War Live


Avenue Records, 1973


REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


Yesterday we looked at one attempt to delve into the world of funk that failed - Jimi Hendrix and his album Band Of Gypsys. Today, we turn the tables and look at an act who throughout their career has successfully merged funk with r&b, rock and jazz - War.

In 1973, the band was nearing the height of their success. They had scored some hits with songs like "The Cisco Kid" and "Baby Brother," and while they still had yet to dominate the charts, their fan base was growing rapidly. On paper, a band comprised of six black veterans of r&b and one white Danish harmonica player was a combination that should never have worked. But it did, and it worked well.

Their only live album, War Live, shows the band at their tightest and funkiest. On this all-too-short collection - short, even for a double CD - the band shows why they were one of the best in their field.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

After an introduction by disc jockey E. Rodney Jones, War kicks off into "Son Oh Son," a number off their self-titled third album (their previous two had been with Eric Burdon, former lead singer of the Animals). From the slow build of Lonnie Jordan's organ to the rhythmic pounding of guitarist Howard Scott and drummer Harold Brown, the groove this band emits is one that will get you dancing wherever you are. It's not often a live version tops the original studio effort, but they have done so here.

War then kicks into what was then their most recent hit, "The Cisco Kid." While something is lost in the transition from studio to stage, this is still a solid effort that captures the humor of the original song. From then on, the band kicks into their trademark song, "Slippin' Into Darkness." Though the song is split into two parts on the album, for almost nineteen minutes, the listener is taken away from wherever they are and into the front row of the small Chicago club this was recorded at. Though some of the jams tend to stretch a little too long, War is able to maintain a level of freshness throughout the track.

The only real flub on War Live is heard on the first track of disk two. "All Day Music" is as lovely a track as it was on the album of the same name, but Scott's guitar sounds like it has gone slightly out of tune. It isn't something that will ruin the track for the average listener, but some people may notice parts of the song sound flat.

The Latin roots of the band, long displayed in their music, take shape on War Live in the song "Ballero," which is a decent enough track, but not the best they have sounded in this vein. The only throwaway track, "Lonely Feelin'," is okay and passes quickly.

The album closes out with another one of War's signature tracks, "Get Down." While some of the references in the song may be a little dated, the commentaries about the police are both poignant and humorous - as Scott sings about the cops whippin' ass, he adds, "I might even whip my own ass." While the subject matter is serious, you can't help cracking a smile at that comment.

When War had their resurgence in popularity back in 1992, I got the chance to meet the band, and they were as friendly in person as they sounded on stage. War Live is a solid picture of how good funk can be, and has hardly aged in the 24 years since its release.

Rating: A-

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© 1997 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Avenue Records, and is used for informational purposes only.