Curtis Mayfield – 1975 – There’s No Place Like America Today
While Mayfield’s preceding two albums Sweet Exorcist and Got to Find a Way were mostly a-political affairs – especially when placed next to Curtis, Curtis/Live!, Superfly and Back to the World, he returned to the preaching fold with his ’75 effort, the dark, brooding ‘There’s No Place Like America Today’.
The cover art alone: a gray cue of poverty stricken people stand before a full-colour add espousing the white version of the American Dream. It pretty much sums up the album’s general mood. In fact, I’d like to think of this one as Curtis’ There’s a Riot Goin’ On.
A1 Billy Jack 6:07
A2 When Seasons Change 5:23
A3 So in Love 5:10
B1 Jesus 6:10
B2 Blue Monday People 4:45
B3 Hard Times 3:42
B4 Love to the People 4:06
Review by Soulmakossa
“Billy Jack” opens procedures and in all fairness immediately is the most spellbinding track on the disc. A plodding, lazy, haunted funk groove minimalistically arranged (no violins here) which narrates the story of ‘Boss Jack’; another Supertry who bit the dust. The murky stew of shimmering wah wah guitars, the thick bass triplets, the low-fi brass and Curtis’ tattered, falsetto voice make this one of those ‘slugged-in-the-stomach’ masterpieces that will leave you in awe of the man’s talents.
Chiming church bells then lead the listener into the bluesy, highly depressive “When Seasons Change“, a track that sits comfortably next to Sly and the Family Stone’s “Just Like a Baby” where the sound of sheer exhaustion is concerned. Despite a somewhat more upbeat, brighter bridge, and lyrics that at times should evoke optimism, this is a pretty eerie lullaby of ghetto realities.
“So in Love“, the album’s sole hit, might sound unbelievably out of place on a first listen. Nonetheless, it soon becomes clear that being ‘in love’ may actually be the only redeeming factor in a life burdened by worry. The mildly funky ballad is an oasis amid Mayfield’s more gloomy descriptions of America A.D. 1975.
The man’s undiminishing faith in God is still in tact, however, as proves the incredible, poetic mid-tempo gospel groove of “Jesus“. It seems as if even though come ’75 most people had let the Train to Jordan refered to in “People Get Ready” pass on by, Mayfield’s own spirituality is still of consolence to the man himself and to those few listeners who were still waiting to get on board. Truly a wonderful, introspective and at times ‘old timey’ gospelish track.
Those ‘few listeners’ may well be the focal point of the anguished, subdued “Blue Monday People“. Another low-fi soulful tune, sparsely orchestrated, that actually has Mayfield singing ‘…I’m so tired, it’s a shame…’
Nonetheless, the inclusion of an updated, even darker sounding version of his own “Hard Times” is due more to the surrounding stench of a changing, post-Watergate American society, the disintegrating civil rights movement and the increase of braindead, escapist entertainment (e.g. disco) than sheer exhaustion. Somehow, this track simply BELONGS here.
If at all possible, the LP closes on a slightly positive note with the anthemic “Love to the People“, even if the music still is low-fi, downbeat and somewhat subdued.
This was Mayfield’s last great (and last message driven) album. And it’s fitting that it’s less than flowery, seeing as to what lay ahead: the 1980s, neo-conservatism and Reaganomics.