Do I like the music of James Brown? Yes, because I have a heartbeat and I’m not a sociopath. Have I ever listened to any James Brown beyond the clichéd classics and soundtrack staples? No. Do I wish I had a relevant third rhetorical question right now because I’m a believer in the rule of threes? You bet. All that is to say, after more than three decades of knowing who James Brown is and knowing a handful of his songs inside and out, it’s time to actually listen to an entire album, with Pure Dynamite!
Recorded live at a venue called The Royal Theatre, this is a kind of live album that you just don’t hear anymore. Instead of meticulous sound direct from the mixing board. Or worse, juiced in the studio with a band fixing all their mistakes after the fact, the no frills production of Pure Dynamite! puts you in the audience, front and centre.
The break neck pace, the clockwork precision of the horns, the freight train steadiness of the rhythm section, and of course, the Godfather of Souls’ signature growl and passion. From Shout and Shimmy to Sign, Sealed and Delivered, the opening quintet delivers a machine gun assault of exactly what I wanted from a James Brown record.
Then it’s time for things to get a little tender on Like a Baby. But while the band might be playing a ballad, Brown still finds room to scream the house down, and it’s amazing. From then on, it’s a mixture of hard hitters, soul grooves and doo wop taken to Brownsian extremes.
I would never say James Brown or anything on Pure Dynamite! surprised me in any way, but that’s not what I was looking for from a James Brown album. I wanted James Brown at his most James Brown, and it delivered. While studio recordings of Brown are already right there, in your face, the live setting makes him seem even more visceral. And when I think of my cliché based, mainstream idea of James Brown, I wouldn’t want him to sound any other way.