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Soul - Released January 1, 1970 | Polydor

Distinctions The Qobuz Ideal Discography - The Qobuz Standard
This live outing from Brown's seminal 1970 J.B.'s lineup features Bootsy Collins, Clyde Stubblefield, Fred Wesley, Maceo Parker, Bobby Byrd, and many more. While it's a cut below Love Power Peace in documenting this lineup live, Brown and his band still smoke, tearing into extended versions of funk classics like "Sex Machine" (nearly 11 minutes), "Brother Rapp," "Give It Up or Turnit a Loose," and "Mother Popcorn," plus a healthy quotient of earlier soul material sprinkled in between. ~ Steve Huey
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Soul - Released January 1, 1973 | Universal Records

Distinctions The Qobuz Ideal Discography - The Qobuz Standard
Originally released in 1973 as a sprawling two-LP set, The Payback was one of James Brown's most ambitious albums of the 1970s, and also one of his best, with Brown and his band (which in 1974 still included Fred Wesley, Maceo Parker, St. Clair Pinckney, Jimmy Nolen, and Jabo Starks) relentlessly exploring the outer possibilities of the James Brown groove. Stretching eight cuts out over the space of nearly 73 minutes, The Payback is long on extended rhythmic jamming, and by this time Brown and his band had become such a potent and nearly telepathic combination that the musicians were able pull out lengthy solos while still maintaining some of the most hypnotic funk to be found anywhere, and on the album's best songs -- the jazzy "Time Is Running Out Fast," the relentless "Shoot Your Shot," the tight-wound "Mind Power," and the bitter revenge fantasy of the title cut -- the tough, sinuous rhythms and the precise interplay between the players is nothing short of a wonder to behold. And even the album's lower-key cuts (such as the lovelorn "Doing the Best That I Can" and "Forever Suffering") sink their hooks into the listener and pull you in; quite simply, this is remarkable stuff, and even Brown's attempts at lyrical relevance (which were frankly getting a bit shaky at this point in his career) are firmly rooted enough to sound convincing. The Payback turned out to be one of James Brown's last inarguably great albums before he hit a long fallow streak in the mid- to late '70s, but no one listening to this set would ever imagine that this was the work of an artist (or a band) about to run out of gas. ~ Mark Deming
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R&B - Released January 1, 1966 | Polydor

Distinctions The Qobuz Standard
To truly experience the magic and soul of James Brown, one must do so in a live setting. Running constantly on all cylinders, the Godfather of Soul's infectious grooves and potent performances are elevated to a whole other level few others can dream of reaching. It's a Man's Man's Man's World captures one of those impassioned performances from the later stages of Brown's career, and finds him still in fine form. All of the classics are represented in this session, including an over the top version of the album's title track. While the performances are stellar and the quality of the record palatable, this is by no means an essential release except for die-hard Brown collectors and fans. Casual listeners should turn their attention to the groundbreaking Live at the Apollo series for a full-on orientation to the man and his magic bag of soul. ~ Rob Theakston
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Soul - Released January 1, 1967 | Polydor

Distinctions The Qobuz Standard
If "Cold Sweat" was a revolutionary single in 1967, clearly pointing the way to funk music, the Cold Sweat LP at least promised to be something new in James Brown's catalog as well. Where Brown's albums had been collections containing his current single and miscellaneous older tracks, this one proclaimed on its cover, "All New," "Great Songs," "Never In," "An Album." This was not quite true. While half of the tracks had been recorded during the first half of 1967, the other half (though previously unreleased) dated from 1964. That wasn't the main problem with the album, though. Having taken a giant step forward with "Cold Sweat," Brown spent the rest of the album stepping back, covering standards such as "Nature Boy" and "Mona Lisa" (associated with Nat King Cole), "Fever" (Little Willie John), "Stagger Lee" (Lloyd Price), and other oddities, including "I Loves You Porgy" from Porgy & Bess. Brown was never anybody's idea of a smooth ballad singer, and this material was all the more incongruous when packaged with his most remarkable slab of funk yet. ~ William Ruhlmann
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R&B - Released January 1, 1973 | Polydor

Distinctions The Qobuz Standard
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Soul - Released January 1, 1974 | Polydor

Distinctions The Qobuz Standard
Brown's early-'70s run of classic singles and good-to-great albums is still impressive. Hell was the double album released a year after the gold selling The Payback. To some, the title might put this effort in the realm of kitsch, but in many ways Hell was one of Brown's strongest albums. The album was the pinnacle of his work as the Minister of the Super New New Heavy Funk. From the tough and nimble Latin rhythms of "Coldblooded," and "Sayin' It and Doin' It" to the title track, all are prime pre-disco Brown. "My Thang" is probably as hard and unrelenting as he got without spontaneously combusting. The biggest surprise of Hell is that no matter how odd the song choices seemed, practically everything worked, excluding a few key songs of course. Both "When the Saints Go Marching In" and "Stormy Monday" don't belong in James Brown's catalogue, let alone the same album. Ballad-wise, Brown fares better. "These Foolish Things Remind Me of You" has him getting all warm and fuzzy as he inexplicably throws in an "I'm hurt, I'm hurt" for good measure. That song, as well as the weepers "A Man Has to Go to the Cross Road Before He Finds Himself" and "Sometime," were produced by David Matthews who could always get good ragged yet poised vocals from Brown. Although Brown did roll snake eyes on all of side three, he did leave Hell on a good note. "Papa Don't Take No Mess" is laid-back, funky jazz that's worth each of its 13-plus minutes. Despite a few detours, Hell is worth listening to. ~ Jason Elias
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Soul - Released January 1, 1969 | Verve

Distinctions The Qobuz Standard
James Brown recorded the pet project Gettin' Down to It in Cincinnati, OH, at King Studios, between December 1968 and March 1969. Although you can't tell by the album's title, it reflects Soul Brother Number One momentarily stepping back from the fiery racial and political atmosphere of the times. Following the murder of Martin Luther King, Jr., the riots sparked by that event, and his calming effect on it, Mr. Dynamite replaced "Say It Loud (I'm Black and I'm Proud)" with his love of standards utilizing the melancholy phrasing of his favorite male vocalist, Frank Sinatra. Aided by the acoustic piano trio led by Dee Felice, Brown tackles such romantic chestnuts as "Strangers in the Night," "That's Life," "It Had to Be You," "Willow Weep for Me," and "All the Way." Although laid-back could be applied to the album's overall tone, these 12 tracks are by no means "mellow." After all, this is James Brown! For instance, "(I Love You) For Sentimental Reasons," clocking in at 7:40, combines pianist Frank Vincent's percussive vamping with James testifying as if he had this tune confused with "Ain't It Funky Now." While the disc is made up of mainly standards, that doesn't stop Brown from including two of his compositions, "Cold Sweat" and an instrumental take of "There Was a Time," reworked to fit the album's easygoing mood with jazzy elements intact. Even though there aren't any bonus tracks, this Verve reissue does include the original packaging and liner notes with Marc Eliot's insightful addendum tacked on. A curious entry in the James Brown catalog, Gettin' Down to It is a savory listen. ~ Al Campbell
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Soul - Released January 1, 1970 | Polydor

Distinctions The Qobuz Standard
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R&B - Released January 1, 1969 | Verve

Distinctions The Qobuz Standard
If Count Basie had hired James Brown to replace Joe Williams as his featured male vocalist, what would the results have sounded like? Brown offers some suggestions on Soul on Top, which finds the Godfather of Soul making an intriguing detour into jazz-minded big-band territory. Recorded in 1969, Soul on Top unites Brown with the Basie-influenced orchestra of jazz drummer Louie Bellson, and stylistically, the results are somewhere between soul-funk and the funkier side of big-band jazz. This Brown/Bellson collaboration isn't straight-ahead jazz, nor is it typical of Brown's late-'60s output. But if recording a big-band project with Bellson was a surprising and unexpected thing for the Godfather of Soul to do in 1969, it was hardly illogical or bizarre -- Brown, after all, grew up listening to jazz (as well as blues and gospel) and was well aware of the legacies of Basie, Lionel Hampton, Duke Ellington, and others. While some jazz snobs would have listeners believe that jazz and R&B have little, if anything, in common, the fact is that they're close relatives that get much of their energy and feeling from the blues. So it makes perfect sense for Brown to combine soul, funk, and jazz on this album, which finds him revisiting some major hits (including "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag" and "It's a Man's Man's Man's World") in addition to embracing "September Song," "That's My Desire," and other standards typically associated with jazz and traditional pop. Although not among the Godfather's better-known efforts, this fine album is happily recommended to anyone who holds R&B and jazz in equally high regard. ~ Alex Henderson
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Soul - Released January 1, 1968 | Polydor

Distinctions The Qobuz Standard
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R&B - Released January 1, 1961 | Polydor

Distinctions The Qobuz Standard
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R&B - Released October 12, 2018 | Polydor

When James Brown was exalted as the "Hardest Working Man in Show Business," it wasn't just some empty hype that a publicist dreamed up -- few singers in any genre were more workaholic or perfectionist. The Godfather of Soul demanded a lot from himself and a lot from his musicians, on whom he could be notoriously hard. Those who were lucky enough to see him live usually got what they paid for and then some, and he certainly goes that extra mile on Say It Live and Loud: Live in Dallas 08.26.68. Though a few of these performances had come out on various 1990s anthologies, most of them remained in the can until the release of this CD in 1998. The Godfather is in excellent form on sweaty versions of 1960s hits like "Say It Loud (I'm Black and I'm Proud)" (which had just come out as single), "Cold Sweat," "I Got the Feelin'," and "There Was a Time," as well as a medley of his '50s classics "Try Me," "Lost Someone," and "Bewildered." Brown was at his creative and commercial peak, and his five-star band boasted such dynamos as guitarist Jimmy Nolen, trombonist Fred Wesley, and saxmen Maceo Parker, St. Clair Pinckney, and Alfred "Pee Wee" Ellis. It's too bad that most of these red-hot performances went unreleased for 30 years. ~ Alex Henderson
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Ambient/New Age - Released January 1, 1995 | Polydor

At his superstar peak in the 1960s and early '70s, Brown tried to appeal to several constituencies on his many LPs, and the Christmas market was not neglected. Indeed, for a while he was on a regular schedule -- this 17-track compilation includes selections from seasonal albums cut by Brown in 1966, 1968, and 1970. Good Christmas rock and soul is somewhat of an oxymoron, but if you want some, you're better off with this than most anything else. The songs usually boast the funk-driven arrangements that were typical of his prime work, and Brown's performances are satisfyingly committed. That's not to say the material itself is on par with his best classics; it isn't. In fact, it's rather variable -- "Go Power at Christmas Time" is a hot slice of 1970 James Brown funk, but some of the poppy cuts with strings are a bit weak and forgettable. All power to Brown, though, for investing the holiday season with a smidgen of social consciousness on "Santa Claus Go Straight to the Ghetto." ~ Richie Unterberger
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Soul - Released January 1, 1973 | Universal Records

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Soul - Released January 1, 2010 | Hip-O Select

James Brown continued to record until his death some 30 years down the road -- and even had a sizeable comeback a decade later via “Living in America” -- but the 45s collected on The Singles, Vol. 9: 1973-1975 effectively are the final act of his career: his last burst of innovation, the last time he set the scene. JB was headed out of a rough patch in 1972, a time where he adjusted to his new New York surroundings by ceding significant ground to Fred Wesley, with the end result of the JB’s sounding jazzier than ever. On the singles chronicled on The Singles, Vol. 9, quite a bit of grit goes back into the funk but there’s also a cinematic grandeur derived in no small part from the blaxploitation swagger of “The Payback,” a song written for Hell Up In Harlem in 1973 but pulled from the film when a producer mistakenly believed it wasn’t funky enough. “The Payback” is the masterpiece that anchors this entire era: it’s as down and dirty as anything the stripped-down JB’s cut at the dawn of the ‘70s but it’s as nimble and flowing as their recent jazzified sessions. Echoes of these Hell Up In Harlem sessions are heard throughout these two discs -- “Papa Don’t Take No Mess” is an outtake that turned into a number one R&B single in ‘74 -- but even before the JB’s knocked out this masterpiece they had gotten into this groove, knocking out the mesmerizing “Same Beat” (released under Fred Wesley & The JB’s) and they extended it to 1974’s “Funky President,” powered by the drumbeat that would later fuel dozens of hip-hop records. Prior to “The Payback,” James Brown had some fun experimenting -- there’s a snazzy salsa-fied duet on “Let It Be Me” with Lyn Collins (it was backed by an infectious version of Curtis Mayfield’s “It’s All Right”) and another duet with Lyn on the slow, soulful “You Can’t Beat Two People in Love” (both singles were canceled before they saw release) -- but after this flash of greatness, JB hit the wall quickly struggling to come to terms with the rise of disco by re-recording “Sex Machine,” taking young upstarts to task on the sputtering “Dead On It” then diving head-first into disco on 1975’s “Hustle!!! (Dead On It).” The smooth, glitzy surroundings of disco didn’t suit James Brown or the JB’s and pretty soon his trusted band started jumping ship with Wesley leaving in ’75. In the style that now is standard to the series -- excellent annotation by Alan Leeds, terrific sound, handsome packaging -- The Singles, Vol. 9 documents this last gasp of greatness and the sudden fall, with the latter hardly dampening the brilliance of the former even if it does illustrate why Brown would fade into the background in the latter half of the ‘70s. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine
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Jazz - Released January 1, 2007 | GRP

One of the many compilations issued in the wake of James Brown's passing in 2007 is this rather strange and necessary one produced by Alan Leeds and Harry Weinger. There's no irony in the title, and it's only a little misleading. Brown loved all kinds of music throughout his lifetime and made no secret of it. This set compiles 12 cuts, all of which Brown originally produced, that accent the jazzier -- and sometimes near all-out jazz (though everything on this baby has more than a little soul grit mixed in) -- side of the Godfather. The coolest thing about this set is that it contains numerous unreleased alternate mixes, extended versions, single edits, and literally unreleased versions and tunes that span from standards and soul-jazz cuts to '70s-era pop tunes. Ranging from 1964's reading of the Adderley Brothers' "Tengo Tango" (never before issued in any form) to a 1970s alternate mix of "For Once in My Life," this is perhaps among the most ambitious of Brown recordings to be released in quite some time. Released gems here include Brown on a killer B-3 take of Jimmy McGriff's "All About My Girl" in 1966 and his version of Joe Zawinul's "Why (Am I Treated So Bad)" from 1967. In between, there are hip mixes of standards like "Cottage for Sale" and "That's My Desire." The sequencing here is not stale either, since it's not chronological. In fact, since it bookends in the year 1970, with the 1960s material sandwiched between, it's rather wonderful aesthetically. Recommended. ~ Thom Jurek
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Soul - Released August 8, 1971 | Universal Records

Brown left the King label after 12 successful, if not always peaceful, years. Hot Pants marks his first effort for Polydor, a bigger outfit that was able to give him a larger budget, better presentation, and, most importantly, artistic freedom. The original set of the J.B.'s with Bootsy Collins had dissolved, and Brown and his newer band had only been together for a few months. Although the original J.B.'s were more rock-based and fiery, Hot Pants proves that the re-formed band was more easily shaped. It was at this point that trombonist Fred Wesley became the bandleader and the band became even more efficient than the earlier group. The leisurely "Blues and Pants" has a great bass pattern from Fred Thomas and Wesley's sly horn charts. "Can't Stand It" is a busier take on the 1968 hit "I Can't Stand Myself." The most recognizable track is the title song, though the version heard here is less potent than the complete take released later. While that might be cause for alarm for some, it is truly instructive. This album features four tracks and is basically Brown getting acquainted with his new band, but the camaraderie makes it worth listening to. ~ Jason Elias
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Soul - Released January 1, 1974 | Universal Records

By this point Brown's insane schedule was catching up to him. He seemingly had singles or albums coming out on a weekly basis, and Reality finds him at an artistic impasse. Released in late 1974, Reality was one of the few of his '70s albums recorded entirely in N.Y., with and without the J.B.'s. The title track has him complaining about something or another with the background singers goading him on with, "The Godfather, sing it James Brown." The best thing about the song is David Sanborn's sax solo near the fade. "Funky President is one of Brown's most underrated songs and manages to hit the lyrical messages. "All for One" misses by a mile. In retrospect it was foolish to except a "fun" album from Brown during this time. He seemed to view America as a doomed nation, and considered the gas shortage, Watergate, and unemployment lines as signs of the coming apocalypse. A hint of sadness and ennui cloaks over the album. "The Twist" (his own song, not Chubby Checker's), is a lightweight funk offering and a red flag that he was hitting a serious writer's block. Other signs of desperation were apparent as well, like his cutesy cover of the always hideous "Don't Fence Me In" or "Who Can I Turn To," with Brown's final whines on the song akin to fingernails screeching a chalkboard. Including some sped-up dance tracks and his worst ballads on record, Reality was proof that Brown could indeed turn in an album that was a real downer. ~ Jason Elias
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R&B - Released January 1, 1990 | Polydor

Although he is most famous for his innovations in soul and funk music, James Brown never lost sight of his blues and R&B roots. His albums often placed surprisingly rootsy covers of old chestnuts alongside his groundbreaking polyrhythmic workouts. This double CD compiles 30 of the bluesiest items from his vast recorded legacy. Cut between 1957 and 1985, most of the tracks actually date from the '60s; many of these, in turn, were laid down in the early part of the decade, when J.B. was gradually evolving from his more conventional beginnings. The artists whose songs are covered here read like a who's who of R&B pioneers: Louis Jordan, Roy Brown, Memphis Slim, Ivory Joe Hunter, Fats Domino, Chuck Willis, Little Willie John, Billy Ward, Guitar Slim, and Bobby Bland. It's quite an instructive insight into Brown's not-always-visible roots. It would be fair to say that this does not rank among his most exciting material, finding him in a smoother and more conventional style than his most innovative work. It is nonetheless always entertaining and accomplished, with Brown's love for this material shining through strongly in his committed interpretations. Especially intriguing are an 11-minute cover of Chuck Willis' "Don't Deceive Me" and a two-part, blues-based rap vamp from the early '70s, "Like It Is, Like It Was (The Blues)." The disc includes several unreleased cuts, alternate takes, and unedited versions of previously released songs. ~ Richie Unterberger
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Soul - Released January 1, 2010 | Memo Tutti Frutti