Maceo Parker was one of the most revered and loved members of James Brown's famed J.B.'s band from the late '60s to the mid-1970s. Alongside his instantly-recognizable alto saxophone solos in James Brown’s Band, he occasionally performed as a comedian before James Brown shows, in addition to playing MC. He was a true renaissance man.
And while other members of The Godfather of Soul's inner circle - most notably trombonist Fred Wesley - had solo albums at the advent of Brown's People Records, Maceo had to wait his turn for a couple years. By the time 1974 rolled around, this talented musician and personality could not be denied, and he burst onto the scene as a group leader with one of the most impressive albums in the People catalog: the simply titled, but deeply felt, Us.
Maceo's group (occasionally called The Macks) and Fred Wesley's J.B.'s were essentially the same unit - including guitarists Jimmy Nolen and Hearlon "Cheese" Martin, drummer John "Jabo" Starks, saxophonist St. Clair Pinckney and of course Fred Wesley on trombone. Unsurprisingly, the material here is never-endingly funky. But as shown in the song selection (presumably by Parker, with heavy-handy assistance from the Godfather himself), there are as many ballads and soul groovers as there are straight-up funk workouts.
Cases in point include the mellow, Gamble & Huff-penned "Drowning In The Sea Of Love" (with organ, most likely played by James Brown, slithering in the background) and the syrupy "Show and Tell." The album's closer is also on the slower side, going very deep and striking a chord, as Maceo and Brown talk about conditions in the Black American landscape of the day over the course of 10-plus minutes.
And there is, of course, plenty of diesel funk here as well: singles like "Soul Power 74" and "Parrty" are downright nasty grooves, known well by James Brown fans old and new. "Soul Power 74" additionally features very early proto-sampling, with a baby's cry as well as Martin Luther King Jr.'s famous "I Have Been To The Mountain Top" speech. And Maceo's take on the J.B.'s classic "Doing It To Death" is a unique version, more muted and of course featuring Maceo's gorgeous horn front and center.
1) Soul Power
3) Show And Tell
4) Drowning In The Sea Of Love
5) I Can Play (For Just You And Me)
6) Doing It To Death
7) The Soul Of A Black Man