Tower of Power: Rhythm & Business
The band with the world's most famous horn section continues to funk it up after almost 30 years. While the '80s were lean times for TOP, their four albums released so far in the '90s ( Monster on a Leash, T.O.P., Souled Out, and this current release) have been on par with those from their heyday in the mid-'70s.
While Rhythm & Business is a worthwhile addition to T.O.P.'s discography, it doesn't rise to the top. In fact, I think this disc slips a little from the previous three. Unremarkable compositions and lyrics are the culprits. The basic melodies and simple chord changes break no ground that the group hasn't trod many times before. And the lyrics, which often rhyme poorly, mostly reflect on the dichotomous subjects of being totally ga-ga in love or being fed up with one's relationship. The songs which break from this pattern (such as "East Bay Way" and the title cut) tend to be the most successful, both lyrically and compositionally. And the album's closer, their requisite instumental jam, is the album's highlight; it calls to mind the band's long-time crowd-pleaser "Squib Cakes."
But it's truly the mark of a great band when they can take mediocre material and inject it with enough energy, funkiness, and soul to save the day. The horn section, despite some personnel changes, still kicks ass as hard as ever. Greg Adams, who has written the horn arrangements throughout most of the band's existence, is gone now, but current trumpeters Barry Danielian and Bill Churchville, new tenor John Scarpulla, and Dave Eskridge turn in consistently excellent horn charts. The rhythm section, so often in the shadow of the mighty horns, works together beautifully to cook up just the right grooves. And vocalist Brent Carter is one of the best the band has ever had.
So the talent's all there. It's just not quite shown off in the best possible light.