Living Colour – Shade (2017)

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Living Colour is easy to take for granted. The venerable hard rock outfit has been around for decades, with minimal changes. They have produced album after album with brilliantly played funk-infused hard rock. Never mind that Living Colour did take a brief hiatus, and every member has stellar side projects. These gentlemen are among the busiest in rock / funk / jazz music.

It’s almost inconceivable then that it’s been eight years since their last full length effort, The Chair In the Doorway. The much-anticipated September release Shade remedies this oversight in a big way.

The 10-original band written songs and three covers reflect four musicians who are not content with resting on their laurels. “Freedoms of Expression (F.O.X)” kicks things of with the social commentary you expect from Living Colour. Corey Glover’s vocals have never been stronger, as he makes his case for expression and resistance. Producer Andre Betts highlights the band’s use of samples to great impact, but never do the they dilute the power of Doug Wimbish’s bass and Will Calhoun’s funkified back beat.

Their update of Robert Johnson’s “Preachin’ Blues (Up Jumped the Devil)” is the first cover on Shade, and my favorite. The versatility of this band is at the forefront here. Reid’s slinky slide guitar and Glover’s vocals conspire to push the song to the limit. Reid’s solo then pushes it beyond. The early single “Come On” loses none of its appeal after repeated listening. In fact, the song seems to gain in relevancy daily.

“Program” harkens back lyrically to their hit “Cult of Personality” but musically stands its own. Highlights include a mid-song key change and a rap interlude which is all too contemporary in regard to the subject matter. There’s only one thing missing: “Program” seems to beg for a end guitar solo to send it over the top.

After the cover of “Who Shot Ya,” which was released as part of an EP last year, “Always Wrong” slows things down – but just a little. The Glover-sung lyrics threaten to be out done by the superb and daring snare and high-hat work from Calhoun; however, the song’s bridge and the lyrical bite doesn’t allow that to happen.

“Who’s That” kicks off with Vernon Reid’s southern-fried slide guitar and touches on New Orleans-like horns. Wimbish and Calhoun then lead us down an almost festive road, touching on elements of blues and funk. Lyrically, the song is not in the least festive, but the dichotomy works – as does the all-too-brief solo from Reid. “Invisible” delivers more old-school blues, as interpreted by Living Colour. The song’s Buddy Miles-like hook features moving wah-wah melodies played by Reid over a jumping rhythm. Glover again delivers a stellar vocal which serves up lyrics about the plight of the truly invisible.

[SOMETHING ELSE! INTERVIEW: Corey Glover joins Preston Frazier to discuss how ‘Shade’ fits into Living Colour’s storied canon – and why he refused to include one song.]

George Clinton shows up on “Two Sides” to deliver a little P-Funk magic. The song, a fitting closer to the album, kicks off with a brief spoken segment from Clinton, followed by Glover yet again working his vocal instrument to great affect. Vernon Reid’s melodic support is simply beautiful and is matched by Wimbish’s ascending bass patterns. Reid’s mid-song solo helps the song to ascend to the next level, and Glover’s accents match the heights of the rest of the band. Clinton’s vocal stabs almost seem like an after thought, as Living Colour moves to a higher plane.

Is Shade the best ever Living Colour album? Maybe, but that’s such a tall order. Still it’s an album which must be heard, and is bound to make my best of 2017 list.

Preston Frazier

Preston Frazier

Preston Frazier is a bass-playing lawyer living in Atlanta. His first Steely Dan exposure was with an eight-track cassette of 'Pretzel Logic.' He can be reached at slangofages@icloud.com; follow him on Twitter: @slangofages. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.
Preston Frazier
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