Anna Minard claims to "know nothing about music." For this column, we force her to listen to random records by artists considered to be important by music nerds.
"Sisters/Brothers and the whiteys/Blacks and the crackers/Police and their backers..." People, it's time to go to church. That's what this album is, at least: Soul Church. The opening track is called "Don't Worry (If There's a Hell Below, We're All Going to Go)"—and that includes those folks named up top there. We're all going to hell! Solidarity through fire and brimstone! Curtis Mayfield shouts the N-word at top volume right at the beginning, along with "crackers" and "Jews," and something about that intro makes me wish record stores played it on the overhead speakers more often.
Picture the moment: Everyone's shopping the stacks. Someone's there to find a present for their kid but can't remember who the teens like these days. Two hunched-over record nerds are in the same area trying not to make eye contact with anyone and also to find the good shit before the other guy does. Someone like me is there, maybe hiding crappy '90s music underneath a Velvet Underground CD so no one can see what she's getting. Other people are browsing—looking for Broadway sound tracks, obscure electronica, the physical copy of Beyoncé with the DVD. It's just a collection of humans in a place. A devious record-store employee sees that this is the perfect moment for Curtis.
The chatter at the beginning wouldn't grab anyone's attention, but then: The list of categories and pejoratives, hurled with such mighty force, sounding like it's coming from God himself—it would surely make every head snap up and look toward the speakers. What's happening? A scream, and then immediately the ass-shaking funk beat and horn lines swoop in, and everyone shakes off their surprise, their hips and necks start grooving uncontrollably, and they shuffle-dance down the aisles in harmony.
This is an album for dancing—oooh boy, the dancing—but it's not just here for fun. This is dancing with a mission. It was built in heaven—harps come down from skies on the second track, "Other Side of Town," and Mayfield's falsetto in "The Makings of You" is angelic-cotton-candy-cloud talk. Curtis showcases division and inequity, and then brings everyone back together, wraps everyone in a woven blanket of celebration and sadness and family and God. Pay attention to what's happening in the world. "God bless Miss Black America." "Ghetto blues shown on the news." Then dance to it.
And then there's "Move On Up," which is nine minutes long. Difficulty and obstacles but then overcoming, religious imagery—"into the steeple of beautiful people"—and drums and horns that will make you LOSE YOUR MIND. Put this on as the party music for the prefunc before the revolution.
I give this a "pants-on dance-off" out of 10.