Saturday, February 24, 2018

New Music Revue: Melvin van Peebles soundtrack looks ahead

June 14, 2017 by Greg Pratt, managing editor

Melvin van Peebles
Sweet Sweetback’s Badasssss Song (An Opera)
(Stax Records)

This reissue of this 1971 soundtrack is notable for the performances of Earth, Wind & Fire—at that point, still relatively unknown—but lays down a mean ’70s funk/soul groove regardless of who’s playing it. But it’s noteworthy for more than that.

With a wild, cut-and-paste style utilizing samples and touching on various musical genres, the songs here are so experimental they border on avant-garde. Sure, when a beat is laid down and things get grooving—as on “Mojo Woman”—it’s straight-forward old-school funk and soul. But elsewhere, the sounds are pure second-album Beastie Boys (18 years before that album, mind you), a wild collage of samples and enthusiastic boundary-pushing energy, gospel chanting pushed up against gritty ’70s New York saxophone-driven sounds.

The end result is perplexing and disorienting, and this reissue—available on 180-gram vinyl—serves as a fascinating document of a release that definitely pushed open boundaries when it first came out.

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