Reviewed on this page:
Do It 'Til You're Satisfied - Non-Stop -
Energy To Burn - Function At The Junction - Keep It Up
This Brooklyn dance band was originally the King Davis House Rockers, then the Brooklyn Trucking Express, and finally
B.T. Express. Their first album is the best marriage of funk and early disco I've ever heard, and they cranked out several
chart hits in rapid succession. But they didn't stick to their signature sound, lost their way trying to ride trends, and
fell off the map. Unlike most funk bands of the time, the Express didn't write much of their own material, and were thus more producer-reliant; I should also note that flute/sax player Carlos Ward had an avant-garde jazz background, recording with Rashied Ali and Grachan Moncur III in the early 70s, though you can't hear that influence in his Express work.
History hasn't treated B.T. Express well, and they deserve better. Well, a little better.
Barbara Joyce, vocals; Bill Risbrook, tenor sax, flute; Carlos Ward, alto sax, flute; Louis
Risbrook, bass; Richard Thompson - no, not him - guitar; Dennis Rowe,
percussion; Michael Jones AKA Kashif, keyboards;
Leslie Ming, drums. Joyce left, 1977 or so.
Do It 'Til You're Satisfied (1974)
At this point, the band had a straightforward approach to funk: tightly synchronized bass and guitar, strings and horns in
the background, and loads of percussion ("This House Is Smokin'," with a stellar bass vamp).
Nothing fancy, but it works: the title tune (by Billy Nichols) was one of the best dance tracks of the decade, while the hit "Express" is nearly as memorable. Shifting gears, "Mental Telepathy" is a perfect knockoff
of Norman Whitfield's slow-burning orchestrated funk epics.
Half produced by Jeff Lane - including the two hits - and half by Trade Martin.
Songs were contributed by Martin ("Once You Get It") and Sam Taylor ("Everything Good To You (Ain't Always Good For You)")
with only a couple written by band members (Ward's underwritten, overlong "Do You Like It" - perhaps the disc's only
Continuing on in the same vein, with lush, precise production and some great hooks ("Give It What You Got"),
though a higher failure rate ("You Got It - I Want It" - you can have it).
The lyrics have taken a huge leap into silliness ("Discotizer"; the chanted hit "Peace Pipe" by Taylor and Mark Barken),
which may or may not bother you. There's also a slow cover of Bacharach/David's
"Close To You," but overall the band is more involved with the songwriting:
Ward's "Happiness"; Thompson's "Whatcha Think About That"; Bill Risbrook and Joyce's "Devil's Workshop."
Produced by Lane; arranged by Andrew Smith.
Energy To Burn (1976)
Unfortunately, Lane lost the rough cohesiveness in pursuit of disco slickness ("Can't Stop Groovin' Now, Wanna Do It Some More")
and near-infinite running times (a hokey, oversung version of the Gamble/Huff staple "Now That We've Found Love").
Then there's the endless "inspirational" "Depend On Yourself," with bass and group vocals copied from the Family Stone, and a vapid instrumental ("Herbs").
The one great song is Ward's monstrously funky "Make Your Body Move," and the concluding "Energy Level" is rousing if
overly simple, but there's slim pickings here. I think this was Joyce's last album with the band; she later resurfaced as a solo artist but without striking success.
Function At The Junction (1977)
The last Lane production, and again there's too much production and too little songwriting: the ballads are dreary and unimaginative ("Sunshine"; "Stargazer") while the salacious funk is irritatingly obvious ("Scratch My Itch").
Without Joyce's vocals or any other distinguishing features, you're left with anonymous, unexciting disco-funk.
At least the tracks aren't as long as Energy's, and they're slightly less slick ("Express Yourself").
The opening "Funky Music," with an intriguing lite jazz opening, is the best of a bad lot, and there's one more instrumental ("Eyes").
Produced by Nichols.
B.T. Express 1980 (1980)
Produced by Morrie Brown, but often the arrangements still recall Lane's stripped-down discofied funk ("Give Up The Funk (Let's Dance)," a single).
"Have Some Fun" is an unabashed ripoff of "Got To Be Real"; "Closer" is a Larry Graham-style ballad.
At about this time Louis Risbrook started going by the name Jamal Rasool.
Live (rec. 1980?, rel. 1998)
I'm not sure when this was recorded, but the track list includes material from 1980 and not from Keep It Up. A Collectables Records release, and if it's anywhere near as good as their Brass Construction live record, it's worth hearing.
Keep It Up (1982)
The band didn't take their own advice: this was their last album.
The title track, written by the band and produced by Gregg Diamond associate Brad Baker, is a blast: limber, minimalist funk - with an unstoppable tambourine - that's everything Brass Construction should have been but rarely was.
Everything else, though, is sodden pop-soul mush ("Star Child"; "This Must Be The Night For Love") or lame post-disco ("Let Yourself Go"), as lacking in personality as in melody. Many tracks have half-spoken bass vocals recalling Larry Graham: not sure what that's about.
Read it 'til you're satisfied.