BGO [Release date 18.05.18]
Back in the late 1970s/early 1980s it wasn’t unusual for fusion funk bands to be drummer-led. We might recall Maurice White in Earth, Wind & Fire but then of course, there was Lenny White and Harvey Mason.
Narada Michael Walden is perhaps best known to rock audiences for his work with Mahavishnu Orchestra, replacing Billy Cobham in 1974. Inevitably he would pursue a solo career, starting in 1976 with Garden Of Love which featured Carlos Santana and Jeff Beck with whom he had worked on ‘Wired’ .
Dance Of Life in 1979 was the strongest of his early solo albums and featured the infectious toe-tapper ‘Tonight I’m Alright’. Your intrepid reviewer used this as a staple in his disco-DJ days and it was always guaranteed to be a floor-filler.
Like many of his peers, such as Stanley Clarke, the rock fusion-oriented Walden had to flirt with disco just to keep afloat during this period and of course there would be record company pressures for more commerciality. This approach yielded two minor hits from the 1982 album Confidence.
This two disc compilation brings together the albums he made from 1983-1988. Looking At You, Looking At Me is really mainstream soul/funk with the addition of special guest Angela Bofill on ‘Never Wanna Be Without Your Love’. The standout ballad ‘Black Boy’ is in stark contrast to the rest of the album but a good enough showcase for Walden’s vocals which are featured throughout his work.
During the eighties, Walden was building his reputation as a producer, working with artists such as Stacy Lattisaw, Aretha Franklin (with whom he had the major hit ‘Freeway Of Love’) and Patti Austin who collaborated on Walden’s next solo album, 1985′s The Nature Of Things.
The disco funk vibe continued and he embraced the new technology with heavy use of drum machines and synthesisers. The more rock-inclined track – ‘Live It Up’ – features Ray Gomez on guitar although Walden’s regular guitarist from the late 1970s was the redoubtable Italian Corrado Rustici. He gets to shine on ‘Dancing On Main St.’ (As an aside Rustici formed the band Nova in the late 1970s and on their second album – Vimana – Walden is featured on drums).
Walden was given his “Narada” name by the spiritual guru Sri Chinmoy in the early-1970s and a spirituality permeates his material including the slinky and infectious title track.
The demand for Walden’s production fairy dust (he would work with Whitney Houston and George Benson at this time) helps explain the gap between this and his next solo work – Divine Emotion – released in 1988.
As ever with BGO this is a good value package and there are extensive liner notes including an informative essay by Charles Waring.
Following this release, Walden’s solo work has been spasmodic. He released his most recent album in 2015. However, it’s a back catalogue that can be dipped into on hot summer nights and enjoyed even if redolent of a certain moment in time when disco/fusion held sway in the charts and airwaves. And to help with this exploration, Walden’s earlier albums are also available via BGO. ***
Review by David Randall
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