The Funk Box
The Funk Box (Hip-O)
Reviewed by Christopher Gray, Fri., Dec. 15, 2000
As citizens of the One Nation Under a Groove, at least on a good day, it's our civic duty to wag that booty. Not just knee-deep, this 4-CD set details the short (roughly 1970-1982, "Sex Machine" to "Atomic Dog") but happy life of funk as America's dance music of choice. Disco, hip-hop, and raves may have stolen the spotlight since then, but they can't spoil the party. The Funk Box looks more like a fuzzy, velveteen Funk Book, and reads more like Cliff's Notes than an encyclopedia. (Funk scholars can pass this one by unless they're hunting for a stocking stuffer for rhythmically challenged friends and relatives.) Still, making it through all four discs, at about 75 minutes apiece, in one stretch requires the constitution of a triathlete -- even if you're sitting down. The set doesn't skimp on the essentials, as "Pass the Peas," "For the Love of Money," "The Payback," "Brick House," "Dazz," "You and I," "More Bounce to the Ounce," and many others are all present and accounted for. Even old-old-schoolers like Marvin Gaye, the Temptations, and Johnny "Guitar" Watson get their props -- just listen to the way Aretha Franklin gets nasty on "Rock Steady." Barry White, Average White Band, Cameo, War, the Meters, Fatback Band, Bootsy's Rubber Band, Roy Ayers, and Graham Central Station all represent; hip-hop heads owe it to themselves to check out "Fight the Power" and "Express Yourself" in their pre-Public Enemy and N.W.A. incarnations. Bobby Byrd's "I Know You Got Soul" blows the doors off, Billy Preston's "Outa-Space" explores the periphery, and the Bar-Kays' "Let's Have Some Fun" keeps it on and on 'til the break of dawn. Since funk is by definition a much narrower genre than pop, rock, or soul, the set tends to bleed together even as individual songs hint at disparate tangents from blues to Kraftwerk. In short, there's a real type of thang goin' down here tonight, so get up for the down stroke, ya heard? The Funk Box lays bare where the groove meets the asphalt, a timely reminder that "Free Your Mind and Your Ass Will Follow" is much more than a catchy slogan.