Artist: Curtis Mayfield
Genre: Soul / Funk
Quality: APE (image+.cue)
Get Down (5:48)
Keep On Keeping Up (5:09)
We Got to Have Peace (4:45)
Beautiful Brother of Mine (7:27)
Now You’re Gone (6:48)
Love to Keep You in My Mind (3:47)
It’s not that the songs are poor, but in general, they are simply not as memorable. Some of the rhythms and structures become more simplistic and other ideas are not as successful. On top of this, some songs seem to overstay their welcome, something that didn’t happen on ‘Curtis.’ Overall the production is a little smoother, though sometimes the additional overdubs almost clutter the song. Perhaps the most obvious difference, might be that Curtis appears to have spent more time arranging the overdubs than the rhythm tracks, or the core of each song.
Mayfield employs a similar formula to ‘Curtis’ on ‘Roots, mixing funk and soul, balladry and social comment. He still incorporates horns and strings with a funky rhythm section and his instantly recognisable voice, to fine effect for the most part. In the sexualised ‘Get Down’ (similar in some ways to ‘If there’s Hell Below…’) he adds some lightly distorted guitar tone to his lead work and keeps the tempo a little faster than usual.
Next is ‘Keep on Keeping On’ which is a nice, if slightly overlong soul ballad with an uplifting chorus. But songs like ‘Underground’ (presented as a superior, striped down version as a bonus track on the Rhino reissue) or ‘Beautiful Brother of Mine’ and ‘Now You’re Gone’ are a little too straight forward and repetitive to stay with you. More disappointing, perhaps, is the almost carbon copy of ‘If There’s Hell Below…’ that ‘Beautiful Brother of Mine’ seems to be, at the very least, the rhythm track is far too similar, although the gospel styled backing vocals are effective.
Perhaps this was a conscious move from Mayfield, after all the album is called ‘Roots.’ And if he is looking back, then we are treated to nods toward the blues ‘Now You’re Gone’ (albeit with an interesting string arrangement and his full horn-sound) and even The Impressions, on my favourite piece on the album, ‘We Got to Have Piece.’ Lifted as a single, it brings everything together so well, closing with a sax solo over a fade.
It’s very easy to look back on an artist’s oeuvre, from forty years after, and pick out highlights. In 1971, this album, coming on the heels of his debut solo effort and a live album, ‘Roots’ must have sounded fantastic. In most aspects, it is very close in style to ‘Curtis’ – which, for me, is as much as flaw as a strength. With only two really great songs, this is a mixed bag for me, one whose compositions don’t take full advantage of Curtis’ songwriting skills.