Album Review // Shining On by Ron Littlejohn & the Funk Embassy
By Kevin Tshiamala
Remember those days when people had thick six inch heels, bell bottoms, leisure suits, afro sheen, and soul. You always stopped by homeboy’s on the way out to get your sugar; cruising down the eerie streets – Palmer Ave, onto Chene St, to the Raven Lounge. Back then, on Saturdays, As George Clinton stated, you were ready to, “put a glide in your stride, a dip in yo hip and come on up to the mothership.” That was back in the day, “Things Done Changed,” but don’t tell that to Ron Littlejohn & the Funk Embassy. Their new album Shining On although released in October of 2013, brings you back to those dark rooms, cloudy with smoke, filled with heavy brass sounds, yazz flute, bold bass, pentatonic scales, a tree line of Afros bopping up and down, people dancing, forgetting their blues and enriching their souls.
The members of Ron Littlejohn & the Funk Embassy have years of culture, talent, and experience which is a testament as to why their collaborative effort is so powerful, and if I may say so, very much necessary in the present day music scene. There are many moving parts of the band, but the main components consist of Ron LittleJohn (songwriter, singer), Thierry Matrat (songwriter, keyboards), Oliver Babas (bass), Kevin Turcotte, and Alana Bridgewater. Individually they have played with greats such as James Brown, Maceo Parker, Warren G, The Roots, Tito Puente, Bill Grove, and many more – to that quick list, a golf clap and a tip of the hat.
The album Shining On is made up of 8 funk and soul infused tracks. “Shining On” starts off hitting very close to home. Its message is true, powerful and universal. Its delivery is on point. The title track is as minimal of a funk song as I have heard, carried by rhythm and blues with a touch of soul. As Ron states, “When I was about to become a father, some friends actually became resentful at the idea of me having new priorities. This hurt me like a bitch. I wrote this song to my unborn daughter trying to tell her no matter how mean the bastards get, keep on shining.” “Seems like Yesterday,” “Light me Up,” “Soul Devotion,” and “Cream #9” are the funky middle jams of the album with good lyrics, heavy keys, horns, harmonies, guitar and of course bass. These songs though, like an average mid section, are too flabby and a bit mediocre, but still pass the test.
The problem with starting an album with an absolute hit is that it doesn’t nearly get as good as “Shining On” until “A Day in San Francisco.” The Jazz flute drives the song, the rhythm is smooth and off, the lyrics, the harmonies, the WAH guitar, and the spoken word, make for one bad… Shining On finishes with a soulful tune titled “Emma Lee.”
If you do not remember those days, or like me, were not alive to witness those great funk legends, venues and lifestyle, don’t fret. Groups like Ron Littlejohn & the Funk Embassy will never forget, and their music will always be filled with cloudy smoke, afro sheen, blues, bell bottoms, bold sound, and soul. As evidenced by this album, Shining On, their music will always be Funk.
For more information on Ron Littlejohn & the Funk Embassy please visit their official website: http://www.funkembassy.com/
For streaming capabilities and social media please visit: https://funkembassy.bandcamp.com/, https://soundcloud.com/funk-embassy, https://www.facebook.com/pages/Funk-Embassy/401250316254