Albums That Made Me - It's Just Begun
In this series of blogs, I will document a selection of albums that were pivotal in shaping my musical journey. I will focus on what made these albums special to me, as opposed to what makes them special in music, cultural or any other terms. Of course, every album I discuss can be considered as recommended listening, however, please keep in mind that whilst these albums are special to me, that doesn't mean they're particularly special and/or unique in their own right (although in most cases, I would argue that they are!).
Artist: The Jimmy Castor Bunch
Album: It's Just Begun
Jimmy Castor - Saxophone, Timbales, Vocals
Doug Gibson - Bass, Backing Vocals
Harry Jensen - Guitar
Lenny Fridie, Jr. - Congas
Gerry Thomas - Trumpet, Piano
Orchestra of 30 musicians in "Creation" (Prologue and Epilogue)
One night in my early 20s I was hanging out with a couple of friends who were DJs and aspiring Hip-Hop producers. Between them, they had an enormous record collection of fascinating music from the 1950s through to the present day. We were shooting the breeze and spinning vinyl, when one of them pulled out a record with one of the most stunningly beautiful works of cover-art I'd ever seen. I knew just by looking at it, that I was going to enjoy this record a great deal, however I had no idea what lasting impact it would have on me.
In my early 20s, I knew I liked funky music, but this album taught me what funk was truly about. It's deep, brooding, heady, seedy, hot, sweaty, full of tape saturation, sounds quite low-budget, and has an attitude that's off the scale.
It lures the listener in with a short symphonic introduction and then drops the nastiest groove on you; you know, the kind that makes you do stink face! The grooves and vibes come thick and fast, like an overloaded freight train rocketing through a hot night. The bass is so locked-in and pushes everything forward with a real ferocity. The moody keys set a tone while the percussive guitar accents the four-count. All the while, the horn arrangements manage to be both attacking and lush. It's truly a record from another time and place, but you can hear the architecture of this approach throughout so much of modern music today.
However, offset against all of this seedy, amazing funk, are some beautifully uplifting moments such as My Brightest Day which feels like it could have been penned by Bacharach and David, and I Promise To Remember which Castor wrote in the 1950s for Frankie Lymon & The Teenagers, but in this incarnation is given a somewhat mid-60s Motown vibe. Honestly, this album is such a wild ride of funk, the occasional sprinkling of jazz, lyrics that address social issues and comical stories about cavemen, and more! The only negative it has going for it, is that it's only 35 minutes long.
This album is part one of a two-album project. Later in 1972 The Jimmy Castor Bunch released Phase Two which picks up exactly where this album left off, and is equally worth a listen (you should listen to the two albums in situ for maximum benefit).
Together, I've listened to It's Just Begun and Phase Two more times than I can remember, and more importantly, I've take from their style, form, attitude and structure repeatedly throughout my own work. Whilst I utilise very different aesthetics, I nevertheless strive for a similar approach to mood and groove in my own arrangements. Like this album, I also attempt to marry the funkiest things I can muster with lighter, more easy-going tunes, for the sake of variety. I doubt I achieve an end product with the same aplomb as Caster, but that doesn't matter (nor is it necessarily the goal). As long as this album exists, it will always be there for me to return to, to enjoy, and to use as a barometer of funkiness.