Eric Burdon and War
Reviewed on this page:
The Twain Shall Meet -
Eric Burdon Declares "War" - Black Man's Burdon - Love Is All Around - War - All Day Music -
The World Is A Ghetto -
Deliver The Word -
Sun Secrets - Why Can't We Be Friends? - Stop - Galaxy -
Youngblood - My Road Our Road - Free -
Live At The Pitt Inn - Outlaw - Life Is So Strange
- Peace Sign
War was one of the biggest new funk acts of the 70s, competing head-to-head with Earth, Wind & Fire, and regularly beaten out on the charts only by big-time 60s R & B survivors like Stevie Wonder>, Aretha Franklin, Marvin Gaye, and Diana Ross. But what's really amazing about the group is their leaderless, communal approach to music making.
Keyboard player Lonnie Jordan and guitarist Howard Scott did have a leading role in production and writing. But most of their tunes were credited to the whole band, they frequently sang faceless harmonies all the way through a song, and they had four different soloists - saxophonist Charles Miller was quite competent, and harmonica player Lee Oskar was rivalled only by Stevie Wonder as a popularizer of the instrument.
Even more impressively, they started out as an international, ethnically integrated act, led by English blues rocker/ex-Animal Eric Burdon; and once Burdon left after just a couple albums, they continued to spotlight Oskar, an expatriate Dane. The band's approach was far-sighted and idealistic, and it's a shame that music mostly doesn't work that way any more.
The core members of War were R & B players from the ghettos of L.A. They'd been gigging together for years before Burdon showed up in 1969 looking for a new backing band - his "New Animals" had burned out in just a couple of years. He promptly got them a record contract, gave them a provocative name, and brought in Oskar and producer Jerry Goldstein, who stayed with the band through the 70s and contributed as a songwriter in addition to commercializing their sound. On those early records the band keeps a low profile, letting Burdon cut loose with his rambling vocal improvisations.
But once he left, War quickly figured out how to market its unique blend of funk, Latin percussion, blues, jazz, and R & B, and the rest is history. The lack of a frontman and their weak song material never seemed to slow them down. Eventually, however, War just faded from view, with a string of personnel changes and two tragic deaths in the 80s leaving Lonnie Jordan, Howard Scott, and Harold Brown as the only survivors from the original lineup. Amazingly, "War" continues to record and tour, having made a stab at rap music and even having recently appeared on stage with Burdon. I have reviewed one of their shows on our concert review page.
As for EB, I only have a couple of of his Animals and pre-War "New Animals" solo albums. But I do have everything he did with War, plus a couple 70s solo records. I'll try to piece together his career as I go along. For the moment, I'm listing only his key pre-War records and a few of his 70s solo records; his later catalogue is voluminous and I haven't gotten around to studying it.
I've seen a bunch of Eric Burdon web sites, most of them lousy; the most straightforward appears to be the Book of Burdon. I haven't found a good War site yet but I haven't tried very hard.
Surprisingly, I received a very rude flame letter arguing that I shouldn't review records I haven't heard. I haven't; the information I give on records I don't have is strictly factual and has nothing to do with my opinions. As for whether a skeletal page like this one should be on the web, I think the lack of any alternative discography speaks for itself. (JA)
The Animals: Eric Burdon (vocals), Chas Chandler (bass), John Steel (drums), Hilton Valentine (guitar). Price replaced by Dave Rowberry, late 1965. Group split up, mid-1966.
War: Papa Dee Allen (conga, bongos), Howard Brown (drums), Eric Burdon (vocals), B. B. Dickerson (bass), Lonnie Jordan (organ, piano), Charles Miller (sax, some flute), Lee Oskar (harmonica), Howard Scott (guitar). Burdon left, 1971, after which all the band members sang lead and harmony. Alice Tweed Smith (vocals) added, 1978.
Luther Rabb (bass) and Pat Rizzo (sax) replaced Dickerson and Miller, Ronnie Hammon (drums) added, 1979. Miller murdered by a robber, 1980. Smith and Rizzo left, 1982. Brown left, 1983. Ricky Green (bass) replaced Rabb, 1984. Allen died on stage of a brain aneurysm, 1988. Green left, Jordan switched to bass, 1989. Oskar left, 1992.
Brown returned, Kerry Campbell (sax), Charles Green (sax), Tetsuya "Tex" Nakamura (harmonica), Sal Rodriguez (drums), and Rae Valentine (programmer; son of Howard Brown) added, 1993. As of 1997 Brown and Scott are no longer touring with the band.
The Animals (The Animals: 1964)
Rushed out to cash in on the group's late-summer #1 hit "The House Of The Rising Sun" - none of their later singles were nearly so successful. (JA)
The Animals On Tour (The Animals: 1965)
The single was "I'm Crying." (JA)
Animal Tracks (The Animals: 1965)
A bunch of hits here including a cover of Sam Cooke's "Bring It On Home To Me" and the classics "We've Got To Get Out Of This Place" and Nina Simone's "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood." (JA)
Animalization (The Animals: 1966)
"It's My Life" and Goffin-King's "Don't Bring Me Down" are the key tracks here; "Inside-Looking Out" also scraped the Top 40. "See See Rider" (the first "New Animals" single, postdating the others by a few months) also is included.
The first appearance of Dave Rowberry on record after he replaced Alan Price. (JA)
Animalism (The Animals: 1966)
A bunch of cover tunes here like "Shake," "Other Side Of This Life," "Rock Me Baby," "Lucille," "Smoke Stack Lightning," and even "Hit The Road, Jack." (JA)
Eric Is Here (Burdon & the New Animals: 1966)
"Help Me Girl" was the single.
The New Animals included Vic Briggs (guitar), Barry Jenkins (drums; he'd appeared on the Animals' last single), Danny McCulloch (bass), and John Weider (guitar). However, it's not clear how much they actually played on the group's albums. (JA)
Winds Of Change (Burdon & the New Animals: 1967)
Includes two of his biggest late 60s hits: "San Franciscan Nights" and "When I Was Young." There's also a cover of "Paint It Black." (JA)
The Twain Shall Meet (Burdon & the New Animals: 1968)
By late 1967 the Summer of Love had already turned into an orgy of commercialism, and Burdon was happy to cut
a chintzy trojan horse of a pop record slathered with "counter culture" motifs.
Producer Tom Wilson brings in what sounds like a second-string studio band
and plays off gimmicks like sitar, harpsichord, "acid rock" guitar, and even bagpipes against standard-issue lounge lizard horn and string arrangements ("Oranges And Red Beans," almost listenable despite its laughable mock-Beatles production gimmicks).
It's so bad you don't know whether to laugh or cry. There's an outrageously crass tribute to the Monterey pop festival, complete with two-bar imitations of all the key acts ("Monterey") - amazing to think that Burdon had been one of them, and that the song was a Top 40 hit.
There's an ominous, effect-laden, amateurish Robbie Krieger-style seven-minute guitar solo ("We Love You Lil").
There's a couple of pop songs crammed with unconvincing "Eastern" mumbo jumbo ("Just The Thought"; the watered-down blues "Closer To The Truth"), and a couple of super-earnest "ragas" a la George Harrison or Donovan ("No Self Pity"; "All Is One").
And to top it all off, there's the kitschy-yet-catchy hit "Sky Pilot" - the album version includes an endless, flaccid instrumental segment in addition to the massively phased vocal sections.
Zoot Money (keyboards) joined the New Animals at this point. (JA)
Every One Of Us (Burdon & the New Animals: 1968)
Burdon's career seemed in trouble at this point; he scored no further hits until joining War.
Includes a cover of "St. James Infirmary," also later done by Joe Cocker.
I believe that guitarist Andy Summers appears on this record, replacing Briggs. (JA)
Love Is (Burdon & the New Animals: 1969)
Incredibly, Burdon now released an indulgent, self-produced double LP - despite seeming to be out of ideas and low on cash: there are just a couple of orchestrations, the performances seem half-rehearsed, the band's backing vocals are off key, half the tunes are covers, and there's almost none of the heavy-handed studio experimentation of Twain Shall Meet.
One tune after another displays unlistenably tacky 60s "acid rock" style, including covers of "River Deep, Mountain High" and Johnny Cash's "Ring Of Fire," plus their moronic proto-metal anthem "I'm An Animal."
Their overwrought arrangement of "Coloured Rain" is mostly just dull, but sports what might be the most amateurish guitar solo I've ever heard.
The closest thing to a high point is their Stax-Volt like take on "To Love Somebody," which sounds like it was recorded with an uncredited studio band: there's an authoritative female guest vocal and a pro bass line (elsewhere Money's bass playing is unremarkable).
And guitarist John Weider and keyboard/bass player Zoot Money show off a few chops on a sloppy nightclub blues number that also foreshadows Burdon's later vocal improvisations with War (Andy Summers contribution is never clear, but if it's him on this track's second guitar, he just seems incompetent).
A record so bad it would be funny if it weren't so boring, so it's just plain worthless.
Jenkins is the drummer again. (JA)
This lineup makes the Vanilla Fudge sound talented. Beyond appalling. (DBW)
Eric Burdon Declares "War" (1970)
A classic album that stands in stark contrast to Burdon's earlier string of agonizingly insincere solo albums.
Burdon's heart-felt English blues vocals and alternately political and hallucinatory lyrics ("The Vision Of Rassan") finally find a perfect match with War's jazzy saxophone, Latin-influenced rhythm section, and understated approach.
Most of the record consists of three long, enjoyable jams ("Blues For Memphis Slim") - but it's punctuated with the spacey, irresistably danceable A-side "Spill The Wine," which reuses Burdon's "Tobacco Road" gimmick of narrating a daydream, but even more effectively. The production is sparse and the sound often not very different from traditional Chicago blues, which creates the feel of a tight and professional live performance: on track after track, the band finds a good groove and stays with it. (JA)
We've reviewed Burdon' autobiography on our never imitated, never duplicated Book Reviews Page. (DBW)
Black Man's Burdon (1970)
A double album, minus anything approaching a hit like "Spill The Wine." I have it and I'll review it when I get a chance. Most of the tracks are quite long, and there's an epic medley based on "Paint It Black" that's quite memorable. There are also two versions of "Nights In White Satin," but mostly the material is new. (JA)
Love Is All Around (Eric Burdon & War: rec. 1969-1970, rel. 1976)
A cash-in cobbled together from out-takes, alternate takes, a long but rousing live version of the "Paint It Black" medley, and a fun B-side ("Magic Mountain," which backed "Spill The Wine"). Some of it really works. The title track is a powerful funk groove, with Burdon rising above his voice's hoarseness and the band supplying interesting Motown-flavored harmonies. An early take of "Tobacco Road" has even more energy than the later, released version.
And there's a daring, unexpected cover of the Beatles' "A Day In The Life" - unfortunately it's too earnest, it exposes Burdon's vocal limits, and it drags at eleven minutes. Actually, it's so embarassing it's downright funny. And there are other problems like the tediously generic eleven-minute blues "Home Dream." So there's a lot here for fans, but the sad truth is that the album is just an official bootleg, and if you haven't already heard Burdon and War you really should start with Declares. (JA)
War was still backing Burdon when they signed their own record contract, but they split with him soon after. Their eponymous debut album was a flop even though Burdon designed the clever, eye-bending album cover. It's too bad, because it's very professional and graced with a few genuine creative flashes. Typically of the band, four different members sing lead on four tracks, with the other two being instrumentals - on "War Drums" they frame some frenetic sax and conga solos with a completely goofy group vocal.
The best tune is "Sun Oh Son," with a long, lazy, nicely harmonized intro and a harsh funk segment with Dickerson's vocal proving that he's a total pro. Elsewhere there's a couple of generic soul numbers ("Lonely Feelin'"; "Back Home") and a sprawling jam ("Vibeka"). The most memorable, if not best moment is the long, flakey, embarassingly self-righteous, Cuban-flavored anti-Castro "Fidel's Fantasy," with Papa Dee's voiceover ploddingly imitating Burdon's brand of free association. Not a great record, but a respectable one. (JA)
All Day Music (1971)
The mellow, bossa nova-flavored title track was the band's first Top 40 hit; it's really enjoyable, with thrilling group harmonies and a soothing dance beat. Half a year later the longish and musically more conventional, but even more entertaining funk ballad "Slippin' Into Darkness" got a single release.
It promptly outsold its predecessor, boosting the LP into gold album territory - War had finally made the big time.
There's also a spartan, mid-tempo funk number that draws the lines to be filled in by later hits like "Cisco Kid" ("Get Down").
The rest of it is a little thin, though; a lengthy, sluggish, over-earnest soul testimonial ("That's What Love Will Do"); a weird near-a capella chant ("There Must Be A Reason"); a tightly arranged, but dated-sounding Santana-esque movie theme ("Nappy Head (Theme From Ghetto Man)"); a long, sloppy blues-rock live track ("Baby Brother"). But at least all of this proves the band's amazing versatility, and unlike several other War albums this one escapes without any real embarassments. (JA)
The World Is A Ghetto (1972)
The band's commercial high point - it topped the charts and quickly went gold.
It brilliantly blends rebellious 60s experimentation with starry-eyed 70s hedonism, delivering all of their signature motifs: superbly lyrical Lee Oskar solos, inclusive group harmonies, taut Latin rhythms, wah-wah'ed guitar, and smoky jazz saxophone, all of it packaged as hard-driving funk and R & B.
The best-known track, their #2 hit "The Cisco Kid," uses a loping Caribbean beat to irresistable effect.
They put across a danceable, gospel-tinged funk-rocker ("Where Was You At"), a desolate blues with soulful harmonies and spacey Eastern effects ("Four Cornered Room"), and a lulling funk riff with crowd harmonies and steel drums ("Beetles In The Bog").
And amazingly, they get away with two long-format jams: "City, Country, City," which drags a bit but has a marvelous harmonica theme, and the gorgeous, ten-minute title track, which cracked the Top 10 on its own.
Solid and creative, the collection's only real shortcoming is its meagre listing of just six tracks. (JA)
Deliver The Word (1973)
With the band having become a huge commercial success, messing with formulas was definitely not on the agenda.
So pretty much everything here is a retread.
Probably the best-known song here is the hit single "Gypsy Man," which starts and ends with excessively long jams, and depends on some earnestly strummed guitars and an attention-grabbing descending hook.
It's decent but not a breakthrough.
The real high point is actually the jaunty, Family Stone-like sing-along "Me And Big Brother," which also was a Top 40 hit.
"Southern Part Of Texas" serves up the same brand of burbling enthusiasm, but it's aimless, and the blues-based vocal part is kind of dull.
The rest is similarly uneven, with a shimmering, atmospheric instrumental ("H2 Overture," complete with strings), a fun but lightweight funk number ("In Your Eyes"), and a creaking, plodding harmonica/sax blues instrumental ("Blisters").
Meanwhile, Jordan testifies mightily on the slick, melodramatic, eight-minute title track.
But like the record in general, it just doesn't add up to much. (JA)
War Live! (1974)
A pretty big hit for a live record, rising well up into the Top 40.
There are just eight tracks, so almost everything other than "Lonely Feelin'" gets stretched out.
Includes the instrumental "Ballero," which just made it into the Top 40 a few months after the album was released. (JA)
Sun Secrets (Eric Burdon: 1974)
After a couple of years off, Goldstein tried and failed to jumpstart Burdon's career. It's kind of pathetic. The backing is a noxiously loud generic mid-70s two-guitars-bass-and-drums corporate rock band that seems to think it's really hot stuff. The material's worse: basically a set of Animals oldies ("It's My Life"; boring, bombastic, eight minute takes of "When I Was Young" and "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood"), salted with a cover of Johnny Cash's ancient hit "Ring Of Fire" and a few new tunes like the overpowered "The Real Me" and the endless "Letter From The Country Farm" (yet another loping Burdon poetry bash, this time graced with a screeching pentatonic lead guitar). You'd think that War had never happened. But ironically, Burdon's echo-slathered voice seems fine, and he lends some manic energy to the proceedings - in a few places he pretty much screams his head off, but it's fun. (JA)
Why Can't We Be Friends? (1975)
War's last album to break into the Top 10, and it includes two of the biggest gimmick tunes of the entire 70s: the faux reggae title track, with its repetitive, feel-good refrain and goofy two-line "verses" sung by the whole band; and the follow-up single "Low Rider," one big, complicated groove propelled by a creepy whispered vocal, cheesy Latin percussion, and a beat so compelling only a deaf person could resist it.
Both of them were Top 10 hits, and at least the first of them wears thin real quick. But the rest of the album is completely serious and frequently fascinating, with some experiments that teeter on the edge of disaster. The funk jam "Heartbeat" sputters madly; "Leroy's Latin Lament" flies between lush balladry and manic salsa; and the harmony-fest "In Mazatlan" veers into Brian Wilson territory.
And the conventional tunes effectively recycle the band's mellow, harmonious formula: "Don't Let No One Get You Down" and "So" are gorgeous and soulful; the instrumental "Smile Happy" delivers what it promises, with a super Lee Oskar solo. Possibly the band's greatest moment, and as an artifact of the era it's unsurpassed. (JA)
Stop (Eric Burdon: 1975)
One of Burdon's best albums, despite not being nearly as well known as his War and Animals output. Actually recorded before Sun Secrets, it's a set of completely new material featuring a completely different band. Most of it was co-written by John Sterling, who also collaborated with producer Jerry Goldstein. Sterling delivers a fascinating and unique heavy rock/funk/jazz fusion sound; sometimes it leans towards early 70s Jeff Beck, but often it sounds like late-period Jimi Hendrix, with the lead guitarist laying on tons of wah-wah ("I'm Lookin' Up").
The formula is occasionally unpredictable, with touches like female choruses and acoustic jazz piano beaming in at random ("Gotta Get It On"). It's not all golden, though; there are several kitschy pop songs, and Burdon's involvement is pretty minimal - he co-wrote only three of the tunes. Packaged together with Sun Secrets on one disc, it manages make up for that album's pathetic mindlessness in the course of a nine-track, 28-minute running time. (JA)
Lee Oskar (Oskar: 1976)
Oskar's solo album wasn't a smash hit, but it did climb into the Top 40. (DBW)
I've got this and I like it; a complete review will follow. Suffice it to say that Oskar gets an awful lot of mileage out of one harmonica, a couple of borrowed Santana players, and a bunch of easy funk and Latin grooves. He even delivers an entertaining vocal on one number. (JA)
Greatest Hits (1976)
We don't usually list or discuss greatest hits packages, but this one may have included the single "Summer" as a bonus track - it was released just a couple months before. In any event, "Summer" was War's last hurrah, breaking the Top 10 and going gold. (JA)
Platinum Jazz (1977)
This collection of studio out-takes was put out on the jazz label Blue Note and quickly went gold (no, not platinum), but didn't fare too well in the Top 40. Three of the tracks were salvaged from an incomplete movie soundtrack to be called The River Niger. (JA)
Before We Were So Rudely Interrupted (The Animals: 1977)
The first reunion record by the original band. (JA)
War had long since parted with United Arists, and now signed with MCA. Their first new effort was yet another instant gold album, and it sold a little better than Platinum Jazz, with the discoified title track becoming War's last Top 40 hit - but just barely, since it only reached #39.
It's an infectious eight-minute dance groove with party-time sound effects, and although it doesn't add much to their pre-existing Latin/funk formula, the other four tracks are all top-notch: "Baby Face," a lighthearted nod to 20's jazz; "Sweet Fighting Lady," a sinuous ballad; the sexy "Hey Senorita," complete with a rambling female voiceover in Spanish; and "The Seven Tin Soldiers," another longwinded instrumental that gives everyone room for mellow, melodic, almost jazz fusion-like soloing.
There's not a lot of songwriting this time, but there aren't any embarassments either. (JA)
Soundtrack to the blaxploitation film.
Even though this was a flop compared to the band's last few records, it's actually respectable.
There are a lot of atmospheric experiments ("Searching For Youngblood & Rommel") and skeletal jams flavored with snippets of movie dialogue ("Junk Yard").
However, the band does pull out three quality tunes in their characteristically upbeat style: the hypnotic, ten-minute title track; the goofy "Sing A Happy Song"; and the appropriately self-referential "This Funky Music Makes You Feel Good," a groovy six-minute dance mantra that's so enthusiastic you hardly notice its utter aimlessness.
And some of the instrumental stuff is interesting: the kinetic salsa number "Flying Machine (The Chase)" has impressive flute and piano solos, and there's a remarkably authentic-sounding snippet of jazz ("Superdude," with Dickerson's bass walking like crazy) and a mellow synth-plus-electric piano number that's strongly reminiscent of Stevie Wonder ("Youngblood & Sybil").
Far from a key record, but it's pleasant background music and has some personality.
Produced by Goldstein, Jordan and Scott. (JA)
Before The Rain (Oskar: 1978)
The only early-period solo Lee Oskar album I don't have. (JA)
The Music Band (1979)
War was burning out at this point; the album didn't yield a hit single, barely missed the Top 40, and took an uncharacteristic four months to gold. They also made their first personnel change, adding singer Alice Tweed Smith. (JA)
The Music Band 2 (1979)
With both bassist Dickerson and saxophonist Miller now out of the lineup, War was in a real state of flux. This was Smith's second and last appearance on a War record. (JA)
My Road Our Road (Oskar: 1980)
Although this was produced by Family Stone drummer Greg Errico, Oskar seems more in control here, writing most of the material and leading a serviceable studio band - Errico, Nathan East or Abraham Laboriel (bass), Paul Jackson and Melvin Robinson (guitar), and the dextrous Barnaby Finch (keyboards) - instead of leaning on borrowed War players.
Most of that band does show up, including Allen, Brown, Jordan, and especially Rizzo, who gets in several horn solos and even has a co-write.
But it's not at all a War record.
The sentimental orchestration
and acoustic guitar on "My Road" make it sound like a European movie soundtrack theme.
The big vocal number is so airy and embarassingly earnest that War wouldn't have touched it ("Children's Song").
And although side 2 has three strong riff tunes that skip cheerfully amongst the band's usual genres - funk, jazz, R & B, salsa - it's more impersonal and less experimental.
The only really ambitious effort is the five-part, quarter-hour "Our Road," a pastiche of funk, orchestrated melodrama, and Brazilian rhythms that doesn't really grab you the way War's best work does.
Pleasant and mostly instrumental like all of Oskar's records, this is only of interest if you want to study his soaring harmonica solos in yet more detail.
Free (Oskar with Furasawa: 1981)
At this point Oskar ended up in Japan, where he recorded two albums with a local jazz-fusion group that was every bit as polite and professional as you'd expect.
They're like War with better traditional jazz training, less voltage, and no sense of humor - lots of quiet wah-wah'ed rhythm guitar, elegant piano, stiffly thumping bass, and smooth sax.
So when they drag in calypso flavorings on "Kana Kana," it resembles nothing more ambitious than the kind of canned music you hear in department stores; and a dueling guitar solo on "Kyon" sounds like two guys practicing pentatonic riffs over a tape loop.
"Boogie Man Lives In Tokyo" gradually builds into a danceable, driving light funk jam, and "Ano Koro" takes off with loping, super-cool War-style funk vamp, but both of them drag on for more than ten minutes.
That leaves the catchy, cheerful, and economical "Ima Haru" as the only really successful effort.
I admit that Oskar is as impressively melodic as always; but with no outside players or experimental efforts the format gets dull.
Produced by Toshikatsu Kawamura, with writing credits split about evenly between Oskar and Furasawa. (JA)
Live At The Pitt Inn (Oskar with Furasawa: 1982)
This is a serviceable live album, with the band reprising a couple of numbers from the last record ("Ima Haru") and a few others from Oskar's earlier solo career. The backing players get plenty of room for graceful, but not very innovative solos on guitar, keyboard (mostly squiggly Jan Hammer-style synth) and sax, and Oskar is in good form, pulling off a five-minute solo number that stands entirely on subtly sentimental phrasing ("My Road").
There's an emphasis on mid-tempo funk grooves like "BLT," the Eastern European-flavored "Promised Land," and "Our Road."
But with such an inoffensive sound it's not going to stick in your head once it's done; and even though the song material is basically the strongest in Oskar's catalogue, most of the tunes unwisely wander past the ten minute mark - "Ano Koro" completely bogs down with its dreamy, mellow stylishness.
Produced by Kawamura. (JA)
After more than a decade of success War had changed some players, become much more professional, and internalized the disco fad, but their sound was much the same. This time around they're remarkably solid, delivering Latin-tinged dance music ("Cinco De Mayo"), disco (the kick-butt "Outlaw"), smooth R & B balladry ("Baby It's Cold Outside"), pseudo-reggae ("Just Because"), and heavy 70s funk a la P-Funk ("The Jungle," with another embarassingly silly and completely deadpan Papa Dee Allen voiceover). Despite some excesses, they still maintain a consistent tone and a solid musical sensibility - Lee Oskar's solos are as sweet as ever.
Still, though, there's nothing inventive or up-to-date about anything here, despite the crisp performances. It comes as no surprise that the highly commercial but unoriginal dance number "You Got The Power" went nowhere as a single; it didn't help that it features a snazzy guest horn section. Soon afterwards the band lost its replacement sax player and left the position open. (JA)
Life Is So Strange (1983)
Another flop, and drummer Harold Brown's last appearance with the band for a decade. Unfortunately, this time around they just don't have a lot of ideas - the title track is more pretty R & B with a nice P-Funky break, and there's also one snappy, horn-energized dance tune ("Shake It Down") and one nice Lee Oskar instrumental ("Summer Dreams").
But the last release seems more focused.
The problem here is the long set pieces: "Happiness" is more of the band's loping, twisted reggae, but it's repetitive and unoriginal this time; "U-2" recycles Chic-like disco formulas that were already years out of date; and the ominous, synth-drowned "W.W III" is just plain boring. After this a lineup with four original members continued touring, but mostly not recording; when Allen died in 1988 and Oskar quit in 1992, that left only Jordan (keyboards) and Scott (guitar). (JA)
Ark (The Animals: 1983)
A second reunion record. (JA)
Rap Declares War (1992)
Apparently this is an experiment matching War with a bunch of L.A. rappers. Lee Oskar was gone at this point. (JA)
Peace Sign (1994)
This easily available, misguided comeback effort has a funny little 60s peace sign on the cover instead of a proper title.
Veterans Brown, Scott, Jordan, and Goldstein wrote most of it, with Scott and Jordan splitting the lead vocals, the bass lines, and much of the instrumentation.
And with a whole pile of new members, War now had a sax section for the first time in more than a decade.
But the result is an overproduced bore.
They often do sound like their old selves (the super-funky title track; "Wild Rodriguez," a virtual rewrite of "Low Rider"), but they unwisely recycle old gimmicks like dubbing female spoken Spanish mutterings over a repetitive salsa groove ("UB O.K.").
The big ten-minute funk-soul suite is tedious and clumsily self-righteous ("Homeless Hero"), and there are a couple of embarassing, synth-crazed vamps that are reminiscent of Stevie Wonder's weaker recent efforts (the hip hop-influenced "Da Roof"; the hyperkinetic "Let Me Tell You").
The big problems, though, are the consistent five minute-plus running times and the surfeit of hypo-mellow soul numbers ("I'm The One (Who Understands)").
A decent buy only for seriously nostalgic fans. Jose Feliciano guests on the sappy, 90s Elton John-style "East L.A."; Lee Oskar and Pat Rizzo guest on two tracks (Goldstein's languid, lounge-lizardy "Angel"; the weepy orchestrated Adult Contemporary ballad "Smile For Me"; on other numbers like "The Smuggler" Oskar's replacement "Tex" Nakamura sounds just like him). (JA)
In 1997 Oskar put out a new, mostly self-produced and written solo album, whose name I forget. It features a mostly no-name band, although percussionist Luis Conte did appear; the saxophone player gets top billing. (JA)
Love is all around...