CD Review of Funk This by Chaka Khan
Recommended if you like
Aretha Franklin, Mary J. Blige,
Angie Stone
Label
Sony BMG/Burgundy
Chaka Khan: Funk This

Reviewed by Jeff Giles

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S
ay the words “Chaka Khan” to any randomly chosen pop-music listener in 2007, and you’re as likely to hear something along the lines of “Who?” or “Gesundheit” as you are to receive an appropriate response, e.g. a knowing smile, a head bob, or a spontaneous, ill-advised performance of Melle Mel’s iconic intro to “I Feel for You.” American pop listeners are to be pitied, not blamed, for their sad ignorance of Ms. Khan’s talent; it has, after all, been stuffed pretty successfully under a bushel for most of the last 20 years, thanks to the indifference and/or incompetence of her various labels.

Don’t expect this to change with Funk This, Khan’s twelfth (and arguably most horribly titled) solo album. Which is not to say the album isn’t a solid, impeccably produced shot of R&B, because it is; it’s just that it’s being released by Burgundy Records, the latest perfectly useless Sony imprint to sign talented artists (Khan, Gloria Estefan, Aaron Neville) and do nothing to revive their flagging commercial fortunes. On the other hand, Burgundy’s affiliation with the project likely provided the extra bit of budget necessary for securing the participation of producers Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis (not to mention cameos from Mary J. Blige and Michael McDonald), so it isn’t a total wash.

On the artistic front, the bad news here is that Funk This contains nothing as spasm-inducingly joyous as “Ain’t Nobody”; nothing as heartbreakingly lovely as “Love Me Still”; nothing as thrillingly righteous as “Tell Me Something Good” or “I Feel for You.” The good news is everything else, really.

Khan serves notice up front with the stuttering, sliding “Back in the Day,” a perfectly nasty blend of serrated vocals and 21st-century funk. For listeners who have been exposed to nothing but Khan’s AC-oriented material (a duet with Peter Cetera here, an album of standards there), it may come as a shock to hear her in such fine, feisty form, but it’s one of the few cuts to live up to the album’s title; if the rest of the record sounded like this, she’d have had a minor classic on her hands.

Alas, much of the album consists of middling, albeit extremely well-crafted, mid-tempo ballads and R&B numbers. The production is surprisingly sympathetic, given Jam & Lewis’ long tradition of giving their stamp to an artist instead of the other way around, but most of Funk This is merely enjoyable rather than essential. Chaka Khan still beats the pants off nine out of 10 pop singers (or R&B singers, or funk singers, or…), and she threatens a full-on return to form here. Maybe next time, she’ll make good on that threat.

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