Thursday, May 13, 2010
Del Jones' Positive Vibes - Court Is Closed (Hikeka, 1973)
Best known for his writings and activism, Del Jones (1946-2006) often used the title "War Correspondent" to describe himself. Viewing the world as a battleground of an ongoing racial and cultural war in which whites have systematically oppressed and stolen from blacks and other groups, he produced a provocative body of written work including books such as Culture Bandits, The Black Holocaust: Global Genocide, and The Invasion of the Body Snatchers: Hi-Tech Barbarians. His recurring theme in these dissertations is that essentially everything came from Africa and that whites and other races stole and took credit for these innovations. Supporter of multi-culturalism that I consider myself to be, I can be sympathetic to his views up to a point. There is no doubt that certain whites have done terrible things to certain people of African descent. But to blame one race for every evil and to claim that another single-handedly invented every aspect of civilization as we know it before allegedly having it ripped off doesn't really help anyone in the long run. It just perpetuates resentment and hatred. But what do I know? I'm just some middle-class white guy who grew up in the suburbs. Be that as it may, I don't have to agree with one's politics in order to appreciate and admire their art.
And such is the case with the Del Jones' Positive Vibes LP Court Is Closed. A true cri de couer from the black ghetto of Philadelphia, this album will set you back a ton of money if you can ever get your hands on an original copy. I'm content to have this reissue that Jones himself put out a few years before his death. Fortunately, the performances on this record don't veer into "kill whitey" territory (at least not overtly) and instead focus more on the injustices and horrors of a system that have prevented many blacks from achieving the American Dream. Side one includes two tracks, "Court Is Closed" and "Times Are Hard, Friends Are Few," that are basically spoken word pieces in which Jones launches into his raps (although not anything like rap of the modern-day variety) about the oppression faced by his people. On "Inside Black America," the author sings lyrics (actually fairly credibly) that try to convey the challenges of being an African American. Regrettably, it sounds like the least inspired performance on this LP. Side two, however, really delivers the goods. Although "Prelude ta Hell," "Needle 'n Spoon," and "Cold Turkey" make up a three-part anti-drug suite, it still doesn't prevent them from collectively being one of the most mind-blowing pieces of black psychedelia committed to wax. Seriously, this is some heavy shit, man. Although Jones' range is somewhat limited, he sings his heart out on these tracks, with the uncredited band providing extremely suitable accompaniment throughout the proceedings. It's a shame that the personnel are unlisted even though there are numerous photos of the musicians on the back of the album jacket. The two guitarists alternately lay down wicked wah-wah rhythms or searing leads on all of the performances, while the rhythm section, flautist, and occasional horn players supply just the right amount of musical support. Overall, I would say that this album is stylistically somewhere between Funkadelic and Gil Scott-Heron, which is a really good place to be in my book.
1. Court Is Closed
2. Inside Black America
3. Times Are Hard, Friends Are Few
4. Prelude ta Hell
5. Needle n' Spoon
6. Cold Turkey