Street Sounds: Shuggie Otis doubles up on the funk

Inspiration Information is a re-release of Otis’ 1974 album and Wings of Love is a collection of songs recorded from 1976 to 2000.

Funk rock pioneer Shuggie Otis is a mysterious figure enshrouded in rock mythology as a super talented guitar prodigy who recorded a few great albums, guested on some other records, was asked to join the Rolling Stones, and then disappeared.

The son of R&B band leader, Johnny Otis, Shuggie was hailed as a successor to Jimi Hendrix and acknowledged as a peer of Sly Stone and Stevie Wonder. He was a proto-Prince:  a multi-instrumentalist who started at age 12 in his father’s band.

Otis is renowned for his restraint, imagination and maturity.  For an illuminating insight, check out his encounter with fellow guitarist Roy Buchanan in the 1971 PBS program, Introducing Roy Buchanan. But that’s another story.

The young legend who disappeared has come back.  Inspiration Information/Wings of Love is a curious release.  Inspiration Information is a re-release of Otis’ 1974 album and Wings of Love is a collection of songs recorded from 1976 to 2000.

Listing off tracks on a nearly 40-year-old re-release isn’t necessary, but it’s worth mentioning that this album is a missing link in funk rock, psychedelic soul and R&B. It’s a hybrid, a relative to Sly and the Family Stone’s output of the same post-psychedelic era.

The title track drifts into a pleasant inner-city reverie, buoyed up by Otis’ funky clean guitar and expressive vocals.

Sparkle City is a gorgeously layered soul-funk mix that heralds a stunning take on future funk. Its guitar work is poetic in its not choices.

Aht Uh Mi Head is a standout song that boils along like a pressure cooker, an atmospheric  organ/guitar pairing that offers a new, singular take on what rock, funk and soul can do together. The music comes on like a light from a distant planet, giving glimpses of rarities that are whispered about and are surprising in their inventiveness and brilliance.Otis plays all the instruments  and sings.

Wings of Love is the “new” Shuggie Otis album, although the latest song is a live track recorded in 2000, an intense solo acoustic song called Black Belt Sheriff.  Due to the wide time span, Wings of Love has a compilation feel rather than that of a cohesive album.  There are also traces of the time periods.

Special has hints of disco and Tryin’ to Get Close to You is careless ‘70s lite-funk that the Cuervo and Jacuzzi crowd would indulge in.

There are some of the adventurous sounds of this era in Give Me Something Good, a snappy jazz-funk tune with a galloping bass.

The most luminous track is Walkin’ Down The Country, which captures the inner-city sunlight with Otis’ inspired Impressions-style vocal arrangement. It’s a song that sounds like a lost classic; sounds that these two albums contain much of.

Dean Gordon- Smith is a Vernon-based musician who writes a weekly music column on new releases, Friday in The Morning Star.