Reviewed on this page:
Get Down With The Philly Jump - That's Life - Instant Funk - Witch Doctor - Something That You Do To Me - The Funk Is On - Looks So Fine - Kinky
Certainly the funkiest of the 70s Philly acts, putting serious bass underneath The Sound Of Philadelphia's trademark smoothness. Though initially led by writer/producer T. Life - who had success producing Evelyn "Champagne" King among others - the group scored its big hit "Got My Mind Made Up (You Can Get It Girl)" right after he left, and they spent the next few years trying to recapture that magic.
Apart from their own LPs, Instant Funk also functioned as Philadelphia International's "B-Team" house band, backing up artists on sessions MSFB couldn't make, or that were produced by Bunny Sigler.
Kim Miller, guitar; Scotty Miller, drums; Raymond Earl, bass; James Carmichael, vocals;
Dennis Richardson, keyboards; Charles Williams, percussion; Johnny Onderline, sax; Larry
Davis, trumpet; Eric Huff, trombone. Carmichael, Onderline, Davis and Huff left by 1983; Elijah "EJ" Jones
Get Down With The Philly Jump (1976)
The title track (by T. Life) is a wonderful, propulsive riff tune, well worth searching out the album for. The rest of the disc is nowhere near that level, but it's pleasant, especially when they stick to funk ("Give Me Your Love"; "The Mack Is Back"). They show taste and versatility, stretching from the ballad "So Glad I'm The One" to the Mandrill-like "Funky Africa" (with flute opposite distorted guitar) without being tacky or contrived. But many of the tunes are slight ("Go For Yourself"; "It Ain't Reggae (But It's Funky)").
For some reason, this didn't hit, and the group spent a few years without a record deal.
In 1977 the band appeared on Evelyn "Champagne" King's Smooth Talk.
That's Life (T. Life: 1978)
T. Life went solo around this time, and vocally he's a graduate of the Sugarfoot/Walter "Clyde" Orange school of yowling ("Shortchanged") though not as distinctive. It gets better: musically the album is very close to Smooth Talk, as the dance tunes are lush ("Tell Me," power disco-funk along the lines of "You And I") while the ballads ("I Found My Way," featuring Instant Funk) have a kick to them. Best of all, everything's tuneful ("Mr. Big Spender") and memorable (title track). Life even pulls off a nice Smokey Robinson impersonation on "Another Story," a mellow love song with a reggae beat.
In 1978, Life also worked on Phyllis Hyman's Somewhere In My Lifetime.
Instant Funk (1979)
Produced by Bunny Sigler, and he stays close to T. Life's Philly/Salsoul blend
of lush, smooth orchestration and funky rhythms.
The single "Got My Mind Made Up (You Can Get It Girl)" is the band's best known song, and deservedly so: it's a brilliant
shot of uptempo disco-flavored funk, and "Don't You Wanna Party" (with a bizarre "jungle gym" refrain) is just about as
Sigler and the band also pull off some ballads ("Crying"; "Never Let It Go Away").
There are problems, though: "Darth Vader" is silly, and the "Zanzibar"-like "Wide World Of
Sports" never quite gets going.
Witch Doctor (1979)
Seems like they were trying a little too hard to ride trends here: the opening "Slap Slap Lickedy Lap" has a vocal chant recalling "Got My Mind Made Up" and a rhythm guitar line lifted from Kool and the Gang. "Bodyshine" is a duller take on the same subject (and an even more similar chant). The love songs are also a step down from previous releases ("I Had A Dream"; "It's Your Love On My Mind"), so the only find is the title track.
Something That You Do To Me (T. Life: 1980)
This time Life stopped singing like Sugarfoot and instead copied the annoying nasal, mock Brit stylings of Larry Blackmon ("For Your Love," not the Yardbirds hit; "Don't Let This Be The Last Time"). I could live with that if the tunes were top-notch, but instead they range from decent if obvious ("Smoking"; "Let Him Go," with groovy chorused bass) to dull and obvious ("I Can't Stop Dancing"; the endless title track).
The arrangements are much starker and out front, which makes the tunes sound more perfunctory than they actually are ("Don't Wanna Be Lonely," a ballad).
This same year, Life produced an LP for Thomas Bucknasty called Blast-O-Funk. (DBW)
The Funk Is On (1980)
As with "Got My Mind Made Up," the best thing about the group is the relaxed yet propulsive funk bass of Raymond Earl
("It's Cool"; Scotty Miller and Earl's "You Want My Love"). And the loose good-time vibe makes the record enjoyable even
when it's thin ("Funk-N-Roll," with overdone gag yodelling).
But the writing is weak: "Everybody" is a shameless copy of "One Nation Under A Groove,"
and the ballad "What Can I Do For You" relies on the falsetto group backing vocals that Earth, Wind &
Fire were able to make work, but just sound precious on everyone else.
The title track is by Randy Muller, his usual no-frills funk groove.
Produced by Sigler.
Looks So Fine (1981)
By now the band was starting to incorporate Gap Band-style electronics, which has the unfortunate effect of pushing Earl's bass to the sidelines ("Gotta Like That"). Proving the point, the album's one certified terrific cut is the one with a tight Earl bass line prominently on display ("Why Don't You Think About It"). The love song "Jumpin' To Conclusion" isn't one of their worst, but sure isn't one of their best... Ultimately, what's disappointing about the record isn't the quality of the weak tunes, which they were always prone to, it's that they've lost the easygoing natural vibe that made them Instant Funk in the first place.
Instant Funk V (1982)
More electrofunk ("Who Took Away The Funk," a P-Funk soundalike by Roy Carter), mostly.
Only "Blazin'" (Kim Miller) and "No Stoppin' That Rockin'" (Dennis Richardson) are by band members; two songs come from Sigler ("You're Gonna Get Yours," a ripoff of one-hit wonder Robbie DuPree's "Steal Away") and two more from Richie Weeks ("I'll Be Good To You").
And then there's the revved-up but vacant cover of "A Hard Day's Night."
So generally weak, but there's one wonderful slow jam (Sigler's "Smack Dab In The Middle," with loose, moving harmony vocals) which almost makes the whole thing worthwhile.
Jocelyn Brown is one of the background vocalists.
Produced by Sigler; "A Tom Moulton Mix."
Continuing in the same Rick James-inspired electro-funk direction that doesn't
really pay off ("Keep It Up"). They make a further attempt to ride trends with a Melle Mel-derived
rap from Donald Lamons on "Don't Call Me Brother." Two songs are from the suspect pen of Leon
Ware: "Passion" (which at least has nice group vocals on the chorus) and the title track, a "Superfreak" knockoff.
The strategy succeeds only on "Funkiest Party In The World," which is an overstatement,
but it is an enviable blend of early hip hop beats, vocal chant and funk bass line.
Then there are two forgettable love songs by Sigler, "Let's Make Love" and "Tonight We're Gonna Make Love."
As far as I can tell, this was the group's last LP.
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