The songs Curtis Mayfield recorded with the Impressions were great, there’s nothing bad to be said about them, but his solo work greatly overshadows his music with them, it’s got much more drive and passion. It’s raw yet it’s soft. Bold yet calm. I wanted to take some time in this article to try and portray what Curtis’ creative style might have sounded like in the first few years of his time as a solo artist.
Curtis started his musical career by singing in the gospel choir, and was soon to meet Jerry Butler at the age of 14, forming the first iteration of the Impressions. He stayed with them for 14 years, writing songs such as “People Get Ready”, which were already showing the more political side to his songwriting.
Upon leaving the band in search of a solo career, Curtis was set to release a number of albums, such as “Curtis”, “Roots”, and most importantly, “Curtis/Live!”, an album sporting a mix of original numbers and songs which he’d brought over from his time with the Impressions.
The album was recorded in January of 1971, and released in May of the same year. At a time of great political disruption, you can hear his thoughts in some of the ‘raps’ that he performs throughout the LP (I’ll leave that for you to discover, highly recommended).
It received some pretty crappy reviews from Springsteen’s long-time producer, Jon Landau, but would go on to gain retrospective acclaim from many sources, with Allmusic’s Bruce Eder dubbing it “one of the greatest concert albums ever cut on a soul artist, and one of the legendary live albums of all time".
My thoughts? It’s a masterpiece. There’s only a few albums which my brain refuses to get bored of, and this is one of them. Everything from the beautiful soft guitar work and vocals in “The Makings of You” to the headphone destroying sound issues that are dotted throughout the album gets me excited.
There’s something about “Curtis/Live!” that reveals an authentic side to an
artist which has produced such stellar, perfect records in the past. In my eyes, it’s an ode to Curtis, his great work ethic and the dedication that Paul Colby must’ve seen to justify inviting a new solo artist to the Bitter End.
If you get the chance today, sit through the whole thing and listen through till about Rap #4. That’s the authentic experience. That’s where I wanna be when I die.
If you want to have a listen, you can find it on Spotify here.
And you can find a Curated Mix with similar artists here.
Enjoy the noise.