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R&B - Released January 1, 1973 | Universal Records

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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 /TiVo
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Pop - 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 /TiVo
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R&B - Released January 1, 1967 | Polydor

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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 /TiVo
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R&B - Released January 1, 1966 | Polydor

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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 /TiVo
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R&B - Released January 1, 1974 | Polydor

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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 /TiVo
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R&B - Released January 1, 1973 | Polydor

Distinctions The Qobuz Standard
After Isaac Hayes kicked his career into high gear with the popular and influential score for Shaft, and Curtis Mayfield managed the same feat with Superfly, seemingly every major soul star of the early 1970's ended up doing music for a blaxploitation film, and James Brown was certainly no exception. Brown sang the title tune for Larry Cohen's idiosyncratic black crime film Black Caesar, as well as performing ten other pieces for the movie's soundtrack (most written by Brown in collaboration with Fred Wesley); Barry Devorzon's lead-off cut, "Down and Out In New York City", sets up the picture's story, while most of the other five vocal cuts reflect the film's narrative in one way or another (although "Make It Good To Yourself" seems to be here mainly because of it's high funk quotient, and on "Mama Feelgood", Brown appropriately hands the vocal chores over to Lynn Collins). Like most soundtrack albums of the period, Black Caesar sounds rather scattershot, especially when the music is divorced from the film's narrative, and this isn't one of Brown's stellar albums of the 1970's; however, there are several top-notch tracks, especially the much-sampled "The Boss", the potent "Make It Good To Yourself", and the melodramatic "Mama's Dead", and Fred Wesley's superb horn charts, Jimmy Nolen's percussive guitar, and Jabo Starks' dead-on-the-one drumming make even the weaker instrumental cuts worth a quick listen (though just try to imagine a chase scene cut to something with the power of "Mother Popcorn" -- now THAT would be a movie!). © Mark Deming /TiVo
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Soul - Released January 1, 1969 | Verve

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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 /TiVo
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R&B - Released January 1, 1969 | Verve

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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 /TiVo
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R&B - Released January 1, 1969 | Polydor

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It's a Mother is everything its title promises--the individual songs seem like extended passages in one infinite, diamond-hard groove. The organic evolution and spontaneity of the performances suggests they were improvised in the studio, with James Brown barking orders and directing traffic more than he sings, at least in any conventional sense; the band follows his directions with the blind faith and respect of soldiers following a veteran general into battle, time and again summoning even greater intensity to ratchet the music to another level. Not quite yet funk, It's a Mother is nevertheless beyond soul music altogether--another brand new bag to bide the time until the next one comes along. © Jason Ankeny /TiVo
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R&B - Released January 1, 1970 | Polydor

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

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R&B - Released January 1, 1966 | Polydor

Distinctions The Qobuz Standard
Papa may have had a brand new bag, but when King Records wanted an LP to go with James Brown's first pop Top Ten hit, he didn't have a brand-new set of songs to go with it. So this record leads off with both sides of the single, "Part 1" and "Part 2," and then fills up the remaining 25 minutes with previously released tracks, many with a dance theme in keeping with the hit, such as "Mashed Potatoes, U.S.A." and "Doin' the Limbo." The result is a miscellaneous compilation, much of which is set at quick tempos. © William Ruhlmann /TiVo
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R&B - Released January 1, 1976 | Polydor

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Bodyheat is a low-key effort filled with ballads and female backup vocals. "Woman," set to the tune of "It's a Man's Man's Man's World," recasts that song's message. "Got a new kiss," Brown says in the seductive "Kiss in 77," and he also covers "What the World Needs Now Is Love," extending the romantic tone. "James Brown -- A New Sound," reads the album jacket, and in his liner notes, Brown signs himself, "With the feeling of a new beginning...a new sound." The heat, clearly, is supposed to generate a Phoenix-like rebirth for Brown, which it didn't quite succeed in doing, perhaps because the "new sound" turned out to be suspiciously close to that of Earth, Wind & Fire. © William Ruhlmann /TiVo
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R&B - Released January 1, 1968 | Polydor

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R&B - Released January 1, 1976 | Polydor

Distinctions The Qobuz Standard
During the disco era of the late '70s, James Brown didn't have as many major hits as he enjoyed in the 1950s, 1960s, and early '70s. But he was still coming up with some captivating funk grooves, and his late '70s output should not be ignored. Although 1976's Get Up Offa That Thing falls short of essential, it's a focused, rewarding LP that has a lot going for it. The title song, a sweaty funk gem, became a hit, and almost as appealing are "I Refuse to Lose" and "Can't Take It With You." These tracks follow the funk principle that Brown perfected in the 1960s: find an addictive groove and work it to death. Meanwhile, the romantic "You Took My Heart" is closer to smooth northern soul than the type of raw southern-style soul Brown is best known for. And "Home Again" is a 12-bar blues number with jazz leanings; the tune would have been perfect for a Jimmy Witherspoon session. Again, this LP isn't quite essential, but it's easily recommended to seasoned Brown fans. © Alex Henderson /TiVo
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R&B - Released January 1, 1961 | Polydor

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R&B - Released January 1, 1962 | Polydor

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The title's more than a bit disingenuous--Tour the U.S.A. was recorded in the studio, not on the road--but otherwise the music is as straightforward and sincere as one would expect from James Brown. Comprised largely of hard-hitting instrumentals, the album shifts the emphasis away from Brown himself onto backing unit the Famous Flames, and while firmly rooted in the R&B conventions of the era, the music clearly anticipates the era-defining grooves of his premier supporting unit, the JB's. That said, Tour the U.S.A. is like so many of Brown's albums mostly filler--more prelude for what's to come than anything else. © Jason Ankeny /TiVo
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R&B - Released January 1, 1967 | Polydor

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While it boasts neither the landmark status of the two Live at the Apollo LP nor the scope and reach of JB's-era documents like Sex Machine or Love Power Peace, Live at the Garden captures James Brown live, and that's really all the recommendation you need. Recorded at New York City's Madison Square Garden in 1967, the album features Brown & His Famous Flames in peak form, delivering feverish, high-energy grooves almost mathematical in their symmetry and precision. The on-stage intensity is directly proportional to the audience frenzy, building to the kind of catharsis only Brown could achieve. © Jason Ankeny /TiVo
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Soul - Released January 1, 1991 | Polydor

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Soul - Released October 25, 2019 | Polydor

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Live at Home with His Bad Self is the first-ever release of the complete homecoming concert James Brown held at Augusta, Georgia's Bell Auditorium on October 1, 1969. The performance was intended as a live album for that holiday season, but those plans were scrapped once his band walked out on him. Roughly a year later, the Sex Machine double album arrived bearing some of the recordings from this concert. The full show didn't materialize until 2019, when the album was released for its would-be 50th anniversary. Considering how so many members of Brown's band left in the months that followed, the concert turned out to be as valedictory as it was victorious; this was the last time Fred Wesley, Maceo Parker, Jimmy Nolen, Sweet Charles Sherrell, and Clyde Stubblefield shared the stage with Soul Brother Number One. The great thing about Live at Home with His Bad Self is that it carries no air of being a major statement: Brown simply whipped the group into shape to deliver a show that he could be proud to deliver to a hometown crowd. The performance contains a few period oddities -- the J.B.'s jamming to Blood Sweat & Tears' "Spinning Wheel" fares a little bit better than James crooning through the show tune "If I Ruled the World," and both are better than Brown performing to a pre-recorded track for "World" -- but complaining about these cuts amounts to nitpicking. Every cut, including the old-fashioned numbers, finds James Brown and the J.B.'s in prime shape, tearing through their hits and extending "There Was a Time," "Lowdown Popcorn," and "Mother Popcorn" to the point that they're about to burst. As a sheer performance, it's giddy and intoxicating, but it's also a useful document of one of Brown's best bands at their live peak. © Stephen Thomas Erlewine /TiVo