Chuck Brown's 'Business': True-Bluesy
By Jeff Chang
Special to The Washington Post
Tuesday, April 24, 2007
At 72, an age when most artists and public figures are winding down, timeless Chuck Brown is still winding 'em up. "We're About the Business" is his first studio album in almost a decade and the third essential set he has released since his 2001 never-been-away comeback. It's a short, pleasing album that finds Brown in fine, easy-rocking spirits.
On the opener, a stirring cover of "The Love Theme From 'The Godfather,' " Brown drops a tasty guitar solo over languid horns and strings and interjects a trademark line: "Sho you're right." It's a reminder of the impact he's had on what local fans affectionately call Chuck Town.
Virtually every major go-go star was discovered by or has been associated with Chuck Brown. The band gathered for this record includes Go-Go Mickey, hip-hop producer Bink (Jay-Z, Lost Boyz) and musicians from Rare Essence and Backyard, with veteran producer Chucky Thompson (Mary J. Blige, Notorious B.I.G., Nas) behind the boards. Since go-go came to global prominence in the '80s, Brown has actually been two different artists: the funky godfather playing the go-go rhythms that have by now entertained three generations of fans, and the soulful bluesman playing jazz standards with virtuoso skill.
In the past, he has been able to combine these two interests: Teenagers once did the latest dances to Brown's go-go-fied jazz suites of Duke Ellington and James Moody. But his records have largely been stratified into studio crossover attempts, live sets or straight-ahead jazz (he helped launch the star-crossed career of the late crooner Eva Cassidy).
Thompson's project was to bring Brown's divergent interests together, while translating go-go's live quirks into a cohesive studio album. Luckily, these two Chucks seem well suited for each other. Thompson writes songs for Brown that quote George Benson's version of "On Broadway" ("Block Party") and Jaco Pastorius's "Liberty City" ("Eye Candy"). He understands why Brown wants to do a Latinized cover of "Everyday I Have the Blues" as well as the two club groovers that follow it, "The Party Roll" and the standout "Love Nationwide."
Where many go-go albums highlight the percussion and high-hat to increase intensity, Thompson brings an understated R&B approach to the set, pushing up the bass, guitar and, especially, Brown's warm voice, and fading down most songs around the four-minute mark. Some may still wish the jams went longer, but Thompson's mix and editing befit Brown's relaxed vibe and his unique range of talents.
The album's best number, one you might expect to hear on District area hip-hop radio for the warm months ahead if there's any justice, is "Chuck Baby," a blazingly minimal track built on go-go's signature blend of percussion, horns and a scorching female rap that has the attitude of right now. Who's on the mike? Brown's daughter KK. Her chorus is simple and memorable -- "Chuck baby don't give a (expletive)!"
The godfather is still capable of big surprises, and this album is one well worth celebrating.