MAY 1971 (41 YEARS AGO)
Curtis Mayfield: Curtis/Live! is released.
# ALL THINGS MUSIC PLUS+ 5/5
# allmusic 4.5/5
# Rolling Stone (see original review below)
Curtis/Live! is Curtis Mayfield’s first live album after leaving The Impressions, released in May 1971 as a double LP on Mayfield’s Curtom label that reached #21 in the U.S. charts.
The album’s tracks — along with Mayfield’s interstitial raps on the politics of the day — were recorded at Paul Colby’s Bitter End nightclub in New York City. The Bitter End in New York City, a small club, with a tight band, Curtis delivers extended, intimate versions of some of his best work, like “We the People Who Are Darker Than Blue” and “Stare and Stare”.
According to John Abbey, who at the beginning of the 1970s was editor of the UK magazine Blues & Soul, Mayfield and his band’s first set at a Bitter End date in January 1971 comprised the bulk of the music presented here. Mixed primarily with Eddie Kramer at Electric Lady Studios, the album features Master Henry Gibson playing percussion, Craig McMullen on rhythm guitar, Joseph “Lucky” Scott on bass, and Tyrone McCullen on drums.
ORIGINAL ROLLING STONE REVIEW
Curtis Mayfield is confusing his strengths with his weaknesses these days. As the composer and lead singer of the Impressions he proved to be first and foremost, a beautiful melodist. After that, he often wrote extremely personal and sensitive lyrics, although for every good one he came up with, there was also an inept and pretentious counterpart. His own voice sounded brilliant when pitted against the fabulous harmonies that Sam Gooden and Fred Cash used to supply. And Johnny Pate’s arrangements were the perfect vehicle for the instrumental side of his music.
Since leaving the Impressions, Mayfield has ignored his melodic gifts while turning out a series of Sly Stone-Norman Whitfield influenced tunes that have been singularly undistinguished. He concentrates more on the lyrics these days and those have become increasingly political and pretentious. May-field’s high voice covers roughly the same territory as those of Eddie Kendricks and Smokey Robinson. Like those two fine singers, it sounds best as part of a blend. By itself it lacks punch and dynamic range. On Live!, the only vocal support comes from the band, which hardly compares with the original sound of the Impressions. The band itself, on this album, is an exceptionally fine quartet but simply cannot supply the coloration and breadth that Curtis’ music requires.
So what are we left with on Live!? The songs are equally divided between solo material and Impressions’ hits. The new things are just so much’ eyewash. They require nothing of him melodically and seem to go on forever lyrically. There are frequent moments of embarrassment, such as when Curtis offers us this unthought-out piece of wisdom, in “I Plan to Stay A Believer”:
We’re over twenty million strong,
And it wouldn’t take long to save the ghetto child
If we’d get off our ass,
$10 a man yearly think awhile
Twenty million times $10 yearly
Would surely then set our brothers free.
This from the man who wrote “People Get Ready” and (included here in a version grossly inferior to the original) “We’re A Winner”?
The real embarrassment of Curtis Mayfield comes when he sings some of the Impressions’ big hits. “Might, Mighty” had such a powerful chorus on the original, and it sounds so empty and ordinary here. “Gypsy Woman” is little more than a shadow of its original self. And “We’re A Winner.” even with its never-heard-before final verse, has none of that incredible drive and punch (the original drummer was beyond belief) of the hit single.
So we get back to the original proposition: that Mayfield is confusing his strengths with his weaknesses. Surely a man who has created so much of genuine beauty will find his artistic sell again. In the meantime, it’s sad to report that on Live!, Curtis Mayfield, solo artist, just ain’t happening. (RS 85)
~ JON LANDAU (June 24, 1971)
All songs written by Curtis Mayfield except where noted.
“Mighty Mighty (Spade and Whitey)” – 6:56
Rap – 0:26
“I Plan to Stay a Believer” – 3:16
“We’re a Winner” – 4:47
Rap – 0:51
“We’ve Only Just Begun” (Paul Williams, Roger Nichols) – 3:44
“People Get Ready” – 3:47
Rap – 0:34
“Stare and Stare” – 6:12
“Check Out Your Mind” – 3:53
“Gypsy Woman” – 3:48
“The Makings of You” – 3:28
Rap – 2:01
“We the People Who are Darker Than Blue” – 6:46
“(Don’t Worry) If There’s a Hell Below, We’re All Going to Go” 9:27
“Stone Junkie” – 8:05
“Superfly” – 3:56
“Mighty Mighty (Spade and Whitey)” (Single Version) – 3:16