ROOTS is an essential Curtis Mayfield album. Released in 1971 when he was 29 years old, this set of songs is by turns wise, world-weary, spiritual, and mostly full of love and hope. The album was his follow-up to the successful CURTIS/LIVE set. Extensive touring and performance had infused Mayfield's technique with a casual grace mingled with just enough tension to underscore the edginess of some of his subject matter.
It's hard to pick a favorite Curtis Mayfield album, and my judgment is surely clouded by the fact that this album was under-celebrated at the time and still often overlooked. But as speaking objectively as I can, this is surely Mayfield at the top of his game. And possibly my favorite album. Clive Anderson's liner notes on this Charly reissue may be a bit pretentious, opening up with a citation from Wordsworth, but they do pretty much nail the album and do it justice. The album is like an extended meditation on the American underclass, and particularly the despair in the Black communities in the mid-70s.
CURTIS is the first solo album by R&B/soul legend Curtis Mayfield. After leaving the Impressions, Mayfield began to write lyrics that were more politically charged. With the 1970 release of CURTIS, he became one of the most important socially conscious artists of his generation. The album's opener, "(Don't Worry) If There's a Hell Below We're All Going to Go" uses racial epithets openly, as Mayfield asserts the shiftlessness of America. Set to a funky groove, with smart horn arrangements and wah-wah guitar, this song is a brazen attack on social mores, racism, the Vietnam War, religious impropriety, and Nixon-era politics.
Short Eyes is a Curtis Mayfield soundtrack to Robert M. Young's 1977 film, based upon the play of the same name by Miguel Piñero. The album contains one of Mayfield's last funk hits, "Do Do Wap is Strong in Here".
Heartbeat is an album by Curtis Mayfield. This 1979 offering mixed disco rhythms with soul balladeering. Future Temptation Ron Tyson contributed to some of the songwriting and production. "Tell Me, Tell Me (How Ya Like to be Loved)" was remixed for a 12" by Fred Breitberg and Michael Hearn and the duet with Linda Clifford "Between You Baby and Me", edited as a single, was also issued on The right combination, an album of duets between both singers released in 1980. It's the first Mayfield album he didn't produce entirely.
Do It All Night is Curtis Mayfield's flimsiest solo album yet, an indifferent collection of flaccid disco music. God knows, Mayfield has usually been uneven, but until now he's always managed to crank himself up at least once per LP and push his pretty, quavery voice over the line into conviction. Even on an outright bad record like Sweet Exorcist, there was that amazing title song, with its fluky, amiable beat and the outrageously funny conceit of its main character.
Released by AUM Fidelity as a double CD in 2010, I Plan to Stay a Believer is bassist William Parker's heart and soul tribute to vocalist and songwriter Curtis Mayfield. Parker, an extraordinarily resourceful improviser and internationally respected leader of creative ensembles, joyously celebrates the interwoven traditions of African-American musical culture by saluting an artist whose best works still define an entire mode of positive, uplifting musical expression. Mayfield rose to prominence with Jerry Butler and the Impressions in the late ‘50s, helped that group to become mainstays of Chicago soul throughout the ‘60s, and achieved superstar status in his own right during the early ‘70s.
Back To The World is a powerful concept album dealing with America's social issues, the aftermath of the Vietnam War, the environment (years before it became fashionable), as well as Curtis' optimism for the future.