Thursday, April 12, 2012

The One, by RJ Smith

Born in the segregated South, into poverty, nothing came easy to James Brown.  Everything he got, he got through hard work and industry.  The son of a turpentine man, Brown started out as a shoe shine boy, ended up in a juvenile correction facility, was a skilled athlete, and full of soul.  Brown drew musical influence from the performers on the chitlin circuit, only to go on to dominate the music industry for years.  He influenced numerous musical genres and continues to serve as inspiration to performers today.

Let me start by saying that I personally have never been a fan of funk or soul music.  I think that had I grown up in the era of their inception, I actually would love the music.  So, in all honesty, I knew very little about James Brown going into this book.  Many of the songs mentioned were unfamiliar to me.  So, this book was really an introduction to the Godfather of Soul.  And what a comprehensive introduction it was.

I felt like the book did a great job of establishing Brown's humble upbringings.  I was pulled in at the very start, learning about his childhood.  Being unfamiliar with the musical history of the South, I was fascinated to read about the wealth of talent to come from Georgia.  I loved hearing how James Brown met Little Richard.

Similarly, I was really enthralled to read about the impact of the Civil Rights Movement on Brown.  It was fascinating to learn the impact of the ever chancing sociopolitical situation, and how Brown both affected it and was affected by it.  However, the middle section of the book was very heavy handed with details about the music, changes in band line up, and the ever elusive "One".  To a music aficionado, or a huge Brown fan, I am sure this section of the book is interesting, but to me, I was a little lost.  It really slowed down my reading during the middle portion of the book.

The last portion of the book covered the only part of Brown's life with which I was familiar, from the 1980's on.  I remembered a lot of the stories discussed, so again this part was really fascinating to me.  The book overall paints a truly fascinating portrait of James Brown, not all of which is positive.  It made me deeply respect James Brown and all his musical contributions.

I received a review copy of this book courtesy of the publisher and TLC Book Tours.

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