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Shuggie Otis - Inspiration Information/Wings of Love

  by Andy Cassidy

published: 24 / 3 / 2013

Shuggie Otis - Inspiration Information/Wings of Love
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In our 'Re:View' section, in which our writers look back at albums from the past, Andy Cassidy reflects on soul musician Shuggie Otis' undervalued 1974 album 'Inspiration Information', which has been just been reissued with 'Wings of Love', an album of new songs

As the son of Johnny Otis, Shuggie Otis had a whole lot to live up to and with this release, combining the 1974 classic 'Inspiration Information' with a whole CD’s worth of unreleased material, it is perhaps time that Otis claimed his place among the truly great artists of the modern age. If you don’t already own 'Inspiration Information', this is the time to do something about it. The album has never sounded fresher, and the bonus material makes this package worth buying on its own merit. Disc one comprises the original 1974 release with four contemporary recordings, all of which are previously unreleased. The original album is a wonderfully soulful blend of Gil Scott-Heron, Marvin Gaye, Sly and the Family Stone and Al Green, all underpinned by a wonderfully easy funk guitar. Listening to 'Inspiration Information', it is easy to hear why artists such as Lenny Kravitz, Prince and Michael Jackson raved about Otis – indeed, it could be argued that Otis, as multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, arranger, vocalist and producer was, in many ways, the Michael Jackson of his day. There is little that I can add to the miles of reviews which have already been written about 'Inspiration Information', but if you are unfamiliar with this album, I will say this – check out the second track, 'Island Life': it is as “breezy” as the Isley Brothers, as “lovely” as any of Bill Withers’ days, as funky as George Clinton wearing a funky hat and sexier than Marvin Gaye rescuing a kitten from a tree topless while drinking a Diet Coke. The four unreleased tracks that make up disc one are all superb, and each of them could easily have sat comfortably on the album as released in 1974. Of the four, the stand-out for me is 'Magic' – why a song of that quality could remain hidden away for nigh on forty years is beyond me. Of all of the tracks on the album, it perhaps best demonstrates Otis’ debt to Jimi Hendrix – there are suggestions of 'May This Be Love' or 'Little Wing' – and, above all, his virtuosity as a guitarist. For me, though, the really exciting part of this release is 'Wings of Love', which answers the question: just what has Shuggie Otis been up to since ’74. The answer, I’m happy to say, is that he has been quietly recording some truly magnificent material, none of which has, until now, seen the light of day. The second disc opens with 'Special', recorded in 1980. This is Otis in full disco mode, and it is a transition he made effortlessly. Unlike so many disco-style recordings, complete with wah-wah and slapped bass-lines, it sounds fresh today. There are shades of the Crusaders but the highlight of the track is the fluid backing track – fluid in the sense of concentrated funk essence. On the first listen, I skipped to the more recent tracks more in hope than in optimism, but I am happy to say that they did not disappoint. Starting with atmospheric Flamenco flourishes and samples of birdsongs, 1990’s 'Wings of Love' soon segues into a synth-driven power-pop classic, with shades of Foreigner and a superb vocal. 1987’s 'Fawn' is another quiet classic. Initially bringing to mind the opening glop of 'Ebony and Ivory', it recovers quickly and builds to a track reminiscent of Michael Jackson’s output of the period. Why it was not released at the time is beyond me, especially when one considers the chart fodder of the time (Starship? T’Pau? Steve “Silk” Hurley?). Happily for me, the cut of the album is the most recent, 2000’s live version of 'Black Belt' Sheriff. The track finds Otis alone on an acoustic guitar a la 'Bill Withers Live at Carnegie Hall' and singing his heart out. His vocals are absolutely superb, and the guitar accompaniment is simply wonderful. This track could have been lifted straight from David Crosby’s 'If I Could Only Remember My Name' as such is its intensity, atmosphere and craftsmanship. It’s an absolutely stunning recording. This double album is a timely reminder of just how important an artist Shuggie Otis was and, if the newer material is anything to go by, still should be. It’s time he was discovered by a new generation and this release is a superb place to start. As Shuggie himself sings on 'Black Belt Sheriff', “I’ll see you soon.” I hope so.

Track Listing:-

Picture Gallery:-
Shuggie Otis - Inspiration Information/Wings of Love

Shuggie Otis - Inspiration Information/Wings of Love

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