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R&B - Released January 1, 1973 | Polydor

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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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R&B - 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 /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, 1973 | Polydor

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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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R&B - Released January 1, 1961 | Polydor

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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, 1966 | Polydor

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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, 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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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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Soul - Released January 1, 1991 | Polydor

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Soul - Released October 25, 2019 | Polydor

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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 /TiVo
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Soul - Released January 1, 1991 | Polydor

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R&B - Released May 1, 1963 | Universal Records

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Film Soundtracks - Released July 29, 2014 | Polydor

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James Brown was arguably the most important African-American artist of his generation, a musician whose work helped define his time and place while creating a sound that was his and his alone. Brown's sharp, percussive style upended R&B, gave birth to funk, and would provide the blueprint for hip-hop, while echoes of his innovative music could be heard in free jazz, new wave, electronic, and many other musical avenues. If anyone in popular music deserves a big-screen biopic, it's James Brown, and the soundtrack to Get On Up, a feature film based on Brown's life starring Chadwick Boseman as the Godfather of Soul, is a reminder that Brown was a pathbreaker in the studio and a supreme showman on the stage. Opening with the taut groove of 1970's "Get Up (I Feel Like Being A) Sex Machine," this album is dominated by Brown's sinewy, hard funk from the late '60s and '70s, such as the ferocious "Mother Popcorn," the tough but passionate "Cold Sweat," and the ominous "The Payback, Pt. 1," though there are reminders of earlier and more soulful hits like "Please Please Please," "Try Me," and "Caldonia." Along with the familiar studio recordings of several of Brown's biggest hits, Get On Up also folds in a number of vintage live recordings (including a ferocious take of "Night Train" from 1963's justifiably legendary Live at the Apollo), and if the studio was where he hatched the ideas to take his music in new and exciting directions, the stage was where he most effectively put his theories into practice, and the triple-play of 1971 live takes of "Get Up (I Feel Like Being A) Sex Machine," "Super Bad," and "Soul Power" is devastating, especially considering they were performed in real time into open mikes while some of the players were doing dance steps. With the exception of a heavily overdubbed version of "Try Me," most of these tracks appear in versions that are recognizable to fans, and while some of this material may have been tricked up for use onscreen, the bulk of the album sounds like pure James Brown, delivered in potent form. 1991's 20 All-Time Greatest Hits is still the best one-disc overview of Brown's most vital work, and Star Time remains that rare box set that's practically devoid of filler, but if a new generation of music fans is going to be introduced to the Hardest Working Man In Show Business by the movie Get On Up, at least the soundtrack album delivers a satisfying taste of what made him a legend. © Mark Deming /TiVo
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R&B - Released January 1, 2003 | Universal Records

During the mid- and late '80s, after Brown and Polydor parted ways, the label began to reissue his work, some of which had been out of print for close to a decade. Motherlode is one of the finest compilations. Coming a few years after In the Jungle Groove, a compilation effort that culled some of Brown's harder-edged 1969-1971 tracks, this covers 1969-1973 and has the smoothness of a regular release effort. By this point, Motherlode producers Cliff White and Tim Rogers began to know more about Brown's "classic" work than he did and could do compilations where the tracks were all potent. This set starts off with an explosive live take of "There It Is" recorded at the Apollo in 1972. 1969's "She's the One" with his late-'60s orchestra has great guitar work from both Jimmy "Chank" Nolan and Alphonso "Country" Kellum. Since most of the tracks here weren't hits, or were even released, it provides a fresh interpretation of Brown's production style and the skills of his players. "Untitled Instrumental" features Brown's rock and psychedelic-influenced unit, with included guitarist Phelps Collins and his brother, Bootsy Collins, and his singular bass skills. The heart of this CD, however, is "People Drive Your Funky Soul." Originally on Slaughter's Big Rip Off in a too brief 3:50 version, Motherlode brings the entire take to the public for the first time. The track, which manages to subtly cross reggae with bebop, again features Brown with his 1971-1975 band and it exhibits their chemistry and the band's unbelievable versatility. Although Motherlode has been lost in the shuffle due to a plethora of other compilations, this is still illuminating and enjoyable. © Jason Elias /TiVo
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Soul - Released August 16, 1968 | Universal Records

An astonishing record of James and the Flames tearing the roof off the sucker at the mecca of R&B theatres, New York's Apollo. When King Records owner Syd Nathan refused to fund the recording, thinking it commercial folly, Brown single-mindedly proceeded anyway, paying for it out of his own pocket. He had been out on the road night after night for a while, and he knew that the magic that was part and parcel of a James Brown show was something no record had ever caught. Hit follows hit without a pause -- "I'll Go Crazy," "Try Me," "Think," "Please Please Please," "I Don't Mind," "Night Train," and more. The affirmative screams and cries of the audience are something you've never experienced unless you've seen the Brown Revue in a Black theater. If you have, I need not say more; if you haven't, suffice to say that this should be one of the very first records you ever own. © Rob Bowman /TiVo
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R&B - Released November 20, 1972 | Universal Records

In an era when Brown went on to make three studio doubles, Get on the Good Foot was the first. This 1972 album finds Brown having great chemistry with both his newer J.B.'s and the New York session players. The title track is particularly stunning. "Get on the Good Foot" was so off-the-cuff and nonpareil, he couldn't have replicated the formula even if he wanted to. "I Got a Bag of My Own," on the other hand, sounds forced and synthetic. Although Brown was known for his new product, this album has him recycling some of his King singles. Doing so-so remakes of "Cold Sweat" and "Ain't It a Groove" could be taken as an attempt to ease some of his old catalog into his new label. Not surprisingly, Get on the Good Foot does have its share of throwaway cuts. "Recitation by Hank Ballard" is a spoken-word effort with Ballard extolling his buddy's virtues, as well as giving unsolicited advice about the perils of show biz. "Dirty Harri," a lukewarm instrumental, goes nowhere fast for all of its six-plus minutes. Although Get on the Good Foot only managed to yield two hits, the album is one of his more varied and fun efforts. © Jason Elias /TiVo