Been listening to a bit of Curtis Mayfield recently. Not big fan of his prior band the Impressions but Mayfield’s early to mid 70’s solo records and movie soundtracks are superb especially his debut record CURTIS. Every song a stand out – Move On Up, The Other Side of Town, (Don’t Worry)If There’s a Hell Below, We’re All Gonna Go.
The string arrangements in particular are razor sharp and every song here has a large instrumental presence. Mayfield lyrically blends socio-conscious lyrics with faith in the service of good (perhaps from going to black churches as a kid) and a love that is expressed in more romantic rather than vulgar terms.
The subsequent albums ROOTS, BACK TO THE WORLD, and SWEET EXORCIST is Mayfield locking into a formula started with CURTIS. They are less successful versions of his debut record. However, EXORCIST is a consistent record whose immaculate production makes every song a realized moment. WORLD finds Mayfield in a slightly looser frame of mind. If I Were Only a Child Again is one of his greatest songs.
THERE'S NO PLACE LIKE AMERICA TODAY is maybe Curtis Mayfield’s most underrated record because every song is slow in speed, no “Move On Up” here but it is superb - really thick wah wah guitar, clavinet, brass arrangements, and complex melodies, intelligent lyrics, and Mayfield’s beautiful falsetto. Not as immediate as CURTIS but an excellent, clever record.
The solo record Mayfield is most famous for is the soundtrack to the film SUPERFLY but soundtracks have limitations. Even the best soundtrack's primary focus is the movie it is accompanying not the artistic intent of the musician(s). Mayfield imprints his style and lyrical subject matter here and there are a number of striking songs but I prefer his individual solo albums. They are more about who he is and what he envisioned musically.