Curtis Mayfield - Curtis/Live!
Just one album into his solo career, which would take him to spectacular creative heights in the 1970s, Curtis Mayfield went for the power-move of a double live album. It may have seemed inadvisable at the time but looking over the track list today it makes perfect sense; over the previous decade he’d built up a wealth of material with the Impressions and he blends five of their best songs with material from his debut album that he was already ready to reinterpret, along with some songs specific to this album (the harrowingly funky “Stone Junkie” and a cover of the Carpenters’ “We’ve Only Just Begun”).
Playing at a small club in Greenwich Village called The Bitter End in front of a crowd so small you can practically count the hands clapping between songs, backed by a sympathetic, stripped-down band (just guitar, bass, drums and percussion), Mayfield sounds relaxed and conversational, going into four “raps” between songs. On record, Mayfield’s “If There’s Hell Below We’re All Gonna Go,” began with Richard Pryor sounding like a revolutionary, proclaiming, “Sisters! Niggers! Whiteys! Jews! Crackers! Don’t worry! If there’s hell below! We’re all gonna go!” He then punctuates this with a scream. Here, Mayfield delivers the same introduction as more of a joke in the middle of a performance of the song that makes the listener feel like he or she is being soulfully escorted to hell rather than shoved there. Mayfield also does “The Makings of You” from his debut with a sly cool that Pete Rock repurposed for “The Joy,” a standout buried as the last track on the deluxe edition of Jay Z and Kanye West’s 2011 album Watch The Throne.