War! What is it good for? Well, the last time we checked, still good for restless, bracing grooves and breaks, daring to resist the temptations of merely marketable stasis-as-boogie, and of “progressive” display of servicable book learnin’, a.k.a. yet another slow fade into the Quality Street parade. Good for tramping, vamping and ramping through many shades. Good for all the wiser children of James Brown (including thee late-’60s prodigies, like Sly & The Family Stone, and contemporaneous cross-cultural cousins, like the Electric Flag and the tighter side of Al Kooper-era Blood, Sweat & Tears). Good, certainly, for the better jams of War, with and mostly without Eric Burdon; for the better, earlier incarnations of Earth, Wind & Fire, the Commodores, Tower Of Power, and of Kool & The Gang; good also for Brass Construction, Mandrill, youngsters like Slave and the ever-flexing FunkaParliadictment/ParliaFunkadelictment Thang. (Not to mention the massively see-and-raise-ya African response, as very eventually documented on The Best Best Of Fela Kuti and Luaka Bop’s comp, Love’s A Real Thing.) The early-to-mid-’70s muthalode of funk is still being excavated, and now Now-Again Records’ Egon follows his revelatory raising of the Kashmere Stage Band’s Texas Thunder Soul with Amnesty’s Free Your Mind: The West 700 Sessions. Only a couple of the Indianapolis-based Amnesty’s tracks were released during the band’s lifespan. But whatever the reason, it wasn’t a lack of engagingly professional proficiency. Although Free Your Mind isn’t quite up to the divertingly subtle details and quirky POV of, say, the also-recently exhumed Black Merda’s The Folks From Mother’s Mixer, there’s a thoughtful intensity to Amnesty’s suave sweep, chop and flow of horns, wah-wah, bass, conga, trap set and other percussion. The lead singing isn’t quite as strong as the playing, and some of the lyrics aren’t up to the tunes, but iridescent gospel-and-jazz-associated harmonies rally the troops, especially on the last few tracks, where vocals are accompanied by what sounds like hollow-bodied (but full-figured) electric guitar, rather than being set in the preceding songs’ nest of funkfest. The transition of arrangement style isn’t jolting, nor are the changes between political songs and love ballads, because everything sounds like personal and collective expression, simultaneously. Indeed, those last tracks, especially “We’ve Come A Long Way” and “Liberty” are both political and love ballads, love of we the people in me and thee. And, if anything, “Mr. President” is sharper than their usual up-tempo slice; they never rely on mere attitude, unlike many musical editorialists, then and now.
Such commitment pays off: all these sessions do work as an album, as a whole, but that’s also the payback: no one track jumps out, beyond the expected bounds of Amnesty’s basically familiar approach, and whatever taste you may have for that. But on its own, “Love Fades” nicks a niche, shines a while, like a bright little eye that catches yours, passing through. Broadened syllables slyly ride the wah-wah, working it like a lever on the roller coaster of party ripples. Seems like scat-singing at first, til the teaming phonemes form a few phrases, like “you got a thang, I got a thang,” and “get it up, tear it up,” but/and oh yeah, “Love fades.” Funny how that fits in. Sprinkles and hot rivets of punctuation take the punchline for a ride, and vice versa. “Lahv fayydes,” but not too quickly, not yet. “Gitit Gitit Gitit” some more.
From paperthinwalls.com by DON ALLRED