Bar-Kays ‘As One / Nightcruising / Propositions / Dangerous’ 2CD (Robinsongs) 3/5

There are two distinctive phases in the history of the Bar-Kays and sadly the first was ended in dramatic fashion by the tragic plane clash in 1967 in which the majority of the young group members, along with soul vocalist and legend Otis Redding, lost their lives. This period when they recorded as a separate functioning witnessed the group at Stax records, scoring an R & B hit in ‘Soul Finger’, and then working as the tour backing band to Redding, is not featured here and indeed it predates these 1980 recordings by almost two decades. Furthermore, they are not an alternative ‘Best of’ either from the Mercury label period and, ideally, a 2CD anthology of the second formation of the group from the mid-1970’s and into the 1980’s would have made for a better and more cohesive package, avoiding some of the filler within and including stronger material from the mid-late 1970’s. That said, for long-term fans, or those who already possess the truncated two volumes of their greatest hits in the post-Stax era, then these re-issues will be welcomed and, to this writer’s knowledge, are not readily available on CD, at least in the UK.

The one band survivor of the original band, bassist James Alexander, recreated the band for a new decade, the 1970s, and they very much modeled themselves on the new and highly influential emerging groups such as the Commodores and Earth, Wind and Fire and it is important to stress that the Bar-Kays could produce gentler soulful music when they really wanted to, and had they continued, they might have broken through into a wider acceptance. Beginning with, ‘As One’, from 1980 and going as far as the mid-1980s with ‘Dangerous’, the Bar-Kays by this time were chasing trends rather than making them, and there is a good deal of stylistic repetition within that the likes of the Ohio Players had performed in the mid-1970’s. As for the music on offer here, the Bar-Kays could capture and deliver a strong funk tune when they put their minds to it and, ‘Freakshow On The Dancefloor’, and ‘Sexomatic’, have become enduring song favourites of the group’s devotees. The titles were not exactly thought-provoking, but then that was never the point with funk, with the Bar-Kays scoring a minor hit 45 with ‘Boogie Body Land’.

By 1984, however, the sound of the group was now attempting to catch up with newer instrumentation with synthesized bass/drums and the new sound of electro music, and traditional funk simply sounded no longer relevant at the time. However, thankfully music runs in cycles and a new and more appreciative generation, as well as an older one in the know, were in the mood for some of the old school funk. It is just a pity a wider range of the Bar-Kays music is not showcased here. Extended notes and illustrative photos and labels round off the generous sets of four albums.

Tim Stenhouse