emd / luka bop
our score: 4.0 out of 5.0
to be cool, but it's so much cooler to be cool before anyone knows
what cool is. Trouble is, there's not a lot of fame or money that
goes with laying the groundwork for the future of coolness. "Seminal"
is an adjective bandied about far too easily by modern music critics.
Nowadays, an artist merely has to hold the reigns to the latest
musical bandwagon to be labeled a pioneer. To truly qualify as
seminal, a musician has to go unheralded in his or her own time
and sacrifice fame for the satisfaction of furthering art. Witness
Nick Drake. A tortured '70s folk singer who seemingly depressed
himself so much with his heart-rendering pieces that he took his
own life, he wouldn't be recognized by most until Volkswagon bastardized
his "Pink Moon" in a recent commercial. Working in the
same time period, the truly seminal Shuggie Otis slipped Inspiration
Information, one of the most innovative and influential R&B
recordings of the past 25 years, under the mainstream radar. And
it's only now that he can really be appreciated.
A guitar virtuoso,
master arranger and an original funk soul brother, Otis had a
groove vision that defined the idea of "forward thinking,"
which is why his music seems so much more at home now than it
ever could have in the '70s. The remastered and reissued Inspiration
opens with a cascade of sultry "oohs" and "aahs"
that would make Maxwell smile. In fact, it's difficult to listen
to Inspiration without finding traces of the sexy confidence
that would eventually weave its way into the sounds of Maxwell
and fellow modern-day soul revivalist D'Angelo.
was so far beyond what others were attempting at the time, it's
difficult to describe Otis' sound outside of the context of modern
music, but comparisons to other artists don't do his music justice.
It's the innovators of today that should be compared to him. Though
it would only be a short time before Prince wiggled his ass on
to the pop scene, Inspiration's synth-laced melodies surely
had a hand in shaping the burgeoning generation of New Power.
music is undoubtedly revolutionary in a broader sense, it would
be a mistake to overlook Otis's strength as an arranger and producer.
His orchestral arrangements add a subtle poignancy to tracks like
"Aht Uh Mi Hed" (say it out loud, it'll make sense)
and "Island Letter," while his wah-wahing guitar work
on "Strawberry Letter 23" offers a glimpse into the
future of trance. The cosmic organ stutters and burps on "XL-30"
and "Pling!" even show signs of early ambient exploration.
For all his
mastery of the knobs and dials in the production booth, though,
it was his work on the guitar that gave form to each of his songs.
Though it's usually reduced to a rhythmic component, his guitar
talent is strikingly evident when allowed to step forward. Otis
gives Clapton a run for his money with his bluesy slide work on
"Sweet Thang," and he evokes images of Electric Ladyland-era
Hendrix on the airy "Freedom Flight." Yet, among the
vast soundscape he creates on Inspiration, his guitar is only
one instrument in an otherworldly experience.
The most exciting
thing about Inspiration Information isn't the songs themselves,
but picking out all of the musical gates they open. It's difficult
to accept such a visionary artist might have gone largely unnoticed
in his time, but one needn't look far to see how many artists
of today Shuggie Otis helped create.
liked Inspiration Information...
2. Island Letter
3. Sparkle City
4. Aht Uh Mi Hed
5. Happy House
6. Rainy Day
9. Not Available
10. Strawberry Letter 23
11. Sweet Thang
12. Ice Cold Daydream
13. Freedom Flight