A fabulous assortment of artists from different areas of the rock genre give a glorifying tribute to Curtis Mayfield in a sparkling 17-song package. Gladys Knight, Stevie Winwood, Lenny Kravitz, Whitney Houston, Bruce Springsteen, Eric Clapton, The Isley Brothers, Aretha Franklin, B.B. King, Phil Collins, Stevie Wonder, Rod Stewart, Elton John, Tevin Campbell, Narada Michael Walden, Repercussions, Branford Marsalis.
Curtis Mayfield hit a stride during the '70s that was unparalleled among R&B/soul performers from an album standpoint. He was writing, producing, arranging, and performing on great album after great album, then distributing them on his own label as well. This one included the big hit "Kung Fu," plus the title song, and once more perfectly blended rigorous message tracks and steamy love songs.
Curtis/Live! is, simply, one of the greatest concert albums ever cut on a soul artist, and one of the legendary live albums of all time. Cut in January of 1971 during four nights at The Bitter End (then Greenwich Village's leading music venue) in New York, the resulting double LP transcended any expectations in both its programming and execution – Mayfield performed numbers off of the Curtis album ("[Don't Worry] If There's a Hell Below We're All Going to Go"), as well as exciting and urgent new versions of songs originally performed by the Impressions ("We're a Winner," "People Get Ready," "Gypsy Woman"), plus a very moving R&B version of "We've Only Just Begun." This is all beautifully stripped-down work by a quintet consisting of Mayfield (vocals, guitar), Craig McMullen (guitar), Tyrone McCullen (drums), "Master" Henry Gibson (percussion), and Joseph "Lucky" Scott (bass) – a solid, intense performance, with quietly elegant guitar playing against a rock-solid rhythm section, as Impressions hits are rethought and reconfigured in a new context, and Mayfield's early solo repertory comes to life in newer, longer live versions.
It's hard to pick a favorite Curtis Mayfield album, and my judgment is surely clouded by the fact that this album was under-celebrated at the time and still often overlooked. But as speaking objectively as I can, this is surely Mayfield at the top of his game. And possibly my favorite album. Clive Anderson's liner notes on this Charly reissue may be a bit pretentious, opening up with a citation from Wordsworth, but they do pretty much nail the album and do it justice. The album is like an extended meditation on the American underclass, and particularly the despair in the Black communities in the mid-70s.
Curtis Mayfield recorded a string of hits with The Impressions before leaving the influential soul-gospel group to embark upon a solo career that began 50 years ago and produced some of his greatest work. Known as the "Gentle Genius," Mayfield has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame twice - first as a member of The Impressions and later as a solo artist.