"Condensate" The Original 7ven (Saguaro Road)
Seriously, Prince can be such a jerk.
I don't know the guy, but the fact that he won't let The Time, one of the most fun rhythm and blues/funk acts of the '80s use its own name is a big-time buzz-kill and the little fellow needs to loosen up.
Because clunky name The Original 7ven -- with "The Band Formerly Known As The Time" in small letters under the title -- guarantees that this most excellent disc goes unnoticed. And it's all Prince's doing because the would-be Svengali who helped form the band back in his Raspberry Beret days says he owns the name.
The talent in the original band on this disc is off the charts -- just like this disc, unfortunately. The lineup is Morris Day, Jesse Johnson, Jimmy Jam, Terry Lewis, Jellybean Johnson, Jerome Benton, and Monte Noir.
All Lewis and Jam did was produce some of the biggest contemporary R&B hits of an entire generation, win five Grammys and put Janet Jackson on the charts. Day is the consummate frontman, funny and suave at the same time. And Jesse Johnson's a stud guitarist.
Best of all, the music on "Condensate" is classic Time: Day's cheesy, tongue-in-cheek lyrics delivered with conviction, big slabs of synthesizer propelling dance-floor grooves, and Jesse Johnson bringing the thunder. Highlights include the pure pop of "Strawberry Lake" and the big, nasty sex romp, "Sick."
This isn't some nostalgic trip; it's the real deal and Prince ought to be celebrating it instead of putting it under a gauzy purple blanket of pettiness. It's Time.
-- ROD LOCKWOOD
"Sing Your Song: The Music" Harry Belafonte (Sony Masterworks)
Harry Belafonte's impact on the civil rights movement and as a singing force might be lost on today's youth, but Sony Masterworks brings highlights of his career together in this crisp compilation, the musical companion to a new HBO documentary, Sing Your Song, and Belafonte's autobiography on Knopf Books, My Song.
As a singer, Belafonte is perhaps best known to the mainstream pop audience for his calypso. But the most memorable song on this collection is a stirring piece from early in his career, "Sylvie," a folk song about a caged man with dreams and visions of the woman he yearns to see, as well as the longing for his personal freedom.
Belafonte, a groundbreaking singer, actor, and activist, became the first artist in history to sell over a million albums with his 1956 vinyl LP, "Calypso." He worked alongside Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and later was a high-profile activist fighting to end apartheid in Africa.
-- TOM HENRY
"Extreme Makeover" Whiteboy James and the Blues Express (Rip Cat Records)
It was this group's work in the 1980s that has been dubbed the quintessential model for the contemporary L.A. blues sound. It is a distinctive sound, with underpinnings of rockabilly guitar riffs and a steady backbeat that harkens back to the day when R&B evolved into early rock and roll.
An earlier incarnation of the group released the basics of this album with a self-titled debut in 1992. Now, with added material and a new drummer and bass player, singer/harmonica player James mixes his edgy wit and raw lyrics with added maturity.
The 12-track, 40-minute album wastes no time in getting down to its earthy blues with the opening "Big Butted Women," in which James assures us, "I don't want no skinny woman making love to me …" Then he explains his reasons in lyrics both saucy and humorous, leaving little to the imagination.
There is excellent instrumental work throughout, with James dishing up an occasional helping of some very good harmonica work. There are no weak, filler tracks here, and a couple of genuine treats. It's a worthwhile foray into a blues style that should suit all blues fans.
-- KEN ROSENBAUM