1976, Music

Hot on the Tracks (1976) by Commodres

I know very little about the Commodores, just a couple of their hits and what Lionel Richie became in the ’80s. So, from “Let’s Get Started,” I was very pleasantly surprised to hear a funk band rather than whatever the band who made “Easy” is.

There are people who describe this as “hardcore” funk. I don’t know what that means but I’m pretty sure this isn’t it, at least it isn’t it enough of the time. This is a band that definitely leans more pop than fans and critics seem to want to admit. I think the reason this album is considered “hardcore” funk is because it is clearly funkier and less poppy than what came later (according to reviews, as I’ve never heard those records).

At their funkiest, they are a pretty great band and one I want to hear more of. (Perhaps I need to listen to their earlier records?) But they definitely walk a line and sometimes stray over into something that is approaching smooth soul. (Fortunately, they never really go the disco route, which is something I sort of assumed they would do, knowing basically nothing about them.)

The material is certainly catchier than most pure funk bands. (And, to be clear, I wouldn’t describe this band on this record as a “pure funk” band.) And there are ballads that have more in common with Philly Soul than funk, which is one reason this album did so much better.

And Richie’s presence also makes everything more accessible. (I am actually making an assumption here because I often don’t recognize the singer’s voice. It seems like Richie is the lead singer on most tracks but this singer rarely sounds like the Lionel Richie of the ’80s that I’m familiar with it.)

But I like my funk more consistently funky, and either learner or weirder. There are tons of instruments on here and it’s not lean at all. (Compare this to, say, Betty Carter’s music.) They’re not as musically diverse as Earth, Wind and Fire and they’re basically on another planet in terms of quirk from Parliament-Funkadelic.

But it’s all pretty well done and I think it likely works quite well for people who want to listen to funk but don’t want to listen to the stuff that is actually, um, “hardcore.” It’s hard for me to be particularly critical of it. I’d rather listen to a band like this, which indulges in smooth soul at times but at least can play funk when they want to.


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