Reviewed on this page:
Mother's Finest (1973) - Mother's Finest (1976) - Another Mother Further - Mother Factor - Live - Iron Age -
One Mother To Another - Lookin' For Trouble - Wanna Play Your Game - Looks Could Kill - Subluxation - Black Radio Won't Play This Record - Meta-Funk'n-Physical
A post-Sly race- and gender-integrated funk-rock band, Mother's Finest is stylistically somewhere between Rufus and Funkadelic, though they never achieved anywhere near the cultural impact of either.
To a certain extent, Mother's Finest fell into the "Apartheid-Oriented Radio" trap, in which any African-American rocker between Jimi Hendrix and Vernon Reid - leaving Prince out of the discussion for now - was unable to get mainstream media attention. So despite touring success (including an opening stint for The Who) and decent sales for their first two CBS albums, they veered into radio-ready R&B in 1978 and seemed unsteady about their direction for the next decade or two before refocusing on hard rock. They've kept the band together, more or less, and their 2003 record is among their best yet.
It's not exactly unfair that fellow outcasts Funkadelic have achieved latter-day veneration as psychedelic funk/rock pioneers while the Finest haven't - Funkadelic was far more innovative, unpredictable and influential, plus they flat-out wrote better songs - but taken on their own terms Mother's Finest has pleasures to offer.
Lead vocals are traded between Joyce Kennedy (who recalls Tina Turner's mix of roughness and control) and Glenn Murdock, original rhythm section "Wyzard" and "B.B. Queen" kept an enviable pocket, and the band has written most of its own material.
Joyce "Baby Jean" Kennedy and Glenn Murdock, vocals; Gary "Moses Mo" Moore, guitar; Jerry "Wizzard" Seay, bass; Mike Keck, keyboards; Barry "B.B. Queen" Borden, drums. Disbanded, circa 1983. Lineup by 1992 was Kennedy, Murdock and Seay plus John Hayes, guitar; Ace Baker (keys), Dion Derek, drums. By 2004, Moore had returned to replace Hayes, Kerry Denton had replaced Derek, and Johnetta "JJ" Johnson had joined on backing vocals.
Mother's Finest (1973)
The band's debut on RCA; this didn't chart after, the band says, record company-imposed instrumental "sweetening" was added to the raw tracks.
Indeed, the band is in the same slightly cheesy, "too loose for pop, not gritty enough for R&B or rock" netherworld as, say, The Gap Band's 1974 debut, or even Leo Sayer.
Songs include "You Move Me" (later recorded by Aretha Franklin) and remakes of "Feelin' Alright" and "Love The One You're With" (also covered by Rufus and the Isley Brothers). Instrumentation includes lots of organ - if the only thing you know about two early 70s acts is that one used organ and the other clavinet, go with the clavinet - and some vaguely churchy piano ("Sweeten The Air You Breathe") while the lyrics are mostly hippie well-wishing and bad puns ("You'll Like It Hear").
If that seems a bit dated for 1973, well, it was: songs like "You Make Me Feel So Good" sound like Rotary Connection circa 1968.
But they do hit on a couple of steady grooves ("You'll Like It Hear") and the rhythm section holds up their end even when everyone else doesn't ("Dear Sir And Brother Mann").
Mother's Finest (1976)
The band relaunched on CBS. The opening "Fire" (not the Ohio Players tune) sets the tone: Kennedy's incantatory vocals soar above the arena rock riffing. Her vocals similarly lift the midtempo ballad "Dontcha Wanna Love Me," and the band shows a knack for subtly shepherding unsubtle grooves ("Fly With Me (Feel The Love)").
Elsewhere, though, they sound just like any other MOR 70s rock act ("Give You All The Love (Inside Of Me)"), which may have been the point at the time but thirty years down the road isn't particularly appealing. Gary Moore (no, not him) is solid on lead guitar conventions, but never reaches beyond them.
All of which makes the defensiveness of songs like "Niggizz Can't Sang Rock & Roll" a bit overdone: it's one thing to protest you've been overlooked because you're too fresh and new and different, but something else to complain that you're not getting attention for doing what a lot of other people are doing.
Produced by Tom Werman.
Another Mother Further (1977)
In the same vein as the predecessor, and at its best it's excellent:
"Baby Love" (definitely not the Supremes song) is a wonderful, thrilling shot of hard funk, with Kennedy wringing every ounce of emotion out of the lyric, and topped off
with a fat Moog solo; "Truth'll Set You Free" is similar and maybe better (it was covered by Labelle in 2008).
There's also lighter fare (the ballad "Thank You For The Love"), and "Dis Go Dis Way, Dis Go Dat Way" is a pleasant blend of R&B and rock tropes.
Again, though, the band gets carried away making its "who says a funk band can't play rock?" point: grafting Led Zeppelin's "Custard Pie" riff onto the Miracles' "Mickey's Monkey" is a forerunner of the 2000s mash-ups, but it's too cute for its own good, and nobody needed another retread of "Bang A Gong" ("Piece Of The Rock").
Mother Factor (1978)
Skip Scarborough produced, and shifted the band all the way from hard rock to smooth - if not slick - R&B ("Mr. Goodbar"; "Tell Me").
Scarborough's ballad "Love Changes" was a successful single with a fine Kennedy vocal (multi-tracked a la Chaka Khan), and even that's a bit bloated.
They do slip in a little heavy funk - the opening "Can't Fight The Feeling"; "Give It Up" - but it's nothing special: as so often, the Mothers' bass and drums kick butt ("I Can't Believe"), everyone else is satisfactory, but the songs come in one ear and out the other ("More & More").
Apart from the hits you'd expect ("Love Changes"; "Fire") there are some funked-up 60s rock covers: "Somebody To Love"; Steppenwolf's "Magic Carpet Ride." Throughout, the band finds its balance between hard rock and funk, which is particularly welcome on the Factor numbers ("Watch My Stylin'").
Since they stick to the high points of the catalog ("Baby Love"), and there's some nice audience interplay ("Give You All The Love"), this is probably the place to start with the Finest.
Iron Age (1981)
A total genre about-face from Mother Factor, as the R&B elements are dropped and every track is propelled by loud guitars ("Rock 'N' Roll 2 Nite").
But curiously enough, the two albums have the same problem: overly slick production and formulaic songwriting resulting in a faceless sound (think Starship or Pat Benatar's most generic moments).
Produced and engineered by Jeff Glixman, best known for his work with Kansas, but there's no prog influence, and
the rhythm section is restricted to AC/DC-style 4/4 pounding ("U Turn Me On"). The lyrics are equally clichéd ("Luv Drug," with a Foreigner-esque "Hot blooded/Hot blooded" refrain).
So the only redeeming moments are when Kennedy goes most over-the-top: the opener "Movin' On" and the measured "All The Way," with a groovy bridge.
One Mother To Another (1983)
This doesn't sound like a Mother's Finest album at all, as it's even closer to the pop-soul mainstream than Mother Factor (apart from the closing funk-rocker "Take Me To The Middle (Of Your Luv)"). But if you compare it to contemporaneous Pointer Sisters or Evelyn King it holds up pretty well.
Kennedy sings the hell out of "What Kind Of Fool," "Love Me Too" is a keening slow burner, while "Everybody Needs Somebody"
and "Victory" (particularly the fade) are genuinely funky. Even some things that don't work are at least interesting (the faux reggae fade of "What You Do To Me").
So though it's worlds away from the B.B./Wizzard rhythm section, and there's plenty of sludge like "Big Shot Romeo" and the corny "Secret Service,"
check for this if you're an early 80s soft funk fan.
Kennedy's producer credit here is under the name Joyce "Baby Jean" Washington - I don't know if she'd gotten married or divorced or what.
Lookin' For Trouble (Joyce Kennedy: 1984)
Kennedy went with a pop-R&B sound on her solo debut, with one side produced by Leon Sylvers III ("Chase The Night," which sounds like a cross between The Jets and Ready For The World),
and the other by Jeffrey Osborne (he duets on Mann & Weil's "The Last Time I Made Love," which became a #2 R&B hit).
Tuneless techno-clatter ("Tailor Made"), almost uniformly, but Kennedy does try her best - with reasonable results on Bacharach/Bayer-Sager's "Stronger Than Before" (which Chaka Khan also recorded that year) - though as usual she's bigger on volume than subtlety ("Watch My Body"). "You Can Bet Your Life" is harmless funk lite like most of One Mother, but in this company it stands out.
Wanna Play Your Game! (Joyce Kennedy: 1985)
Kennedy followed up with a mix of styles: Murdock came back on several tracks ("Activate My Love"), two were produced by Jellybean Benitez, two by Osborne (title track), and one by Ready Freddie Washington ("Hold On (For Love's Sake)"). Now if any of these styles were enlisted in the service of actual songs, we might have had something here. If possible, more agitated and electronic than Trouble... "Let Me Know (If Love's On Your Mind)" is the closest thing to a catchy tune.
By way of balance, there are two sappy ballads, "Oh" (with a pseudo-gospel choir) and "Never Let A Night Go By."
The same year, Kennedy contributed "Didn't I Tell You" to The Breakfast Club's soundtrack.
Looks Could Kill (1989)
Released as a band project, but with all the synths and programmed drums it sounds more like Kennedy's solo work ("For Your Love" - not the Stevie Wonder song, but it does borrow the middle from "A Hard Day's Night"). There are some heavy guitars, but they're used as flavoring rather than a main ingredient ("Too Serious"), and they're outweighed by the ballads ("Dream Come True") and even an attempt at go go ("Call Me Mister"); more importantly, the best part of the original band - the bass and drums - are missing.
Like many a release by a 70s act trying to play catchup in the late 80s, this album sounds soulless
("Brave And Strong," not the Sly Stone song), contrived ("Your Wish Is My Command," not the Lakeside song) and inauthentic ("Heartbreaker," not any of the other ones). The ludicrous "Legs And Lipstick" was a single.
Produced by Murdock.
Another live record. Not much from the previous decade (a rock remake of "Call Me Mister" is an exception), so it largely covers the same ground as Live: "Mickey's Monkey," "Somebody To Love," "Baby Love" and so on. "Give You All The Love" turns into a jam that's fun for a while - with a serious groove from Wizzard - but eventually they overplay their hand.
So unless you're curious about their take on "Strawberry Fields Forever," nothing stands out about this one, well performed as it is ("Truth'll Set You Free").
At this point John Hayes joined on guitar, and Dion Derek was on drums.
Black Radio Won't Play This Record (1992)
I don't believe white radio or any other kind of radio played the record either, so singling out black radio for criticism seems odd but I guess that's the sort of observation I should keep to myself.
A switch back to hard rock, and the best tracks are a blast: "Crack Babies" and "Shirt" are heavy riff tunes, while "Head Bangin' And Booty Shakin'" is an updated take on the band's 70s funk-rock. But again the arrangements and many of the compositions are ordinary ("Stop," a "Welcome To The Jungle" knockoff; the soggy power ballad "Cry Baby"). The lyrics are simple ("Attitude"), often veering into punchless social observations (the band comes out in favor of love, peace and freedom on "L.P.F.").
Produced by Thom Panunzio.
At this point the band was basically a three-piece: Kennedy, Murdock and Seay with rotating guitarists (Hayes and Moore among them) and mostly programmed drums (though Dion Derek, now known as Dion Murdock, is on a few tracks). They cook up an intriguing mix of styles and techniques, combining elements of synth-funk (the Sly-like "Way Of The World," one of Glenn's leads), hard rock ("Bring It"), pop ballads ("Sun On The Inside") and occasionally rap. Since each track incoporates several elements instead of switching abruptly from one to the other, the listening experience is more like an album-length suite than a collection of songs.
While the production and arrangements are novel, some of the song material isn't:
"Inside Of Me" is a slower, smoother version of "Give You All The Love"; "The N-Groove" is basically a rewrite of 1992's "Like A Negro."
On the other hand, "Don't Take Your Love From Me" and "Crazy Side" are among their best slow numbers to date.
Vernon Reid and Omar Hakim guest on a spacey, diffuse cover of "If 6 Was 9."
Wyzard and Glenn Murdock produced.
Right Here, Right Now: Live At Villa Berg (2005)
Yep, live again.
Dis go dis way, dat go dat way.