James Brown Live at the Garden – Expanded Edition Review

Released 2009.  

BBC Review

Do, please, bring it up and let yourself go.

Mike Diver 2009

There’s no shortage of live albums from the Godfather of Soul available, but James Brown’s 1967 release Live at the Garden is a comparative curio that’s only now received the treatment it deserves.

The original album is included here, compressing performances from two nights at New Jersey’s The Latin Casino into a 12-track souvenir. But the record’s cut-and-pasting of numbers between overdubs of excited audience appreciation (and its bizarre omitting of the full version of Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag and It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World entirely) rather lessened its longevity. A poorer cousin of the Live at the Apollo albums, …Garden rather paled into insignificance.

Until now, as modern technology has seen it restored to greatness, even if the scratchy sound contrasts unfavourably to contemporary collections. But that’s part of the appeal – with the mix cleaned up, relatively speaking, the audience’s hollering reduced and Brown’s every interjection present, there’s appealing warmth exuded despite the patchy fidelity. Brown’s thank you mid-set seems sincere; when he tells the crowd that without them there wouldn’t be a James Brown, catching his breath as he does so, there’s an honesty that few several-nights-a-week performers today can match. Truly, the man conveyed a rare charm.

“I’ll always be the same ol’ fella,” Brown remarks, before the evergreen It’s A Man’s Man’s Man’s World – and such is the boundless reach of the track that you have to pinch yourself that said ol’ fella isn’t with us anymore. Then again, as this performance is proof positive of, such is Brown’s vocal power, so emotions-stirring are his from-the-heart hymns to love, that the passing of time is determinedly defied. In life he could stop you in your tracks, leave you hanging on his next word; after death, his recordings continue to do so.

Buoyed by a superb band that, just occasionally, found space for Miles Davis’ bassist Ron Carter, …Garden not only catches Brown in typically fine voice, but also marks the moment where Alfred ‘Pee Wee’ Ellis stepped into his musical director role (Nat Jones was apparently displeased with The Latin Casino’s modest backstage facilities).  Thrown in at the deep end though he was, Ellis keeps his reins tight – he’d go on to work with Van Morrison.

Wonderfully rollicking from the off, …Garden is a set to cherish in its rebuilt form. Do, please, bring it up and let yourself go.

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