Steve Arrington + Dam-Funk – Higher (2013)

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Former Slave drummer and lead vocalist Steve Arrington found some measure of success in a solo artist in the 80s. I remember the uplifting dance floor thumpers “Dancin’ In the Key of Life” and “Feel So Real” in the middle of the decade, but he dropped out of sight a few years later to focus on ministry.

Lately, Arrington’s been getting back into the groove, literally: Pure Thang (2009) put an end to a twenty-year hiatus from the music business with more of that Dayton, Ohio brand of hard funk he’s making at least since his Slave days. And now, comes Higher, an even stronger return to form.

Arrington is one of the genuine articles of old-school funk, but his collaboration with a producer of the current generation in Dam-Funk had the effect of successfully bringing him back to the sound of his heyday. It’s a lot like what Questlove did for Al Green with Lay It Down in 2008. With Dam-Funk supplying the smooth, synth vamps using jazzy quiet storm chords and throbbing early 80s drum beats, Arrington is free to run wild with endlessly overdubbed, often ad-libbed vocals. The old swagger is back, in a nice spot between Cameo and P-Funk.

Arrington states his “love, peace and funky beats” mission early in the first track “I Go Hard,” and yes, the minister is preaching here and there but spreads the good word with an emphasis on positive attitude and not trying to cram Jesus down skeptics’ throats…just like in the old days. You’ll surely hear the word “funk” uttered about a hundred times more than “God” (remember when all good funk songs proudly announced what kind of music it is?).

Besides, who can help but grin at tunes like “I Be Trippin” and the scat-filled “I Love This Music”? Even “Tap That” is G-rated, but Arrington is a rare bird in not unnecessarily accompanying nasty grooves with nasty lyrics.

Goin’ retro just for the sake of going retro has its limits; for someone like Steve Arrington who was there when retro was the “in” thing it’s a lot more than that. Higher is just Arrington being himself and at his natural best.

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S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron

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