns that build to a climax in the tune. The next track, the instrumental tune "Q," indefinitely named after producer Quincy Jones, won a Grammy in 1978 for best R&B Instrumental Performance and is a feature for the guitar of George Johnson and the synthesizer work of Dave Grusin, who consequently is more famous for his work as a jazz pianist and a film scorer. The title track "Right on Time" is in a moderate tempo which features the synthesizer predominately in the chorus when the synthesizer "trades twos" with the repeated vocal. The big highlight of this tune is the breakdown with the alternated horn entrances which go to the end of the tune. "Strawberry Letter 23," a Shuggie Otis tune, is probably one of the most well-known tracks by the group. The prime differences from the original are that the bass line is more driving and funky, the vocals of George Johnson are smoother and more rubato, and most importantly the prominence of the drums. However, most of the song even down to the guitar lines and the chimes are verbatim from the original by Otis. "Brother Man" is another instrumental jam tune, but funkier than "Q." Overall, it's a lot less interesting than "Q" because of the musical form. There are really only two sections to the tune, the synth melody and the funk response. These two ideas combine at the end with the synth (and later the guitar) soloing over the funk jam. "Never Leave You Lonely" starts out as a laidback vocal tune dominated by the texture of synth, triangle, and a relaxed bass line which is juxtaposed to a funk section with a double time feel where the bass and the guitar pull out all the stops. The final track, "Love Is," is in a drastically different style in that it features acoustic guitar and vocals. It's a pretty cheesy track in my own opinion, but the album as a whole shouldn't be judged by the shortcomings of one track.