For the uninitiated, Joseph ‘Amp’ Fiddler is a bit of a Detroit legend. After studying jazz in his younger years, Amp began working with local soul group Enchantment before joining George Clinton’s P-Funk All Stars in the 1980s on tour and later in the studio. During this time he was also actively working with a variety of other notable artists including Prince (on ‘Graffiti Bridge’), Seal and Was Not Was. But Amp has also never been afraid to work with underground artists and producers, especially Detroit’s electronic pioneers Moodyman, Theo Parrish and he was also part of the excellent Detroit Experiment project in the mid 2000s.
And it was in 2003 that Amp released ‘Waltz of a Ghetto Fly’, not his debut album, but the record that put him into the consciousness of many DJs and music fans especially in the UK, where the toured extensively during this period. Amp’s Detroit mix of funk, soul and hip hop grooves, with contributions from J Dilla, Raphael Saadiq and John Arnold struck a chord with music listeners, and is probably seen as the pinnacle of his solo material, with the album being one my favourites of that decade.
But Amp has continued to release music since this zenith and it’s here that we have his new album, ‘Motor City Booty’, released on Midnight Riot records, owned by UK remix and production team Yam Who? This 11-track set features a blend of styles and sounds, from 80s boogie references, 1960s soul shuffles, soulful house grooves and modern funk licks – so a very mixed bag, with production duties held entirely by Yam Who?
So covering the album, and ‘Return of the Ghetto Fly’ (using similar chords to Sade’s ‘Nothing Can Come Between Us’) with its boogie bassline and warm guitar riffs was a highlight and a nice follow-up to the track that gave him so much attention in 2003. ‘Superficial’ is a remake of a track with the same name also from the ‘Waltz of a Ghetto Fly’ album, so a little bit of a strange choice, but enjoyable nonetheless. ‘Stepping’ and ‘Your Love Is All I Need’ will both very much appeal to the soulful house crew and will do well on Trax Source and Beatport. And ‘I Got It’ returns to boogie flavourings with its rich Moog-type bass, electric pianos and catchy chorus hook.
Not as successful is ‘Soul Fly, Pt. 1’, the 1960s Detroit soul return, but the featured vocal trio Dames Brown are charming, but sonically it lacked authenticity. And the ‘1960 What?’ remake, Gregory Porter’s monster hit did not work with its static four-on-the-floor drums sounding old fashioned and static.
I feel that generally the production on ‘Motor City Booth’ is not poor, but a bit stiff, a little straight. It needed greater use of bridges; more musical changes and a bit more of that rugged but smooth Detroit-ness – more Motor City (Booty). I would have loved a track produced by Moodyman, a loop by Theo, maybe Amp over an old J Dilla beat like he did with ‘Unconditional Eyes’ and ‘Waltz of a Ghetto Fly’, a co-lab with Andrés, and so on. It’s not to say that Yam Who? are not great producers as I have loads of their re-edits, remixes and productions, but Amp sounded confined at times, a little boxed in, but his performances and playing, both on vocals and keys, are always impeccable – but the music around him stunted his expressiveness.
Amp Fiddler is a unique artist in that he bridges the gap between the old and the new. Amp was mentored by George Clinton, and in-turn he mentored J Dilla. He’s been a solid contributor to most members of the Detroit electronic music fraternity over the last few decades, but he still makes great music himself. I was luckily enough to talk to him once after a gig and chat about Dilla (he was still alive then), George Clinton (he’s part of George’s current touring band) and Enchantment and he was such a cool guy. And I feel he still has another classic album in him, but he was let down a little production-wise here on ‘Motor City Booty’.