The Singles, Vol. 8: 1972-1973
James Brown moved shop from Cincinnati to New York in 1971, switching from King Records to Polydor, trading the appellation Soul Brother Number One for the Godfather of Soul and shifting his music in the process. Vol. 8 of Hip-O Select's ongoing chronicle of JB's complete singles documents those first two years of his Polydor stint, the time when Polydor pushed for the crossover hit Brown craved while James leaned on arranger David Matthews, who steered JB toward an urban music that was swinging, sophisticated, occasionally melodramatic, and always accommodating toward Fred Wesley's increasing jazz bent. In other words, James Brown ceded gritty funk to young upstarts like Funkadelic, following the path of '60s peers like Curtis Mayfield and Isaac Hayes into blaxploitation, staking ground on Black Caesar and even then leaving most of the work to Wesley, a pretty good indication of Brown's level of concentration in 1972 and 1973. Despite this fresh start, JB's attention wandered and many of the sessions in these years came out under the Fred Wesley & the JB's billing -- and several sides that did show up under Brown's name were instrumentals, or were revived older tracks, as in the case of "I Got Ants in My Pants and Want to Dance." Given the caliber of musicians in the JB's, much of this is enjoyable, but there is a notable dip in quality and consistency, especially when compared to the hotbed of creativity of 1970-1972, when Brown was pushed by Bootsy and Catfish Collins, creating some of his hottest music ever. The JB's of 1972-1973 did cut a few seminal singles -- Wesley rightly calls "Get on the Good Foot" "one of the more perfect recordings we ever did" and there's a cinematic appeal to "King Heroin" -- but it's telling that the real blockbuster of this time is "Doing It to Death," credited to Fred Wesley & the JB's, something that says quite a bit about James' work in this era.