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The Impressions’ “This Is My Country” Reviewed

This is the one -this is the one Curtis Mayfield had been waiting to make.The first release on Curtom Records, the label he made with  Impressions manager Eddie Thomas. The first where Curtis, released from his contract with ABC Records and Johnny Pate’s increasingly outdated production, the first where he wrote eight of the ten songs, and  co-wrote the other two with  Donny Hathaway. The first flat out, one end to the other, masterpiece, that seemed to sputter out. This is the first where Curtis Mayfield is, indelibly, resolutely, completely Curtis Mayfield and Sam Gooden and Fred Cash were the back up singers, Curtis was Diana Ross.

But he was also out of time.

Mayfield sang “People Get Ready” back in 1965, and it was only three years prior but it was a lifetime of difference, Martin Luther King had been dead for six months when Curtis really buckled down to the work of changing the world in November 1968 with This Is My Country. Being photographed in what looks like the Bronx just isn’t what it might have been. when he was with ABC records, it, and the album, was heartfelt romance and protest music, a Dr. Huxtable of normality in the face of otherness making the black experience the American experience and highlighted by one of the first record labels with black ownership.

While still on ABC, Curtis was threading the needle very, very carefully, treading between Mills Brothers try American standards, jazz orchestrations, and his own soul filigree. On This Is My Country, the American standards are gone and the jazz is on the backburner with only the occasional over arrangement, “Gone Away,” co-written with Donny Hathaway,  comes to mind for a song that can’t get its footing right. From the strummed up opening of “They Don’t Know,” there is a feeling of being right and also being diffident, the soulfulness was not funk, it certainly wasn’t James Brown, and Curtis, a great guitarist, wasn’t showing off, but it was in the general vicinity. The ballads sounded Motown, and “Fool For You” sounded completely unique, the filigreed funk of “Fool For You” as cool as passion can get, Mayfield’s production pushed his voice where he needed it to be but seemed to a little unsure on the actual music. His voice couldn’t be better, but the back up singing was way back and the brass was intrusive.note the acoustic guitar on the cover, that needed to go as well.

The net result was an album that please nobody very much and did little business, but you go back to songs that were good and not great and singing that was completely great. The pieces weren’t there yet but close, so close…

 

Grade: A-

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