Graham Central Station ‘Now Do U Wanta Dance’ / ‘My Radio Sounds Good to Me’ / ‘Star Walk’ 2CD (Soul Music) 3/5

Heavily influenced by the music of Sly and the Family Stone when for a brief period funk and rock seemingly met in perfect harmony as did the existence of a truly multi-racial band, Graham Central Station was created by bassist Larry Graham in 1974 and made a self-tilted debut for Warner that year. This latest collection of three albums on two CDs takes the story that little bit further to 1977 when funk was facing a major challenge to its throne with disco in the ascendency.
The first album is notable for two covers that demonstrated Graham’s ability to ire-interpret and indeed stretch out a famous original. Attempting Al Green’s anthemic opus, ‘Love and happiness’, was no easy task, but the bassline is a whole lot funkier and the music grittier than the lushness and warmth of the textured original. A fine alternative reading, then. Equally, Bobby Bland had cut, ‘Lead me on’ as a southern soul-blues number, but Graham sought to create a more laid back version with hammond organ incorporated. Both covers were minor hits. Where Graham really got himself caught in a musical spider’s web is with a track such as, ‘Earthquake’. There was certainly no doubting the virtuosity of the bass playing, or of the instrumentation in general, but something was simply being lost in the musicality with far too great an emphasis on rock-tinged guitar.

A 1978 produced album by jazz veteran Benny Golson provided a new path for Graham with, ‘Is it love?’, a ballad with a guitar intro straight out of the Isley Brothers repertoire and this again scored minor chart success. However, even here, the non-distinctive pop-rock of ‘Have faith in me’ was simply out of tune with the times. On the other hand. ‘Saving my love for you’ could just as easily be an early Prince song and it is clear that Prince was influenced by the high falsetto harmonies on evidence here and these are reminiscent of the early 1980s work of the sadly departed Purple One. In fact, even some of the titles come across as Prince-like, with ‘Now-do-u-wanna dance?’ a perfect illustration.

By 1979, Graham was clearly struggling to re-invent himself and a new album, ‘Star walk’, was co-produced by the Philly International musicians Bobby Martin and Ron Kersey. From this the disco hit, ‘(You’re a) foxy lady’, was a short-term solution, but both disco and Graham could not survive on this alone. As a whole, funk-rock was already in the mid-late 1970s starting to sound dated and adding disco into the equation (the very last Parliament album being a prime example) was a hazardous enterprise at the best of times. While this offering represents value for money in terms of time, the music itself does not represent either Larry Graham, or his band at their best. The voice in particular sounds warbled in places, though Graham was clearly making progress and would have the last laugh when he scored a major soul and pop hit with the 1980 love ballad, ‘One in a million you’.

Tim Stenhouse