Unsung Vinyl – Curtis / Live

Sometimes a record isn’t rare, it isn’t expensive but yet it isn’t terribly common either. It won’t be in every record store’s bins, but it will show up from time to time. These titles often get passed over because the buzz just isn’t there, yet the quality of music contained in the grooves is top notch. In this new series of periodic posts, we’ll bee taking a look at albums like these.

Curtis Mayfiled – Curtis / live – Curtom CRS 8008 – 1971

The Superfly Soundtrack must have sold a billion copies, considering how often it turns up on house calls. I see it everywhere. It shows up in Classic Rock collections almost as often as Led Zepplin IV. In soul collections, it’s often the first record I find and there’s usually a double, deeper down in the pile. It’s simply everywhere.

To the contrary, Curtis / Live doesn’t come around nearly as often. Sure, it’s much easier to find than the Mayfield produced Baby Huey record, but don’t expect to see it just because Superfly was in the batch.

There are many reasons to love this record. Curtis’s band is at their peak. It’s a small combo and they are tight and funky. None of the strings or horns usually found on Mayfield’s studio recordings exist here. Drums, dual guitars, bass and conga are all it takes to get the musical point across. The recording is superb. The confined space at the Bitter End in NYC made for a better than studio atmosphere. All the instruments come across silky smooth and detailed.

The crowd the night of the recording was was attentive and involved. Audience members can be heard commenting directly to Curtis and they cheer and sing along at appropriate times. It really feels like you’re there.

Musically, the double LP includes songs from Mayfield’s time with the impressions, solo items and a Carpenters cover. That may sound like an odd choice, but pick up the album and let Curtis explain to you personally why he chose to include “We’ve Only Just Begun”. It works.

I can recommend every Curtis Mayfield LP from the early Impressions era to Give, Get, Take and Have from 1976. If asked, which Curtis record should be the first added to a collection, my answer is always “Curtis / Live”

-Darren Revilla