Music » CD Reviews

Shuggie Otis

Inspiration Information (Luaka Bop)


Since its inception as a vanity label for ex-Talking Head David Byrne, Luaka Bop has served two purposes: On the one hand, it's been a way for Byrne to live vicariously through new artists who make music that's as adventurous as the Heads once were. On the other, Luaka Bop is a great resource for repackaging albums that didn't get their due the first time around, since Byrne often hunts down material for the label's compilations while rummaging through record stores in the southern hemisphere. Luaka Bop's reissues of albums by Brazil's Tom Ze and Os Mutantes were instrumental in reviving the tropicalia movement. With Inspiration Information, a 1974 album by Shuggie Otis, the son of blues great Johnny Otis, Luaka Bop recovers one of the lost treasures of the psychedelic movement of San Francisco in the mid-'70s. Byrne isn't exaggerating when he describes the album as a cross between D'Angelo and DJ Shadow. Otis's soulful falsetto combined with the lush string and horn arrangements (facilitated by executive producer Johnny Otis) has contributed to the way that Information has influenced artists as dissimilar as Stereolab and the Rolling Stones.

Like D'Angelo's Voodoo, Inspiration Information is an album that works equally well as soul, jazz, or R&B. Three years in the making, it's as groovy as anything by Sly Stone and as outlandish as anything by Frank Zappa, with whom Otis recorded before releasing his debut, 1971's Freedom Flight. The album ends inconspicuously enough with four bonus tracks culled from Freedom Flight. "Strawberry Letter 23" is the most essential of them; it became a Top 10 hit for the Brothers Johnson in 1977 and still sounds contemporary. "Freedom Flight," a 12-minute free-jazz workout that begins with a wispy blues guitar that fritters aimlessly until being joined by saxophones and occasional cymbal clashes, is the only disposable song on an otherwise flawless release.

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