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"The One: The Life And Music Of James Brown" By RJ Smith Reviewed

In RJ Smith's exciting wild ride of a James Brown biography "The One" refers to the beat Brown used to propel his music, a secret taken from his African forefathers and the essence of his sound, But it also refers to the very nature of the Augusta, Georgia native who raised himself from shining shoes in the city center to having a statue mounted there in his honor.

Brown, who was born dirt poor  made extra money dancing for spare change before being sent to prison for stealing. It was there he sang for the prison Gospel band and formed band when he got out and started to rewrite R&B. Brown believed in the power of the one and his music spoke top not black power but individual achievement. He gigged nonstop for decades, 350 nights year, and went from being a secret of the black population in the 1950s and 1960s to crossover behind hip hop and New Wave to white audiences. Though as RJ notes, he did so without ever meeting any one half way. You had to go to Brown, he never came to you.

Brown drove a power funk rhythm right through Jim Crow to Black Power and out the other end and released some of the greatest dance music of all time. "Please Please Please", "Sex Machine", "Cold Sweat" "Mother Popcorn" many, many, many others, , he ran roughshod over some of the greatest musicians of all time, and planted himself at the center of American pop to this day. Hip Hop owes Brown everything.

And as a man, Brown is a great American vision of pride and self-respect. He is the embodiment of what it means to be free and American.

RJ Snith, who I remember well from his time at the Village Voice, gets all aspects of the great James Brown absolutely perfect. Not least the music, where Smith's description of  Brown's Apollo concert is perhaps the best writing I've ever read on the man's music, and his explanation of what the various Brown backing bands brought to the music is the last word.

Quite as good is Smith's insights into the man as a man and also as a person in the midst of an historic moment for black music.

Grade: A 

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